See How They Run: Voter Preferences
and Candidates' Experiences with
the Role of Sexual Orientation in
What I think it signifies for the state is that this is a fairly tolerant state and
that voters are making decisions on people's character, and not their sexual
—Washington gay senator Ed Murray in response to a question
on the large number of LGBT legislators in the state
LIKE OTHER GROUPS, the LGBT community can try to achieve political representation by electing openly LGBT candidates to public office, ensuring that LGBT people are appointed to official positions, or by influencing the behavior of sympathetic heterosexual and closeted homosexual officials. However, as with any other career, LGBT persons seeking public office are often hesitant to be open or public about their sexual orientation. For LGBT public officials, being out means publicly stating one's sexual or gender orientation. But being out for officials may also mean discrimination, a lack of public support, or even the threat of physical violence. Even so, overall opposition to LGBT people, LGBT equality, and LGBT public officials appears to be declining by significant margins.
This chapter examines the role that a candidate's sexual orientation plays in an election by focusing largely on public support for LGBT candidates in state-level elections. My analysis proceeds in two parts. First, I provide an overview of public attitudes about LGBT candidates and explore the individual-level characteristics associated with opposition to LGBT candidates for state office. Second, I shift to the perspective of LGBT candidates for state legislative office. I analyze the survey and interview responses about LGBT candidates who ran for state legislative seats between 2003 and 2004. Finally, I summarize the results of my analysis and draw conclusions about the role of a candidate's sexual orientation.