Closing The Gap

Just two LGBTQ women currently serve in Congress — these 6 candidates could change that

Lexi Churchill
Two LGBTQ women currently serve in Congress. Meet the candidates who could change that
Two LGBTQ women currently serve in Congress. Meet the candidates who could change that

Tammy Baldwin was elected to the U.S. House in 1998, becoming Wisconsin's first female representative and the nation's first openly LGBTQ federal lawmaker. In 2012, Baldwin won a race for the U.S. Senate, and Krysten Sinema was elected to represent Arizona's 9th District in Congress. They have remained the country's only women LGBTQ federal lawmakers since.

But the 2018 midterm elections, and these six candidates, could change that.

According to Politico, of the 476 women originally running for U.S. House seats, 165 have won primaries and 136 still have primaries ahead. Of the 54 women who filed to run for the U.S. Senate, nine won primaries and 27 still have primaries ahead. The New York Times reports that there are "more than 400 gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender candidates running for office this year — a record number, according to groups that track such data."

None of the six candidates featured here has held an elected office before, but they bring experience from the White House, the military, U.S. intelligence agencies and nonprofit organizations.

These are the candidates that could quadruple the number of LGBTQ women serving in the House and Senate:

Lauren Baer

Seat: U.S. House, Florida's 18th District

Primary: Aug. 28

Education: B.A. from Harvard University, J.D. from Yale Law School and an M.Phil. from the University of Oxford

Political awakening: Baer studied international relations at Oxford at the height of the Iraq War and found that she was viewed as a representative of the U.S., despite disagreeing with many of her country's actions. "That made me want to be a foreign policy decision-maker, because I understood the magnitude of the decisions that were being made in Washington and I wanted to impact them."

Attorney and former Obama administration foreign policy official, Lauren Baer, is running for Florida's 18th Congressional District House seat. 
Lauren Baer 

Baer developed an interest in international issues while watching "60 Minutes" with her family on Sunday nights.

"I knew that law was a mechanism for creating social change and social justice. I later became deeply interested in international affairs," Baer tells CNBC Make It. "I ultimately spent a large part of my career working at the intersection of the two."

Baer collected six years of international affairs knowledge from inside the Obama White House, serving as a senior advisor to Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. She crafted new strategies for engaging religious communities, collaborated with the Vatican on climate change, led an initiative to secure private sector funding to address the refugee crises and co-created a campaign to ensure that LGBTQ rights are recognized and protected as human rights around the world.

If she wins, she will be Florida's first LGBTQ representative on the hill.

Alexandra Chandler

Seat: U.S. House, Massachusetts' 3rd district

Primary: Sept. 4

Education: B.A. from Brown University, Brooklyn Law

Tentpole issue: As a transgender woman, Chandler is vocal about her belief that underrepresented identities deserve to be defended in Congress. "You better believe I'm going to be a voice for the immigrant kids facing the horrors of family separation and a voice for the working class and the poor kids out there. I think that solidarity across the space of all of us that are vulnerable, I think that matters — that matters a lot."

Alexandra Chandler is a Massachusetts candidate for Congressional office. 
Alexandra Chandler

While serving in the Office of Naval Intelligence in the early 2000s, Chandler came out to her colleagues and announced her plans to undergo gender reassignment surgery. She'd expected backlash but was greeted with support from her team that would last for the remaining decade of her service.

"If I had the courage to stand up for myself back then, then I have the courage to stand up for [my constituents in Washington]," Chandler tells CNBC Make It.

Though she could make history as the first openly transgender congressperson, she remains focused on her 13-point platform — and she hopes others will, too.

"I'm going to be over here talking about how to raise stagnant wages, how to lower health-care costs, the opioid epidemic, climate change," Chandler says. "If someone on the other side wants to talk about where people use the bathroom, I'm happy to have that debate. Bring it on."

Angie Craig

Seat: U.S. House, Minnesota's 2nd District

Primary: Aug. 14

Education: B.A. from University of Memphis

Tentpole issue: Craig believes most Americans don't have the same chances she had to get ahead through hard work.

"The opportunities that I was lucky enough to have are disappearing for too many families," Craig writes on her campaign website. "And most politicians seem content to sit back and do nothing but continue to help the rich get richer and fight among themselves. It's a broken political system that works for the special interests, not us."

Angie Craig is running for Minnesota's 2nd Congressional District.
Angie Craig

In 2016, Craig lost to Republican Rep. Jason Lewis by 2 percentage points. This year, she's back for a rematch.

Craig began her professional career as a journalist before moving into health-care policy and government relations as senior vice president of global human resources at St. Jude's. She and her wife Cheryl have four sons.

Craig says it is the struggles she faced during her upbringing that remind her why she's running for office. She spent much of her childhood living in a mobile home park with her mom and three siblings. She recalls that her family didn't always have health insurance, and that the financial support of her grandmother helped the family stay afloat more than once.

