Down-ballot diversity: More LGBTQ people, Black women run for office in U.S.

While a record number of Black women and LGTBQ candidates are running in this U.S. election cycle, gains still need to be made in order to truly reflect the diversity of the population advocates say.  

Despite this year's increase in electoral diversity, representation gaps remain

Sarah McBride is one of a growing number of LGTBQ candidates running for office in this U.S. election season. McBride is expected to win her race and become a state senator representing Delaware's State Senate District 1. (CBC News)

It's a cloudy, drizzly, Sunday afternoon, and Sarah McBride is walking down a tree-lined residential street in Wilmington, Del. She and her Mom are leaving election pamphlets in mailboxes when they notice a driver passing by, slowly. 

They can't quite tell, but the man appears to be waving at McBride. He pulls his vehicle to the side of the street, parks, and jumps out from behind the wheel. 

"I was giving you a thumbs up. I voted for you in the primary," he said, letting McBride know she has his vote in Tuesday's state senate election. 

McBride is expected to win her race and become a senator representing Delaware's State Senate District 1.

If she wins, her run will be marked in history books, as she will become the first transgender person elected to a state senate in the U.S. 

"I am mindful of the powerful message that this election can send to a young person here in Delaware, or really anywhere else in this country," McBride said. "That our democracy is big enough for them, too. That they can live their truth and dream big dreams all at the same time."

41% increase in LGBTQ candidates

In this U.S. election year, there are more LGBTQ candidates running for office than ever before, according to the advocacy group the Victory Fund.

The organization provides campaign, fundraising and communications support to increase the number of openly LGBTQ elected officials, according to its website.

"We currently know of 1,006 LGBTQ candidates running in 2020, with 574 on the ballot this November," said Sarah LeDonne, a spokesperson for the group.

According to a report prepared by the organization, that's a 41 per cent increase from 2018, when 716 openly LGBTQ candidates were on different ballots across the U.S. 

"As the key findings show, the number of out candidates has increased from 2018 to 2020 across almost all categories. Only the number of openly trans candidates has decreased," LeDonne said in an email.

WATCH | McBride on the importance of running for office: 

Delaware state senate candidate on what her run for office means for the LGBTQ community

2 years ago
Duration 0:30
If Sarah McBride wins her race, she would become the first transgender person elected to a state senate in the U.S.

The record numbers are a reflection of "the monumental progress that we've seen in LGBTQ equality across our country over the last several decades," McBride said. "It is also a byproduct of LGBTQ people seeing our community under attack and recognizing that we deserve a seat at the table, just like everyone else."

In 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump announced his administration would ban certain members of the transgender community from serving in the military.

When speaking with voters in Delaware, McBride said she gets very few questions about her gender identity. On the rare occasion it does come up, she said more often than not, it's from "voters who are excited about the opportunity to have more diversity at the table."

McBride is proud of her identity, but says she's not running as a transgender candidate.

"I'm running as a candidate who was born and raised in this district. A candidate who was a caregiver to my husband, who I lost to cancer. I'm running as a candidate who has already helped deliver meaningful legislation here in Delaware for my neighbours."

While the 2020 numbers show a significant increase of out LGBTQ candidates, the Victory Fund says thousands more members of the community need to run for public office, and win, for there to be representation that is reflective of U.S. society.

LeDonne said the organization found that 22,544 more LGBTQ people must be elected to all levels of government to achieve that goal.

Representation gap for Black women

Black women running for office face a similar gap. While a record number of Black women are running in this election cycle, gains still need to be made in order for elected representation to reflect society. 

"The 23 million Black women in this country are underrepresented and under served," said Glynda Carr, president of Higher Heights for America, a political advocacy group that works to get Black women elected. 

"Black women are only 4.3 per cent of Congress. Black women are eight per cent of the U.S. population," Carr said, adding voters have only elected "two Black women to ever serve in the U.S. Senate: Carol Moseley Braun in 1992, and in 2016 Kamala Harris."

Maryland Congressional candidate Kim Klacik speaks via video feed during the largely virtual 2020 Republican National Convention broadcast on Aug. 24. A record number of Black women are running in this election cycle. (Republican National Committee/The Associated Press)

According to an analysis from Higher Heights for America, at least 130 Black women are running as major party congressional candidates this year: 98 Democrats and 32 Republicans. 

That is a record for both parties.

"Black women are not a voting monolith, or a political ideology monolith," Carr said. "We span the spectrum, and what you are seeing is more women who believe that they have a vision and the expertise to represent their districts. And that includes both Democrats and Republican women."

The current political climate under the Trump administration, along with the national reckoning on racism, injustice and inequality, are significant factors in the record number of Black women deciding to run, she said.

"This environment certainly has created the urgency for Black women to step off the sidelines."

'Tired of the old status quo'

That sense of urgency is one reason why Christina Henderson decided to run, seeking a seat on Washington, D.C.'s local council at-large. 

After spending years working behind the scenes on that same council, as well as on Capitol Hill, she said she feels now is the right time for her.

WATCH | Henderson on why she decided to put her name on the ballot:

Christina Henderson seeking seat as Independent for 'real representation'

2 years ago
Duration 0:15
She spent years working behind the scenes on Washington, D.C.'s council at-large. Now, she's running for a seat of her own.

"I think for a lot of us who threw our hats in the race, we're tired of the old status quo," she said as she handed out flyers to voters outside a school in the northwest part of the district.

"We want to see change that is happening, and so far we feel like we really need to be at the table in order to really push that agenda forward."


Henderson said her run has not been without challenges.

Early in the race, she said, the Washington Post published a story on the top four candidates in her race, but when she looked at the article, she noticed something was off. 

"They included me as one of the top four candidates, but then they didn't include my picture, even though they included the picture of all of the men," she said. 

The paper later went on to endorse her, so Henderson doesn't have any hard feelings.

"I feel like we are making people think about what it looks like in terms of representation, not just on the surface but what it means for real representation," she said.

While she hasn't put much thought into it at this point, if Washington, D.C., is ever granted statehood, she says she would like to run for Congress.

"Why not?" she said.

For now though, she is focused on the race in front of her.

"I feel like a part of it is building the bench, and a lot of that starts with local races," she said. "Are you supporting Black women who are running for local offices so you can have a bench for folks to run for Congress and Senate and those kinds of things?" 

Having bench strength is one way to tackle the current representation gap, Henderson said, so the halls of power better reflect the people they serve.

"When there comes a time for an open Senate seat, you're not saying, 'There's no qualified women. There's no one here.' You have a bench that's ready to go."

WATCH | U.S. sees more diversity on ballots but gaps remain:

U.S. sees more diversity on ballots, but gaps remain

2 years ago
Duration 2:10
There is a record number of women of colour and LBGTQ candidates running for office this year in the United States, but many say there's still a lot to be done to reach reflective representation.

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