“Pride Month is a time for celebration. And this year, we’ve got a lot to celebrate,” President Obama told supporters recently at the Democratic National Committee’s annual LGBT gala.
And it’s true. The last 12 months have been nothing short of “remarkable,” as the president said, with marriage equality’s expansion into nine more states, the NFL’s drafting of Michael Sam, the postal service’s decision to feature Harvey Milk on a stamp, and countless other steps – large and small – for equality.
As the midterm elections approach, so too does the opportunity to build on the past year’s historic achievements. Already, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund – a group working to elect LGBT leaders – is endorsing 122 candidates, and expects that number to grow well beyond 200 come November. By contrast, in the last election, Victory Fund was working with 180 candidates.
“There are more LGBT candidates running every year – individuals who have finally felt comfortable in their communities,” said Steven Thai, the group’s press secretary, to msnbc. “We know that LGBT individuals who are elected change hearts and minds of other elected officials.”Among this year’s crop of openly LGBT hopefuls, three are in the running to become the nation’s first openly gay Republicans elected to Congress. Their presence could prove invaluable in passing legislation like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA,) which has stalled before lawmakers for decades. In state legislatures, too, openly LGBT officials can quarterback equality in areas that have lagged behind, and protect what’s been established in areas that have led the way.
While much progress has been made, however, every one of these candidates still faces a very traditional set of challenges, one rooted in social stigma and old-fashioned bigotry.
“Many of our candidates have experienced a form of attack based on their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Thai. “One thing that’s misconstrued right now is that LGBT candidates post-Supreme Court [DOMA] decision have it much easier to run. I don’t think that’s true at all.”
But in time, it hopefully will be. Here’s a look at some of the big races to watch this year.