Election 2024

9 leading LGBTQ+ voices discuss the Queer State of the Union: ‘The stakes couldn’t be higher’

Queer State of the Union 2024

From who will occupy our nation’s highest office to state-wide races that will determine the forces that shape our country’s future, the 2024 election promises to be a nail-biter. 

LGBTQ Nation gathered nine of the country’s best queer journalists to speak to elected officials, changemakers, and cultural icons about America’s future. What did they have to say?

Rep. Mark Pocan knows Donald Trump’s cult must be defeated to achieve equality

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI)
Representative Mark Pocan (D-WI). Photo illustration by Kyle Neal.

The Wisconsin congressman says there’s a “real, strong message around freedom” but it needs to make it to the voting booth.

Congressman Mark Pocan (D-WI) has laid out a path forward for LGBTQ+ equality, which prioritizes defeating Donald Trump in November and pushing the right’s more extreme elements out of the mainstream Republican party. Americans can be convinced to support LGBTQ+ rights, but Trumpism — or, in Pocan’s words, “that hate, base-only mentality” — must be divorced from the Republican party.

To advance a pro-LGBTQ+ agenda instead of just blocking an anti-LGBTQ+ agenda, it all comes back to this year’s election.

“There’s a real, strong message around freedom,” Pocan told LGBTQ Nation. “The freedom to love who you want to love, the freedom to make decisions about your own body, the freedoms that we have around democracy, all that are under attack by the current Republican Party under Donald Trump.” Read the full interview.

Trans lives are at risk. Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen says this is how to protect them.

National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Rodrigo Heng-Lehiten
National Center for Transgender Equality executive director Rodrigo Heng-Lehiten. Photo illustration by Kyle Neal.

The National Center for Transgender Equality executive director says the LGBTQ+ community is only as strong as the coalitions we form.

On January 10, 2024, Ohio transgender youth were abandoned on a “damning day” by the state’s House of Representatives. Republicans had overridden a vetoed bill denying them medically necessary health care and banning their participation in school sports consistent with their gender identity. For Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, it was just another day in the battle for trans equality.

But the newly appointed executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) shows no signs of raising the white flag. A merger expected to finalize this summer with the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF) will create a powerhouse organization even better equipped to overcome the 450-plus anti-trans bills introduced across the country and the growing anti-trans sentiment among the far right.

“A lot of elections these days are determined by only one to three percentage points,” Heng-Lehtinen tells LGBTQ Nation. That is a relatively small number of voters swinging an election in either direction. Transgender people may be a small population, but those of us who are trans, plus all the people who care about us — if we all turn out to vote— we can actually swing an election with that one to three percentage points.” Read the full interview.

LGBTQ+ people are facing a mental health crisis. Sharice Davids is ready to fight for them.

Sharice Davids
Representative Sharice Davids (KS-D). Photo illustration by Kyle Neal.

The out congresswoman says she’ll fight for Americans every day, even when it hurts.

Fighting in a mixed martial arts (MMA) match is a lot like fighting to win an election, says Rep. Sharice Davids (D-KS).

“Everything that determines whether you win or lose on the night of the fight happens well in advance,” the trailblazing Democratic legislator from Kansas and former MMA fighter tells LGBTQ Nation. “It comes down to getting up and going to work every single day, even if you don’t feel like it, even if you know it’s going to hurt.”

Davids is currently fighting to win her fourth term this November — a tough battle, as her district’s demographics have changed to become less Democratic-leaning, and Republican opponents are lining up to challenge her. But she has also been fighting another very important battle: the fight for increased access to mental health care. Read the full interview.

Jared Polis has a simple message for making America inclusive for everyone: Go vote

Colorado governor Jared Polis
Colorado Governor Jared Polis. Photo illustration by Kyle Neal for LGBTQ Nation.

Jared Polis promised to protect LGBTQ+ people, but before doing so, he had to get elected.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who has been in public service for nearly 25 years since his first elected position to the Colorado State Board of Education, recognizes both the country’s strides and the setbacks.

“When you make progress, there’s always an opposite reaction,” Polis tells LGBTQ Nation. “And I think that’s what’s being experienced. It’s sad to see in some states that they are deliberately trying to move backward and remove protections. And then there are other states like Colorado, California, and many others that are looking to expand protections beyond the baseline of federal protections that LGBTQ+ Americans have.”

“It’s absolutely critical to vote,” says Polis. “The LGBTQ+ community, and particularly the trans community, is being attacked and vilified. And demagogued for political gain by politicians on the far right. And it’s important to show that that doesn’t work in today’s and tomorrow’s America. And the best way that you can prove that is by voting.” Read the full interview.

Annise Parker says local LGBTQ+ candidates have the power to take down Donald Trump

LGBTQ+ Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker.
LGBTQ+ Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker. Photo illustration by Kyle Neal.

