Election 2022 guest commentary
In New Jersey and nationally, a much-hyped “Red Wave” predicted for Tuesday’s election failed to manifest, and in its place, a growing Rainbow Wave has swept local and national elections. With tensions running high surrounding issues such as LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum, trans rights, DEI initiatives and reproductive rights, being an openly-indentifying LGBTQ Candidate is still a fraught, and sometimes dangerous, undertaking. However, LGBTQ Candidates are running, and winning, in record-breaking numbers both in New Jersey and all around the country.
In New Jersey, at least seven LGBTQ Candidates won races in which they were not incumbent, and at least ten additional Candidates maintained their incumbency. Notably, Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora has been re-elected in a landslide victory and Candidates all the way from incumbent Union County Commissioner Rebecca Williams down to Asbury Park Schoolboard Member-Elect Dr. Michael Penna will begin 2023 as out and proud public servants, as well as newcomers John Jackson, Councilmember-Elect in Red Bank, and John Kashwick, Councilmember-Elect in Clinton.
On a national level, Maura Healy of Massachusetts and Tina Kotek of Oregon were elected Governor of their respective states, becoming the first two openly-indentifying lesbian Governors in the country. Erick Russell was elected Connecticut State Treasurer, becoming the first Black out-LGBTQ statewide official in the US. Colorado’s Governor Jared Polis, a gay man, won re-election. In New Hampshire, James Roesner became the first openly trans man elected to a state legislature.
According to Victory Fund, a national organization dedicated to the support of LGBTQ Candidates, at least 486 LGBTQ people were elected to office on Tuesday. “This is a record-breaking number that increases year-over-year in a trend towards true equity-building on every level,” says Joe Forte, Victory Fund Board Member and Vice Chair of the NJ LGBTQ Democrats.
Equally as important are allies who have run and won hard-fought races against vocally homophobic candidates, particularly on our Boards of Education. Now, more than ever, LGBTQ students find themselves the subject of misinformation and the target of bias, intimidation and harassment and electing allies who believe in truth, equality and inclusive environments has become more than campaigns and politics — it has become paramount to saving lives and survival.
In New Jersey, several groups have cropped up with the singular aim of supporting candidates that are specifically anti-LGBTQ to run for schoolboards, operating under slogans such as “Vote to Protect Our Kids,” “Putting Students First,” “It Takes a Village,” “For the Kids,” “Reestablish Family Values,” and “Transparency Integrity Accountability.”
The slogans are intentionally misleading, but informed voters should know it’s a clearly-defined and malevolent anti-LGBTQ platform, masquerading as such innocuous ideas as “transparency” and “protection.” And thankfully in some areas, New Jersey voters have overwhelmingly rejected this hateful agenda, thanks in no small part to vigilant advocates and concerned parents working tirelessly to ensure our public schools serve all students equally.
However, unfortunately, in some other areas of our state, some of these candidates have been elected to schoolboards. This faction has politicized our educational system and targeted teachers, curriculum and LGBTQ kids, and voters need to be aware of the agenda so we can send a clear message — there is no place for hate in our schools.
With an eye towards 2023, the LGBTQ and allied community can look forward to increasing even further the number of out candidates running for office. I beleive it is crucial to our success as individuals and as a community in so many areas — healthcare, housing, education, employment, finance and general wellbeing — to see our community represented in elected office, and we’re committed to upward growth. In 2023, the New Jersey State Senate and General Assembly are up for election as well as County and local offices across the board, and we’re ready for the challenge.