LGBTQ+ Victory Institute, a national organization dedicated to elevating out LGBTQ+ leaders at all levels of government, partnered up with Loyola Marymount University’s LGBTQ+ Politics Research Initiative to learn more about LGBTQ+ candidates in the U.S.: What motivated them to run? What were their experiences and their most significant challenges?
One in five LGBTQ+ candidates from the past five years participated in the “When We Run” survey, making it the largest of its kind ever conducted. The full report can be viewed at victoryinstitute.org/whenwerun.
The survey originated with Gabriele Magni, assistant professor of political science and founding director of the LGBTQ+ Politics Research Initiative at LMU. He had interacted with the LGBTQ+ Victory Institute in various capacities during past election cycles and knew they were open to further collaboration. When he pitched the idea of the survey, they responded enthusiastically.
“Data on LGBTQ+ candidates are almost nonexistent. Until the survey was conducted, we did not have systematic data on the reasons that push LGBTQ+ people to run for office, the challenges they face, and the support they may need,” said Magni. “Collecting this type of data – and this survey in particular – is the first step to shed light on these issues and spark meaningful change.”
The survey revealed seven in 10 LGBTQ+ candidates faced homophobic and transphobic attacks on the campaign trail. Of these, more than one in two suffered from negative mental health consequences because of these attacks. Furthermore, more than four in 10 LGBTQ+ candidates went into personal debt following their campaigns.
Despite all of this, members of the LGBTQ+ community continue to demonstrate selflessness and courage by placing their names on the ballot and opening themselves up to public scrutiny and attacks. “They are committed to continuing to run because they want to make positive change during a time when bills are being introduced that limit access to gender-affirming care and target queer identity in schools and other public spaces,” said Magni.
The number of LGBTQ+ candidates running for office in the U.S. has grown steadily. Currently, there are more than 1,200 LGBTQ+ elected officials in the country. Yet, they represent only 0.2% of the total number of elected officials and remain severely underrepresented. To reach equitable representation, more than 30,000 out LGBTQ+ candidates would need to be elected.
Magni hopes access to the survey data will assist future campaigns. First, candidates and campaigns can build more effective strategies by considering the experiences of past candidates. Second, organizations can improve training and support for candidates running for office, given that the data sheds light on their unique challenges. Third, the media can use the data to elevate facts over opinions. Finally, the survey can serve as a resource for scholars and students interested in learning more about LGBTQ+ politics.
At LMU, students and faculty are working to advance the study of the political behavior of the LGBTQ+ community through the LGBTQ+ Politics Research Initiative. The initiative launched in 2022 with the support of the LMU Bellarmine College of Liberal Arts Dean Robbin Crabtree and under the direction of Magni. Students have played an essential role in the initiative’s success to date. In spring 2022, they helped to organize and promote the “Conversations with LGBTQ+ Leaders” speaker series which brought to campus AIDs and gay rights activist Peter Staley; Lisa Middleton, pioneering transgender mayor of Palm Spring; Tony Hoang, executive director of Equality California; Evan Low, California Assembly member and former chair of the LGBTQ Legislative Caucus; and John Heilman, West Hollywood city councilman and the longest serving LGBTQ+ elected official in the country. In spring 2023, students helped to develop the survey questionnaire and provided key research assistance by assembling the survey roster of LGBTQ+ candidates, both of which were instrumental in conducting the largest survey of LGBTQ+ candidates ever realized and producing the “When We Run” report.
Building on the success of “When We Run,” Magni would like to conduct a nationally representative survey of LGBTQ+ individuals. “While LGBTQ+ individuals represent over 7% of the U.S. population and an even larger share of the electorate, we still know little about their political preferences and priorities,” said Magni.
Currently, Magni is a visiting fellow at the Russel Sage Foundation. The fellowship is affording Magni the time and resources to concentrate on writing a book exploring the experiences of LGBTQ+ candidates running for office in the U.S. In addition to the survey of candidates, Magni has also conducted survey experiments with American voters to shed light on attitudes toward these topics. In the longer term, Magni aspires to grow LMU’s LGBTQ+ Research Initiative into a center. “It would be the first of its kind based at a university in the U.S.,” he said.