During the debate over the ratification of the Constitution, an Antifederalist essay declared: “The legislature of a free country should be so formed as to have a competent knowledge of its constituents, and enjoy their confidence. To produce these essential requisites, the representation ought to be fair, equal, and sufficiently numerous, to possess the same interests, feelings, opinions, and views, which the people themselves would possess, were they all assembled.”
More recently, political scientists have established that identity can influence representation by bringing issues to the policy process that were not previously addressed. Unfortunately, LGBTQ policy suffers from significant underrepresentation.
- While demographers estimate that four to five percent of the U.S. population is openly LGBTQ, only 0.16 (not even 1.6) percent of elected officials in the nation are openly LGBTQ.
- In raw numbers, this represents 835 openly LGBTQ elected officials. More specifically, out of 7383 state legislative sets, 156 are openly LGBTQ individuals, or about two percent.
- In Congress, there are nine of 535 legislators (or 1.7 percent). Despite some notable recent successes, like Lori Lightfoot, Danica Roem and Pete Buttigieg, there is a long way to go to reach representative parity.
One of the barriers to the growth of LGBTQ elected official is geographical. LGBTQ elected officials have always represented urban/suburban areas and college towns. While it is not unheard of for openly LGBTQ candidates to be elected from rural areas, these candidates have calculated, and still calculate, that running in a rural constituency will not lead to electoral success. Consider Illinois, for instance. Of the 39 LGBTQ elected officials in the state, only five are from outside of the Chicago metro area. Three of those are from university towns (Bloomington and Champaign), one is from Peoria, and the other is an outlier—Mayor Chris Lain of Savanna in very rural Carroll County, my home county. Lain was a fairly recent transplant from Chicago and an owner of several businesses in the town when he was elected in 2017 with 84 percent of the vote.
Related to this restraint, especially given the strong connection in the U.S between partisan polarization and geography, the Republican Party is not currently a significant vehicle for openly LGBTQ candidates and elected officials. In Illinois, only one official out of 39 identifies as a Republican, Jerome Hoynes, the New Trier Township clerk. Nationwide, only 24 of 835 openly LGBTQ elected officials identify as Republicans, or about three percent. Currently, there are no Republican officials in Congress and only six in state legislatures. In the 2018 election cycle, 61 percent of openly LGBTQ candidates were elected, while only about 17 percent of Republican candidates were elected.
While the number of LGBTQ elected officials has increased at a more rapid rate in recent years, including the “rainbow waves” of 2017 and 2018, in the future, it is likely that the number of openly LGBTQ elected officials will increase in accordance with these geographical and partisan patterns for some time. This will have implications for rural and/or Republican LGBTQ individuals and the representation of their interests.
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Dr. Jason Pierceson, Professor of Political Science, holds a B.A. in History from Knox College and a Ph.D. in Politics from Brandeis University. His teaching and research focus on public law, the legal and political issues relating to sexuality and gender, and political theory. He is the author or co-author of several books on same-sex marriage and sexuality and politics, including Same-Sex Marriage in the Americas: Policy Innovation for Same-Sex Relationships; Courts, Liberalism and Rights: Gay Law and Politics in the United States and Canada; Same-Sex Marriage in the United States: The Road to the Supreme Court; and Sexual Minorities in Politics: An Introduction.
Ted Cox, “River City Revival,” One Illinois, April 23, 2018, https://www.oneillinois.com/stories/2018/3/29/introducing-one-illinois-akmh3.
“Out for America,” Victory Institute, https://outforamerica.org.
Herbert J. Storing, ed. The Complete Anti-Federalist, vol. 3. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 158.
Jason Pierceson, ed. LGBTQ Americans in the U.S. Political System: An Encyclopedia of Activists, Voters, Candidates, and Officeholders, vol. 1 (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2020), xxvi, xxviii.