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Why It's Significant That A Record Number Of LGBTQ Candidates Are Running For Office

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

In this midterm election season, many people are talking about the possibility of a blue wave. There's also potential for a rainbow wave. A record number of openly LGBTQ people are on the ballot - at least 244, according to the Victory Fund, a bipartisan group that tracks and supports queer candidates. Today, we're going to talk with three of them. Amelia Marquez is a Democrat in Montana. She is running for the state legislature in the Billings area, and she would be the first openly transgender person ever elected in Montana. Welcome, Amelia.

AMELIA MARQUEZ: Hi.

SHAPIRO: Gina Ortiz Jones is a Democrat in Texas running for Congress in the 23rd District, which has the largest stretch of U.S.-Mexico border. She could be the first openly gay woman ever elected to Congress in Texas. Thank you for joining us.

GINA ORTIZ JONES: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And Dan Innis is a Republican in New Hampshire running for re-election. He's the only openly gay member of the New Hampshire state Senate. Thanks for being with us.

DANIEL INNIS: Pleasure to be here.

SHAPIRO: Will you each first just tell me why you think this year has attracted a record number of LGBTQ people to run for office?

INNIS: You know, I think what we're seeing is that as we get broader acceptance, candidates are more comfortable running, and I say that as a Republican. Our state's motto is live free or die. And I believe in that, and I believe in equality for everyone. American society is evolving, and that gives a better opportunity to run.

SHAPIRO: Amelia, Gina, what do you think?

JONES: Yeah, this is Gina I think - frankly, I don't know who said it first, but it continues to apply, right? If you're not at the table, you're on the menu. And I think, you know, we've seen what happens when our voices are not at the table. And, you know, it's hard for me to separate being an LGBT woman, being a first-generation American, being a veteran. I think, you know, in so many of those identities, I think we just had to stop making assumptions that people were going to carry our water for us, and we have to step up and be part of this moving forward.

SHAPIRO: Amelia, I understand, in your race, your opponent has refused to respect your pronouns or call you by the name Amelia. It sounds as though gender identity has very much been a part of your campaign, whether you want it to be or not.

MARQUEZ: Yeah. I would definitely say my opponent has wanted to make that the big issue of this race, wants to try and get under our skin, wants to try and play mind games. At the end of the day, I continue to encourage him to just look at the issues that our district is facing at this time. Montanans definitely don't want to see discrimination happening at any level of our government. We actually had a ballot initiative on our primary ballots that would have regulated where trans individuals could have gone to the bathroom and use public facilities. And it didn't even make it onto the November ballot.

SHAPIRO: You know, the three of you not only represent different parties and different parts of the United States, you also represent different generations. Dan, you're 55. Gina, you're 37. Emilia, you're 24. Given how much the country has changed in the last few decades in the way it relates to LGBTQ people, do you think that shapes your experience?

JONES: Yeah, this is Gina. I mean, most certainly. I served in the Air Force as an intelligence officer, and I served under don't ask, don't tell. I remember that, and I've got, you know, some wonderful fellows and interns on the team, and they don't know what I'm referencing when I say don't ask, don't tell. So that's a good thing and kind of a bad thing because people sometimes don't appreciate just how far we've come in so little time. But it's also a stark reminder of just how much we could lose in a short amount of time.

MARQUEZ: Yeah. I would definitely agree with you, Gina. And, you know, I always like to thank folks that, like you and Dan, paved the way. As a young 24-year-old getting into politics, it's hard to say, you know, exactly what the world looked like 30 years ago for someone that's my age.

INNIS: I can tell you.

(LAUGHTER)

MARQUEZ: And, I mean, it wasn't pretty, especially up here in Montana. I mean, just down in Wyoming, you know, on the anniversary of Matthew Shepard's murder, it definitely kind of takes us by surprise, and we all do feel vulnerable. But as a young person, I recognize how much ground has been made altogether for folks my age.

INNIS: Yeah, this is Dan. I was in college when HIV was really hitting. It was the Reagan administration. There was a lot we didn't know, a lot we didn't understand. And it provided, I think, an opportunity for people to put us all at a further distance. And we were oftentimes demonized and demeaned. But when you consider where we were back then and how we've made gradual progress over the years, I think what it says is this is a long-term process.

SHAPIRO: The Trump administration has rolled back LGBTQ rights in some areas. Vice President Pence addressed the Values Voters Summit, which is hosted by the Family Research Council. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls that an anti-LGBT hate group. Do you think that in the Trump era it is more challenging to be gay and Republican than it was?

INNIS: No, I don't. President Trump is the first president to send a letter to the Log Cabin Republicans. He's asked for our advice on some judicial appointments. We've never had that happen before, and I think that speaks to where the full administration is. It's easy to look at one or two incidents and say, oh, this person doesn't like the LGBT community. And I would say that there are certainly in both parties folks who maybe aren't that supportive of us. But, again, we're not going to change that until we work within the party ourselves to bring that change about.

SHAPIRO: I mean, Amelia and Gina, how do you think bipartisan LGBTQ candidates fit into our national political conversation, which feels so starkly divided along party lines?

MARQUEZ: Yeah. First, I want to say how interesting it is to hear from Dan's perspective. You know, I think that at the end of the day, the overall establishment of both parties, as Dan was saying, they don't necessarily feel good when someone of the LGBTQ community steps up and wants to run for office. Kind of like Dan, I dealt with a lot of the similar situations there where immediately the state party was a little bit hesitant to want to run a trans woman, especially a trans woman of color, into their political scene. So it's not just happening on the Republican side. It's definitely happening on the Democratic side, too, and the only way that we can combat that is by continuing to run people. And we can evolve the overall national landscape for future LGBTQ candidates as well.

SHAPIRO: Gina?

JONES: Yeah. I mean, I can tell you - you won't believe it, I know, but there are some folks in Washington, in Texas, that did not think a lesbian vet could do what we've done. But it goes back to exactly what Amelia discussed, which is, you know, what can you do for the people? What can you do for voters? What is your track record? And to your point about bipartisanship, you know, I've got 14 years in national security, and in none of that did I ask - ever ask anybody what party they were with. So it, at the end of the day, I think is less about identity and more so about the issues and, again, the moral courage needed to fight for our community and our country at this point.

INNIS: One of the things that has really struck me is young, gay folks who stop by or email and say, I just want to thank you for what you're doing. One fellow even said, it gives me hope for the future to know that I can follow in your footsteps and do the same thing because what we're doing, I think, is bigger than we realize oftentimes. And the impact we're having on young people is more significant and deeper than we can conceive. So I feel a great sense of responsibility, and I'm sure Gina and Amelia do as well, to those young people that are following behind us.

SHAPIRO: I want to thank all three of you for joining us today. Dan Innis is running for re-election to the state Senate in New Hampshire. Gina Ortiz Jones is running for Congress in Texas, and Amelia Marquez is running for state legislature in Montana. It was great talking with all of you.

JONES: Pleasure.

MARQUEZ: Thank you.

INNIS: It was a pleasure to speak with all of you as well. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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