As of 2019, 4.5 percent of Americans identify as LGBTQ+; however, only two Senators and eight Representatives (a cumulative 1.9 percent of the 116th Congress) currently identify this way. Five of the ten openly LGBTQ+ members of Congress are female.
The 117th Congress set to be sworn-in in January 2021, will only be slightly better with two Senators and nine Representatives (a cumulative 2.1 percent of elected officials) openly identifying as LGBTQ+. The November 2020 election did see many first for LGBTQ+ candidate firsts at the state and local levels, to learn more about some of the winners on our Milestones page.
Unless greater numbers of LGBT+ people are elected to office, LGBQT+ underrepresentation will only become more pronounced: according to recent Gallup polling, 8.1 percent of millennials identify as LGBTQ+. More openly LGBTQ+ representatives must be elected in order to accurately represent a growing population of LGBT+ constituents.
In 2021, the LGBTQ Victory Institute released a groundbreaking study on the barriers and motivators experienced by LGBTQ women considering a run for office. Notably, one of the barriers listed refers to the lack of LGBTQ women represented in office currently.
As important as descriptive representation is for the sake democracy, having representatives in office who substantively share in the lived-experiences of their constituents (and political hopefuls) is just as important. For LGBTQ women considering a run for office, these "trailblazers" may present themselves as mentors who can answer specific questions about running for office, while also alleviating concerns about the viability of their own campaigns.
In 1998, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) became the first openly lesbian person elected to the House of Representatives, and she became the first openly gay or lesbian person elected to the Senate in 2012. The same year, Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) was elected as the first openly bisexual member of the House of Representatives.
No transgender person has ever been elected to the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives. The first transgender member of a state legislature, Althea Garrison, was elected in Massachusetts in 1992, though her gender identity was not widely known during her campaign. In 2008, Stu Rasmussen was elected mayor of Silverton, Oregon, becoming the first openly transgender mayor elected in the U.S.
Oregon Governor Kate Brown became the first openly bisexual governor when she was appointed to the position in 2015, and was elected in her own right in 2016.
In 2019, Sharice Davids (D, KS-03) became the first LGBT+ Native American in the U.S. House of Representatives.