A historic number of LGBTQ candidates will appear on ballots nationwide in November. At least 1,095 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people ran or are still running for office at all levels this year, up from 1,006 in 2020, according to data from the LGBTQ Victory Fund.
In New York, two gay candidates — Democrat Robert Zimmerman and Republican George Santos — are running to fill the seat vacated by Democrat Tom Suozzi in New York’s 3rd congressional district. This will be the first time in US history that two of our LGBTQ congressional candidates will face off in a general election.
President Joe Biden won the district by 10 points in 2020, but the race, while pro-Democratic, is considered competitive by the Cook Political Report. According to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, it is one of 16 contests attended by LGBTQ candidates that may determine control of the US House of Representatives.
Although this race is guaranteed to result in a win for a gay candidate, the outcome of the election will help determine whether the Democrats will hold on to their slim majority in the House of Representatives.
‘It was going to happen sooner of later’
The likelihood of a duel between two gay candidates has increased in recent years as the number of LGBTQ candidates at all levels of government has increased. This may interest you : Do not say gay, such bills leave young LGBTQ in fear, isolated.
“Sooner or later it was going to happen,” said Donald Haider-Markel, a political science professor at the University of Kansas and author of “Out and Running: Gay and Lesbian Candidates, Elections and Policy Representation.” “The question has always been to find an LGBTQ Republican who can get support in an elementary school.”
Historically, there have been relatively few Republican LGBTQ candidates, although he said Republican organizations like the Log Cabin Republicans have been around for a long time.
There are currently eleven open LGBTQ people in Congress – two in the Senate and nine in the House of Representatives – and they are all Democrats.
Santos, who hopes to turn the district red for his party, secured his party’s nomination for a second time in August. He ran against Suozzi in 2020 but lost in a general election.
According to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, Santos is the only openly LGBTQ Republican running for Congress this fall. If elected, he would become the first incumbent openly LGBTQ Republican to be elected to Congress. Two former GOP members of the House of Representatives — Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin and Jim Kolbe of Arizona — won re-election as incumbents after coming out (or being outed in Gunderson’s case).
Santos said the historic nature of the race was “pretty incredible”.
“I think it shows that our country continues to be the bastion of progress and creating justice for all,” he told NBC News.
Zimmerman said it would be “deeply meaningful” to be the first LGBTQ member of Congress from Long Island and Queens.
“When I was a kid, you would never have imagined that a member of the LGBTQ community would be a member of Congress,” he said. “I never thought that would be possible.”
‘We are very different’
While Santos and Zimmerman agree their choice is historic, that’s all the two men agree on. This may interest you : Monkeypox outbreak raises fears of gay stigmatization.
“Although we may share a common sexual orientation… we are very different,” Santos said. “Robert Zimmerman joins the party that caused the inflationary crisis.”
Santos highlighted the rising cost of energy for some of his constituents. He also said he’s also running to fight “one-party control in New York,” which doesn’t allow for “diverging opinions” about how the rising cost of living in his district might be addressed, although he’s willing to work with his Democratic colleagues, to find solutions.
“We have to work with the people who don’t agree with us,” Santos said. “I will represent the people who didn’t vote for me as well as the people who did.”
Zimmerman slammed Santos for supporting former President Donald Trump, who he says advocates a “homophobic, bigoted” agenda.
“I’m not running against a Republican. I’m running against a Republican who’s part of the radical fringe. He’s a MAGA candidate,” Zimmerman said, using the acronym for Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Zimmerman said Santos’ support for Trump extends to attending the “Stop the Steal” rally on January 6, 2021 in Washington, D.C.
“He defended the insurgents,” Zimmerman said.
In an interview with Lara Trump in February 2021, Santos said, “I was at the Ellipse on January 6th. That was the most amazing crowd and the President was in all his magnificence that day. It was a front row spectacle for me.” The Ellipse, a 52-acre park south of the White House, was the site of the rally that preceded the attack on the Capitol.
Santos denied taking part in insurgent activities.
