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  1. Florida Politics

In Florida and nationwide, LGBTQ candidates make history

John Pendygraft | Times Democrat Jennifer Webb, right, won the Florida House District 69 race. Webb, who lives in Gulfport with Cynthia Wurner, left, is the first married lesbian to head to Tallahassee. Candidates nationwide also made LGBTQ history from governor races to small local seats.
Published Nov. 9, 2018

Many Florida advocates hoped to find a champion of LGBTQ rights in the state's next governor.

With no state or federal protections, queer and trans Floridians — and Americans — often must rely on sparse local anti-discrimination ordinances to protect them. Advocates had hoped for Democrat Andrew Gillum to help pass civil rights laws, like the Competitive Workforce Act.

It was not to be.

Still, advocates could find hope as LGBTQ candidates made history in Florida and nationwide. A record number — at least 244 won in primaries, all Democrats — had run for office at all levels of government in every single state for the first time, said an advocacy group. While results aren't fully known, at least 153 candidates won Tuesday.

The rainbow wave came as the queer community faces a hostile White House and increasing harassment and attacks, notably against trans people and people of color.

Campaigns reflected that animosity. LGBTQ candidates faced barbs not just from Republicans but from fellow Democrats who doubted they could win, the New York Times reported. Hopefuls weathered death threats, mockery and attacks that blend homophobia or transphobia with sexism and racism.

Florida

According to the Victory Fund, Florida had 28 LGBTQ candidates running since the primaries, behind Texas' 61 and California's 81. The advocacy group online recorded four of six out Florida candidates won Tuesday.

In Tampa Bay, Gulfport resident and lesbian Jennifer Webb swung the Florida House District 69 seat to Democrat control. She became the first out queer woman elected to the Florida Legislature.

Webb, 38, beat well-funded Republican Raymond Blacklidge, 58, for the seat that had been held since 2012 by Republican Kathleen Peters. In 2016, Webb, then a novice, unsuccessfully went up against Peters.

So, Webb redoubled her efforts to get to know the needs of residents in the district that includes Gulfport, Madeira Beach, Pinellas Park, South Pasadena, Kenneth City, St. Pete Beach, Treasure Island and parts of St. Petersburg. And this time, Democrats contributed large sums to help push Webb to victory on a platform of gun control, Medicaid expansion, infrastructure investment and more.

Webb also received strong financial support from unions and the LGBTQ community.

"I will be the first married lesbian to be elected to higher office in Florida's history," she said after her win. "And I look forward to my spouse, Cynthia Wurner, holding the Constitution when I'm sworn into office."

Webb joins Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who in 2016 became Florida's first and only openly queer Latinx legislator. Smith, who got engaged at October's Orlando Pride, won re-election with promises to fight gun violence and for state aid for a Pulse memorial, among other points.

Rep. Shevrin Jones came out this year by allowing Equality Florida to include him in its list of endorsed out candidates. Jones — who won his fourth term in an uncontested race this summer to represent a district that includes Broward County — is the state's only openly gay black lawmaker.

Webb, Smith and Jones bring the tally of out state legislators to its highest.

While reported by Equality Florida and news sources, Key West did not elect Florida's first openly lesbian mayor in Teri Johnston, corrected Judge Rand Hoch of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. His county already did in small towns: Cloud Lake Mayor Betty James (2007-11) and Palm Beach Shores Mayor Myra Koutzen (2016-present). Gay mayors also have been elected, including Key West's Richard A. Heyman (1983-85, 1987-89), Pahokee's J.P. Sasser (came out in 2006), Gainesville's Craig Lowe (2010-13) and Fort Lauderdale's Dean Trantalis (March 2018).

In Broward County, Wilton Manors became the second U.S. city with an all LGBTQ commission and mayor: Mayor Justin Flippen and commissioners Paul Rolli, Gary Resnick, Julie Carson and Tom Green. It's no surprise — the city bills itself as the "second gayest city" in the nation, thanks to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Equality Florida on Wednesday said 82 of its 111 endorsed candidates won — a 74 percent success rate across the state.

"The 2018 election ends with the largest bipartisan majorities in our history supporting statewide protections for Florida's LGBTQ community," Equality Florida said.

Governor races

For the first time, Victory Fund said, four governor hopefuls represented the LGBT acronym: Lupe Valdez, a lesbian; Jared Polis, a gay man; Kate Brown, a bisexual woman; and Christine Hallquist, a trans woman.

Two won.

Brown, who became the first openly queer U.S. governor in 2015, was re-elected in Oregon as a key Trump dissenter.

In Colorado, Polis became the first gay man elected as a U.S. governor. The five-term congressman and father of two had previously made history as the first openly gay parent in Congress. His election raises doubts for Republicans hoping to swing Colorado red in 2020.

Meanwhile, Valdez lost to Gov. Greg Abbott in Texas but came closer than Wendy Davis' campaign in 2014. And in Vermont, Hallquist fell short to Republican Phil Scott. Hallquist was the first trans person nominated by a major party in a U.S. governor race and faced a dozen or more death threats to her campaign.

Congress

Twenty-one LGBTQ people ran for Congress, the Victory Fund said. At least eight have won.

Sharice Davids became Kansas' first queer person and American Indian to head to the U.S. Capitol, flipping a key district blue. Davids is a lesbian member of the Ho-Chunk Nation who joins New Mexico's Deb Haaland, a Democrat of the Laguna Pueblo tribe, as the first American Indian women in U.S. Congress.

New Hampshire sent its first openly gay member to Congress in Chris Pappas. And Angie Craig became the first openly queer person elected to Congress by Minnesota. Craig, a lesbian, unseated GOP Rep. Jason Lewis, who had compared gay people to rapists and pushed an anti-gay platform.

Tammy Baldwin, a lesbian who became the first out U.S. senator in 2013, kept her seat from Trump's pick. Arizona Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, an out bisexual, was in a race that was too close to call Wednesday morning.

Other battles

Candidates across the nation were firsts in state legislatures, including Gerri Cannon and Lisa Bunker in New Hampshire, Kansas' Susan Ruiz and Brandon Woodard and Pennsylvania's Malcolm Kenyatta.

With yes on Question 3, Massachusetts residents rallied for the trans community by voting to keep legislation that bans discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Aside from harming the local community, advocates had said a no vote could've led rise to more attempts to repeal anti-discrimination laws across the country.

And while David Ermold, a gay man denied a marriage license by Kim Davis, lost in the primary, Democrat Elwood Caudill Jr. beat Davis for clerk of Kentucky's Rowan County. Davis made headlines in 2015 for using Christianity to flout the Supreme Court decision on marriage equality.

This article has been updated to reflect past lesbian and gay Florida mayors.

Times Staff Writers Waveney Ann Moore and Kirby Wilson contributed to this report.

Contact Ashley Dye at adye@tampabay.com. Follow @ashleycdye.

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