New Report: LGBTQ Women Fear Violence on the Campaign Trail; Unique Challenges for LGBTQ Women Who Want to Run

The Decision to Run report uncovers barriers and motivators for LGBTQ women;
Just 39 percent of LGBTQ people who run for office are women;
LGBTQ Victory Institute launches Women Out to Win Mentorship Program

Washington, DC – Three out of five LGBTQ women considering a run for office fear anti-LGBTQ violence on the campaign trail, as do three out of four trans women, according to a new report released by LGBTQ Victory Institute. The fear of violence is one of six major barriers to running for office uncovered in the report, a first-of-its-kind look at the unique experiences of LGBTQ women in deciding to run. The report also found four major motivating factors for LGBTQ women who want to run.

In 2020, just 39 percent of LGBTQ candidates were women and only 10 percent were women of color. Of the nearly 1,000 currently serving LGBTQ elected officials, just 40 percent are women and nine percent are women of color.

The Decision to Run report – the result of an extensive survey of nearly 290 LGBTQ women and four focus groups – found six major barriers to LGBTQ women running for office:

  • Finances – both campaign fundraising and personal savings. Fears about fundraising and a lack of personal savings prevent many from running, a problem especially acute for LGBTQ women, who tend to have lower incomes than cisgender men and heterosexual women.
  • Threats and violence based on anti-LGBTQ bigotry, sexism, and/or racism. Fear of anti-LGBTQ violence is among the top reasons LGBTQ women hesitate or hesitated to run.
  • Anti-LGBTQ bigotry, sexism and racism on the campaign trail. The use of anti-LGBTQ campaign tactics is a major concern, including attacks for appearing too stereotypically masculine or for not having a “traditional family.”
  • External perceptions of qualifications. Many worried media and voters would unfairly question their qualifications in ways they would not question cisgender men. 
  • Knowledge on how to run for office and familiarity with party politics. Not knowing how to run as an out LGBTQ candidate and party officials’ perceived preference for heterosexual candidates and cisgender men candidates were deterrents.
  • Lack of representation in elected office raising questions of viability. The lack of LGBTQ women role models and concern about an LGBTQ person’s electability loomed large.

The report also found four common motivators for LGBTQ women considering a run:

  • Desire to increase representation in elected office. Many were motivated by a desire to increase LGBTQ women representation and be a voice for the community.
  • Desire to work on an issue personal to them and make systemic change. Most have a personal connection to the issue that inspired them to run and wanted to work on LGBTQ equality.
  • External encouragement. Many did not think about running until someone encouraged them to, with friends or a spouse among the most influential.
  • Frustration with current elected officials and their issue agendas. Frustration over policies enacted and the behavior of existing elected officials inspired many to run.

“LGBTQ women face the same obstacles as other women who want to run, but their sexual orientations and gender identities present additional challenges that often prevent them from taking the leap,” said Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute. “The barriers for LGBTQ women – and LGBTQ women of color and trans women in particular – are enormous, yet we know that when they run, they win. By understanding the barriers better and working to reduce their impact, we can encourage more LGBTQ women to run and increase our numbers in elected office.”

In response to the findings, LGBTQ Victory Institute is announcing the launch of its Women Out to Win Mentorship Program, which matches LGBTQ women who plan to run for office with two LGBTQ women who hold or have held elected office. It will also provide regular programming to address the barriers LGBTQ women face on the campaign trail. Victory Institute will also adapt its campaign training curriculum, with more sessions about safety on the campaign trail, responding to anti-LGBTQ campaign attacks, and fundraising.

Download the complete The Decision to Run report at victoryinstitute.org/decisiontorun.

About Victory Institute

LGBTQ Victory Institute works to achieve and sustain global equality through leadership development, training, and convening to increase the number, expand the diversity, and ensure the success of openly LGBTQ elected and appointed officials at all levels of government.

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