General Articles

2010 Elections Show Mixed Results for Women and the LGBTQ Community

The Republican Party boasted striking victories in the 2010 midterm elections, including capturing control of the U.S. House of Representatives and prevailing in numerous gubernatorial, state legislative, and local elections. Republicans gained at least 675 state legislative seats, an increase that is “the biggest any party has made in state legislative seats since 1938.”[1] Prior to the midterm elections, Democrats controlled 27 state legislatures; now their control has dropped to 17, while 5states are split and New York officials are still determining which party has the majority in the state senate.[2] Republicans also were dominant in the gubernatorial elections and picked up 11 governorships previously held by Democrats.
Although many Americans were said to have voted for Republicans as a “rejection of Democrats’ policies,” particularly regarding the flagging economy, newly elected Republicans will exert considerable influence over a wide range of social issues that impact all segments of the population, including women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) individuals.[3] These concerns include such fundamental topics as a sexual and reproductive health rights, same-sex relationship recognition, and health care. In order to ensure that their welfare is a priority, it is paramount that all groups be well-represented in government; however, the 2010 elections produced mixed results for women and the LGBTQ community.
The 2010 electionswere significant for openly lesbian, gay, and transgender candidates, who won in a total of 106 elections across the country.[4] David Cicilline, who previously served as the first openly gay mayor in Rhode Island, will become the fourth openly gay member of the U.S. House of Representatives when he takes office in January; and the voters of Ohio and Washington elected their first openly lesbian representatives. Furthermore, Southern voters elected openly gay officials, including Jim Gray as mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, and Marcus Brandon to the North Carolina general assembly.[5] Representative Brandon will not only be an openly gay legislator but also one of five African American officials in that body. The transgender community also achieved an important benchmark when the citizens of Alameda County, California, chose Victoria Kolakowski to be the “first openly transgender judge in America.”[6] Of note, this year was also the first in more than a decade in which there was not a ballot initiative about same-sex marriage.
Women, however, did not fare nearly as well in the 2010 midterm elections. The 112th Congress will be the first in three decades to have fewer women serving in it than in the previous Congress.[7] Many high-profile women ran for office in 2010, such as unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman of California and U.S. Senate candidates Sharron Angle of Nevada, Carly Fiorina of California, Linda McMahon of Connecticut, and Christine O’Donnell of Delaware; there were some who prevailed, including senator-elect Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and governor-elect Nikki Haley of South Carolina. Nevertheless, women will have less representation in Congress than before. Many women candidates across the country embraced the ideals that have defined feminism for a generation; however, some of those who lost their races emphatically did not, in some cases even opposing abortion for women who are survivors of rape or incest; among these were the Tea Party–favored candidates Angle and O’Donnell. While women will be less represented in government at both the federal and state levels beginning in 2011 than they have been in recent memory, the ideals that some female candidates have espoused have the potential to eradicate the rights that generations of women have fought for.

“SIECUS celebrates the fact that the LGBTQ population has gained greater representation in government in a variety of capacities across the country, and hope that the victories of 2010 are a harbinger of administrations and legislatures that will endow all their citizens with the equal rights they deserve,” comments Jen Heitel Yakush, director of public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. “We lament the fact that the ascension of women candidates experienced over the last 30 years has stalled, and hope that we will not see a similar backsliding in the women’s rights that have been established over those years.”

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[1] Dan Balz, “The GOP Takeover in the States,” Washington Post, 13 November 2010, accessed 29 November 2010, <>.

[2] Sandhya Somashekhar, “GOP’s Gains Ready to Propel Social Issues Back into Spotlight,” Washington Post, 21 November 2010, accessed 29 November 2010, <>.

[3] “CNN Poll: Election Not a Mandate for GOP,” CNN, 15 November 2010, accessed 19 November 2010, <>.

[4] “Record Number of Gay, Lesbian Candidates Elected to Office,” Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, 3 November 2010, accessed 19 November 2010, <>.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Amie Newman, “Sexism in the Midterms: Politicians Win, Women Lose,” RH RealityCheck, 7 November 2010, accessed 29 November 2010, <>.