The 2016 elections will be "unprecedented" in the number of openly LGBT candidates running for office, especially in Congressional elections, according to Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.
Victory Fund's President and CEO, Aisha Moodie-Mills, on July 26, moderated a discussion with openly gay U.S. Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney ( D-NY ) and Mark Takano ( D-CA ), as well as former Houston Mayor Annise Parker.
There are currently more than 470 openly LGBT elected officials serving nationwide, Moodie-Mills said, adding, "LGBT people are currently under-represented in serving office, but we are making progress, and we have a record number of LGBT people running for office. Victory [Fund] has endorsed 152 candidates across the nation, many of them running for statewide or other high-level positions. There's also a record number of openly LGBT people running for Congress, a total of 17."
The three politicians spoke to the importance of having an LGBT presence in various elected bodies. Parker noted that it's difficult for legislators and other politicians to proactively put forward anti-LGBT laws when they know that a colleague who is part of that community is sitting in the same room with them.
"When we're in the room, we can speak up and speak out," she said. "We're part of the conversation."
Takano added, "Representative democracy is about people from different walks of life coming together, and it's very important to have LGBT members be part of that conversation."
New research from the Victory Fund bears that idea out: A new report from the organization says that 70 percent of elected officials polled said that their votes on LGB issues were influenced by LGB colleagues.
Maloney spoke briefly on the progress of the Equality Act, legislation that would enlarge protections extended to racial minorities to LGBT Americans. He said supporters of the legislation were confident they had the votes to pass but were continually hamstrung by the inability to get a vote to take place.
"Now we have the votes, so now we need to have the vote [take place]," he said. "…If we can just clear away the weak elements in the process, we'll win."
Takano added, "There are a number of Republicans who are looking for an exit-strategy from intolerance."
Parker noted that much work remained to be done on mobilizing on behalf of the trans community. While many Americans now know an openly gay, lesbian or bisexual person, many don't know a trans individual. Consequently, many people have a more difficult time perceiving the stakes in trans-related issues.
"We understand what we need to do, which is let our transgender brothers and sisters speak for themselves. Let them become visible and claim their space, and we have to keep shooting down the myths," Parker said.