The head of the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund outlines the consequences of skipping the polls.

Nearly a decade after leaving the Houston mayor’s office, Annise Parker faces another challenge, this time on a national scale. As executive director of LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, she is tasked with electing queer candidates across the country — not to mention President Joe Biden — while fending off the threat to equality and democracy posed by former President Donald Trump.

Parker dismisses concerns about the lack of voter enthusiasm for Biden. (In national polls, the incumbent is running neck and neck or slightly behind Trump despite 91 felony indictments filed against the former president.)

“I hear this a lot,” Parker tells LGBTQ Nation. “And the answer is, I don’t care whether you’re in love with Joe Biden. What I care about is this: Are you planning on sitting home on the couch or going to the polls? You say you want better choices, but what changes if you stay home? And, by the way, if you stay home, look at these great local candidates who are also going to lose.” Read the full interview.

Trans youth matter. Melanie Willingham-Jaggers needs us to fight harder for their future.

Melanie Willingham-Jaggers
Melanie Willingham-Jaggers. Photo illustration by Kyle Neal.

GLSEN’s executive director says hateful education laws are decimating queer students’ mental health. But they still have hope.

“We are in a catalyzing moment, and my deepest hope … is that our people are coming out the other side of this feeling more connected to their power, more connected to each other,” GLSEN Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers tells LGBTQ Nation.

In the first months of 2024 alone, lawmakers across the country have proposed nearly 175 anti-LGBTQ+ bills explicitly targeting students and educators Still, Willingham-Jaggers has hope.

“The thing that I continue to turn back to … is the way in which our losses can bring us closer together,” says Willingham-Jaggers. “Our defeats can get us connected with each other and understanding our power. Even if we lose this battle, how do we win the war?” Read the full interview.

Can drag queens swing the election? Cynthia Lee Fontaine says they’re more powerful than you think.

Drag Out the Vote co-chair Cynthia Lee Fontaine
Drag Out the Vote co-chair Cynthia Lee Fontaine. Photo illustration by Kyle Neal.

“From the moment you start to put on your eyelashes and transform yourself, it’s political,” says the Drag Out the Vote activist.

On any given Saturday night, Cynthia Lee Fontaine is doing her usual rounds in the gay nightlife scene of Austin, where she lives. While most bar patrons might recognize the RuPaul’s Drag Race alum, Fontaine hasn’t arrived to entertain them, not entirely. The Puerto Rican-born drag queen is on a mission to create political awareness by encouraging individuals to inform themselves and use their voices.

She asks patrons: “Are you registered to vote? Do you know that your rights are on the line?” 

Fontaine is among 300 drag queens enlisted by Drag Out the Vote to encourage the LGBTQ+ community and allies to engage in the political process. Read the full interview.

Armistead Maupin says we all think too much about Lauren Boebert

Armistead Maupin
Armistead Maupin. Photo illustration by Kyle Neal.

The iconic “Tales of the City” author says though America is “deeply divided” we “need to have a loving connection with each other — period.”

The celebrated author is keenly aware of the effect stories like his can have not just on queer young people but on people generally, shaping their attitudes and, by extension, their politics.

“I certainly know from my own experience with my own books that the relief with which people recognized the arrival of those stories told me that they were needed,” Maupin tells LGBTQ Nation. “That’s the thing I hear most commonly: ‘I’m a straight person, but I read Tales of the City years ago, and it changed how I felt about gay people.’ And I hang on to that. That’s my worth in life, having accomplished that. And it’s the best I could have done, to simply get readers emotionally involved with the notion of gay freedom.” Read the full interview.

America devalues queer families. Jaymes Black is lifting them up.

Family Equality President and CEO Jaymes Black
Family Equality President and CEO Jaymes Black. Photo illustration by Kyle Neal.

Teachers are telling the kids of queer parents that they can’t talk about their families. Black won’t stand for this dehumanization.

“Family is so integral to our existence as humans, so the work we do is so important,” Black tells LGBTQ Nation. “Whether that’s a chosen family, whatever way you can make families — it’s so inherent to humans. And so the work we do is to ensure that all people, especially LGBTQ+ people, can experience family.”

“Family Equality is doing lots of work on the ground with our state movement partners helping to fight the bad bills. In particular, it’s the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills,” says Black. 

The stakes in the 2024 election couldn’t be higher.

“Now, I know that we’re in a pretty bad spot as it relates to anti-LGBTQ+ bills,” Black says. “What I worry about is that if we do not win this election, what happens next? Do we go from having a year ending with over 500 bills to a year ending with something much greater than that?” Read the full interview.

Featured image: (clockwise from upper left) Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, Armistead Maupin, Jared Polis, Annise Parker, Cynthia Lee Fontaine, Sharice Davids, Mark Pocan, Jaymes Black, and Rodrigo Heng-Lehtiten. Photo illustration by Kyle Neal.

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