Every year, LGBTQ political candidates smash through rainbow ceilings in the fight to represent their communities. 2022 should be no different, with dozens of LGBTQ people already slated to run for both state and federal offices.
But here are five LGBTQ candidates we’re especially keeping our eyes on as they run to make history in 2022.
In 2013, Tina Kotek made history when she was elected as Oregon’s Speaker of the House and became the first out lesbian speaker in any state house nationwide.
Still serving in the role today, the progressive Democrat is taking on a new challenge. Now running for governor of Oregon, Kotek could become the nation’s first out lesbian governor.
“It’s an honor and frankly a privilege to be a trailblazer in this regard,” Kotek told LGBTQ Nation in November. “I think for me it comes down to what message it sends to young people… It is still hard out there.”
Kotek is ready, she said, to take her leadership to the next level.
“I’ve had the good fortune to be in the position to do things that really improve the lives of Oregonians, and this is a state I love… and it’s a state that has allowed me to be myself. It’s a beautiful place and I want to give back. It’s about making sure we can continue to improve people’s lives.”
Deja Alvarez is running for the Pennsylvania State House in the state’s 182nd district, which includes Philadelphia. If elected, she will become the first out trans Latina member of the Pennsylvania House.
A longtime LGBTQ activist, she is currently the director of community engagement for World Healthcare Infrastructures, which provides healthcare services to those in need. Additionally, she works as the LGBTQ care coordinator for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.
She is also the co-chair of the Philadelphia Police LGBTQ Liaison Committee, chairwoman for the city’s Trans Day of Remembrance and president of The Women’s March on Philadelphia. She is an educator with the Transgender Training Institute and serves on the task force working to create an LGBTQ Advisory Board for the Philadelphia district attorney.
Alvarez co-founded and directed the LGBTQ Home for HOPE, the state’s first LGBTQ-specific shelter and recovery facility. During the pandemic, she also launched a food distribution program that delivered 800 to 1,000 cases of food per week to those in need. She is now transforming that project into a permanent food bank.
The list goes on, and now, Alvarez is ready to use the skills she has built as an activist and community advocate to make a difference at the state level.
“I’ve had to learn to build relationships and maintain them,” she told LGBTQ Nation in September. “I’ve had to learn to build a lot of these bridges so we could make a difference, and I think that’s a skill I’ll be able to utilize greatly going into this race and then winning this seat.”
Malcolm Kenyatta is running to represent Pennsylvania in the United States Senate. If he wins, he will be the first out gay man ever elected to the body. He would also be the first out Black senator and the first Black senator from the state of Pennsylvania.
Last year at the Democratic National Convention, Kenyatta was one of 17 rising-star Democrats to deliver the keynote address and one of the first three out LGBTQ people to ever do so.
In 2018, he became the first LGBTQ person of color to be elected to the Pennsylvania State General Assembly at the age of 28 in a landslide victory.
“As somebody who inhabits all of these intersections,” he told LGBTQ Nation in 2020, “growing up in an incredibly poor neighborhood to a working poor family, as one of only two openly LGBTQ members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the only one that’s a person of color, I see all the different ways that frankly our systems are broken.”
Nevada Democrat Kimi Cole is running to become the state’s next lieutenant governor. A victory for Cole would make her the first out transgender statewide elected official in the country.
Cole is currently the chair of the Nevada Democratic Rural Caucus and before that she was the chair of the Douglas County Democratic Party.
She has devoted her political career to uplifting the voices of rural voters and told Politico that Democrats have a lot to learn when it comes to messaging to rural people.
“I’m a lifelong Nevadan with deep roots all across our state,” she said in a statement on her campaign website. “I’m running for Lieutenant Governor because I believe Nevadans of all walks of life want and deserve authentic leadership, and that’s exactly what this campaign is about. Our economy, climate, and everyday life is rapidly changing, and we need someone who can help lead our transition into the new era.”
In 2012, Pennsylvania state Rep. Brian Sims (D) made history as the first out gay member of his state’s legislature. Now, the progressive candidate for Lt. Governor could break yet another barrier and become the state’s first out leader elected statewide.
“One of the great impacts of having LGBTQ people in office is showing people that authenticity often can carry the day,” Sims told LGBTQ Nation in June.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which has endorsed Sims, called him “one of the most visible out elected officials in the United States.”
Currently serving in his 9th year as a state representative, Sims said he is running for higher office because Pennsylvania is in dire need of more progressive leadership, something he has unwaveringly worked to provide in the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.
“It’s disappointing that Pennsylvania lacks so much progressive legislation and also a real opportunity for me,” he said. “I have spent my 10 years leading the charge on women’s rights, reproductive rights, racial and ethnic justice, certainly LGBTQ civil rights, issues of the environment, and even immigration.”