“I was never on the Capitol grounds on January 6th. That’s a lie,” he said. “I came out very early to say it was a dark, dark day in our country and we needed a lot of healing after that.”
When asked if he continued to support the former president, Santos said, “Donald Trump is not on the ballot.” He then slammed Zimmerman for focusing on the former president.
“I’m running this race over New York District 3 and the people of New York, while Zimmerman is running this over Trump,” Santos said.
Bringing up Trump and Jan. 6 could be a good move for Zimmerman, as it could help increase turnout among Democratic voters: “threats to democracy” are now the norm, according to a recent poll conducted by NBC News Cost of living as the country’s top issue among voters.
“I think voters understand. I think people underestimate how concerned voters are about a democracy moving forward,” Zimmerman said.
He also harshly criticized Republican-sponsored anti-LGBTQ legislation in state houses.
“I’ve been approached by so many parents of gay kids,” Zimmerman said. “The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ laws have a deterrent effect well beyond Florida’s borders,” he added, citing Florida’s parental rights education system, which restricts classroom teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity. The measure is one of more than 340 anti-LGBTQ laws Republican lawmakers introduced this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group.
Many of these bills specifically target transgender people, restricting transgender people’s ability to exercise, use gender-appropriate bathrooms, and receive gender-affirming health care.
“The Republican Party has made attacks on LGBTQ people, particularly trans children, a part of its platform this year,” said Albert Fujii, spokesman for the LGBTQ Victory Fund. “It’s central to their philosophy of governing. That’s too bad.”
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, dedicated to supporting and electing LGBTQ people to public office, supported Zimmerman in the race.
Santos said he sees no contradiction between his identity and his party’s policies.
“As a lifelong Republican, I have never experienced discrimination in the Republican Party,” he said. “I am an openly gay candidate. I am not shy.”
Abortion is another issue Zimmerman pushed in November. Zimmerman, a pro-choice advocate, said the Supreme Court’s recent Roe v. Repeal Wade is a big problem for voters in his district.
“I saw in my elementary school — and it was really sparked by Roe’s reversal — an energy, an activism and a commitment that wasn’t there before,” he said. “It was a call to action for Democrats.”
According to last month’s NBC News poll, 58% of voters opposed the Supreme Court’s decision versus 38% who agreed.
This week, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced federal legislation that, if passed, would ban abortion after 15 weeks. It’s unclear if Graham will find much party support as the issue is likely to hurt her in contested boroughs like New York’s 3rd.
In a September 2020 interview with The Island Now, a New York news website, Santos said, “I will vote to support the ban on abortion in the United States.” However, he told NBC News that he was “never in favor of a total ban would occur”.
“There is no scenario in the world where I would advocate a total ban. The women of New York District 3 shouldn’t worry,” he said.
The decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturning Roe v. Wade also included a memo from Judge Clarence Thomas arguing that the Supreme Court should reconsider its 2015 decision legalizing same-sex marriage.
“Dobbs’ decision was a direct message to the LGBTQ community that ‘you’re next,’ and they’re coming for us,” Zimmerman said.
As a result, House Democrats introduced the Respect for Marriage Act, designed to codify same-sex marriage into federal legislation. The bill passed the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives but faces an uncertain future in the Senate, where it will need at least 10 Republican votes to pass.
This week Senate leaders decided to postpone a vote on the bill until after the midterm elections.
Santos, who is married, said he supports legal codification of same-sex marriage but would not support a law that would force religious institutions to go against their beliefs.
“I’m not for the state to overthrow the church,” he said.
47 Republicans voted in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act in the House of Representatives, and Santos said “this shows that the Republican Party is anything but homophobic.”
With so many controversial issues, none of the candidates expect sexual identity to be a determining factor in November.
“The problem isn’t that we’re both gay,” Zimmerman said. “That’s what it’s about nationally.”
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CORRECTION (Sep 22, 2022 9:15 am): A previous version of this article misspelled the first name of the person who interviewed Santos in February 2021. She is Lara Trump, not Laura.