Craig remains unopposed for the Democratic primary this month. If she defeats Lewis, Craig will become Minnesota's first LGBTQ congressperson.

Sharice Davids

Seat: U.S. House, Kansas’ 3rd District

Primary: August 7

Education: B.A. From Johnson County Community College, Cornell Law

Tentpole issue: After years of working with government agencies, Davids believes there are not enough policymakers with hands-on policy implementation experience. “The people that are creating that policy or program or registration, a lot of them are experts I’m sure — they go to the best schools, they get a master's in public policy or planning ... but have rarely actually done the groundwork.”

Sharice Davids, a lawyer and former White House fellow, is running for Kansas' 3rd district House seat. 
Sharice Davids

Davids says her childhood admiration for Bruce Lee led to a “borderline obsessive” dedication to martial arts. When the UFC announced its new women’s division, the former MMA boxer couldn’t turn down the chance to try out.

“I think you learn a lot from trying something really audacious and not making it," Davids tells CNBC Make It. "At the same time, you learn a lot from all of the trials and tribulations that you have in your life."

After coming up short, Davids looked for her next audacious move — the White House Fellows program. In her interactions with government agencies while doing economic development work in Native American communities, she'd found that despite good intentions, many employees didn’t have the experience to effectively implement policy. While serving in the Department of Transportation for a year, she worked to fill this gap, contributing expertise on matters of community engagement and nondiscriminatory policies.

“Having one different voice in the room can really make a difference in how policy is created," Davids said.

If elected, Davids and New Mexico congressional candidate Deb Haaland could become the first Native American congresswomen in history, and Davids would become Kansas’ first LGBTQ congressperson.

Katie Hill

Seat: U.S. House, California’s 25th district

Election: Nov. 6

Education: B.A., M.A. from California State University, Northridge

Political resume: The nonprofit organization that Hill works for, People Assisting the Homeless, spent months persuading city council members to put its $1 billion affordable housing initiative on the November ballot, which ultimately passed the same day that Trump was elected. She realized how quickly their progress could be unraveled by an administration that might not be sympathetic to their cause.

“I said if ever there was a time that someone needed to step up and do something, and this is the way I can try and do that, then I’m going to give it a shot.”

Katie Hill, Democrat running for California's 25th Congressional district seat in Congress, speaks during the opening of the SCV Democratic Headquarters for 2018 in Newhall, Calif., on Saturday, May 26, 2018. 
Bill Clark | CQ-Roll Call | Getty Images

Hill, who originally planned to study nursing, was interning at a hospital when a patient who had come into the emergency room with a gunshot wound died as she held his hand. The patient’s sister told Hill their mother was a drug addict, and the siblings had been bounced around the foster care system.

“It really hit home for me that it's not necessarily a medical condition that lands someone in the ER,” Hill tells CNBC Make it. “It can be social issues more often than not that get someone there. I decided that I wanted to do something about that.”

Hill ended up pursuing nonprofit work, starting as a fundraiser for People Assisting the Homeless and eventually represented Path on various task forces aimed at improve the structure and interaction between federal agencies and local homeless services.

She declared her candidacy on International Women’s Day with a wave of endorsements and strong fundraising, and ultimately won the Democratic primary. Now, Hill will face Steve Knight, who has voted against LGBTQ rights issues in the past.

“To me, I think it's going to be really significant to have someone who’s from [the LGBTQ] community be the one to ultimately unseat him,” Hill says.

Gina Ortiz Jones

Seat: U.S. House, Texas’ 23rd district

Next Election: Nov. 6

Education: B.A., M.A. from Boston University

Political awakening: Once Jones recognized the new administration's plans to significantly reduce health-care and education funding, she decided her time serving in the executive branch needed to come to an end, and resigned to pursue activism. Jones is running for a seat no woman has ever held.

“It just became increasingly difficult for me to not think about how I could serve my country and community in a different way and in a way that only I could, given what we’re up against now.”

Gina Ortiz Jones, candidate for Texas' 23rd Congressional district, is interviewed by CQ Roll Call at their D.C. office, October 20, 2017.
Thomas McKinless | CQ-Roll Call Group | Getty Images

Jones served as an Air Force intelligence officer in Iraq during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” era. She continued her service as the senior advisor for trade enforcement and a director for investment at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. As a first-generation immigrant who relied on government programs growing up with a single mom, she was inspired to consider a run for office.

“There’s just a point where you just ask yourself the question, ‘Can I afford not to do this?’” Jones told the Huffington Post. “I think like a lot of women, you’re done assuming that somebody is going to do for you that which you can do yourself.”

She will face Republican incumbent Will Hurd in the general election, having won Democratic runoff against Rick Trevino. Though she could claim a number of historical “firsts” if she wins, Jones says her potential victory should only serve as a precedent.

“I’d be honored to be the first, but it's more important that I’m not the last,” Jones says.

Correction: An earlier version misstated the year Sen. Tammy Baldwin was originally elected to federal office. She was elected to the House in 1998.

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