As the dust continues to settle around this year’s historic election and the final mail-in ballots are counted, many have been left frustrated as the race for the White House still hangs in the balance. While Biden is yet to secure a concrete win in any of the battleground states that will be crucial to a Democratic victory, there were a number of small but mighty gains for the party across the Senate and House elections last night—in particular when it came to broadening the pool of minority representatives for the Democratic party across the two institutions.
Whether it was the unprecedented wave of LGBTQ+ representatives across the country, the increased presence of Indigenous legislators, or the reelection of high-profile progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, there were still silver linings to be found outside of the hotly contested presidential race. Here are five history-making wins to help remain hopeful while awaiting the final election results.
A historic night for LGBTQ+ representatives
The Trump campaign’s last-ditch effort to appeal to LGBTQ+ voters over the past few weeks may have been met with widespread skepticism, but the need for queer representatives at all levels of government is important all the same. As last night’s Senate and House results make clear, the Democratic Party’s efforts to diversify this year didn’t go to waste, with the much-hoped-for “rainbow wave” sweeping a number of key states.
One of the most significant victories on this front was secured by 30-year-old Sarah McBride in Delaware, who last night became the first openly trans state senator in U.S. history, as well as that of Taylor Small, who became the first openly trans person to be elected to the Vermont legislature. Another notable win came with the election of Stephanie Byers to the Kansas House of Representatives, becoming the first trans Indigenous person to hold statewide office. As Danica Roem, who made history three years ago as the first openly trans person to serve in any U.S. state legislature, noted on Twitter: “Before I ran in 2017, we had no out trans state legislators. In 2021, we’ll have seven.”
Elsewhere, there were a number of firsts for queer people of color. In New York, Democratic candidates Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones became the first openly gay Afro-Latinx and Black men respectively elected to Congress, marking a powerful step forward in terms of representation for these often marginalized communities. As Jones told The New York Times earlier this year: “Growing up poor, Black, and gay, I never imagined someone like me could run for Congress, let alone win.”
Cori Bush becomes Missouri’s first Black congresswoman
For those who watched the Netflix documentary Knock Down the House, Cori Bush will be a familiar face—even if the former nurse and pastor’s primary campaign against the incumbent Democratic representative for her district, William Lacy Clay Jr., was ultimately unsuccessful. Undeterred, Bush launched a second campaign for the spot this year, earning a surprise victory in the primary election back in August.
Last night, Bush swept to victory once again, defeating her Republican opponent Anthony Rogers with 84% of the vote and becoming the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress. Bush, who first made her name as a progressive activist to watch during the unrest that followed the fatal 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, is a leading voice in the Black Lives Matter movement, and is hoping to use her platform to heal racial divides across her state.
“Shirley Chisholm became the first Black woman elected to Congress 52 years ago,” Bush wrote on Twitter following her impressive victory. “Today, I became the first Black woman elected to represent Missouri in Congress. It’s 2020. I shouldn’t be the first, but I am honored to carry this responsibility.”
An increase in Indigenous representatives
In 2018, a watershed moment for the representation of Indigenous women in Congress was reached with the elections of Deb Haaland, who is Laguna Pueblo, and Sharice Davids, who is Ho-Chunk, to congressional districts in New Mexico and Kansas respectively. This year, that number looked set to increase yet again, with the Center for American Women and Politics reporting ahead of the election that a new record of 18 Native American women would be running for Congress in 2020.
These predictions proved well-founded. Last night, both Haaland and Davids held onto their hard-earned Congressional seats, while new names joining their ranks include Hawaiian Democrat contender Kaiali’i Kahele, who becomes only the second Native Hawaiian lawmaker to represent the state. Last night’s results also mark a notable step forward for LGBTQ+ Native Americans, with Davids continuing her tenure as the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Congress from Kansas, and the previously mentioned victory of Stephanie Byers as the first trans woman to serve within the Kansas House of Representatives.
New Mexico elects three women of color to Congress
Deb Haaland’s reelection in New Mexico not only marked an important moment for Indigenous women in Congress, but also for her state more broadly. Along with Yvette Herrell and Teresa Leger Fernandez, as of this morning, New Mexico will be the first state to elect women of color as their House delegation in Washington across all of their congressional districts.
Also notable is the progressive platform on which Teresa Leger Fernandez ran. Earning the endorsement of prominent political figures including Elizabeth Warren and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, her advocacy for a “New Mexico Green New Deal” has garnered wider attention for its focus on investment in clean energy and regenerative agriculture. It’s an important victory for the future of a state that has largely leaned Democratic for the past two decades, and also happened to be one of the first to be called in favor of Biden last night.
The reelection of “the Squad”
Given the intense scrutiny faced by the four women—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib—nicknamed “the Squad” during their two years serving in the House of Representatives, there were plenty of eyes on their races in the lead-up to this year’s election.
Despite the GOP’s best efforts to unseat as many of the four as possible by funneling money into opposing campaigns, all four secured decisive victories last night in their respective districts, with Omar taking to Twitter this morning to congratulate her peers, adding: “Our sisterhood is resilient.” The shared values of the congresswomen have seen them campaign heavily around progressive policies including radical action on climate change, Medicare for All, and an emphasis on social justice, with their victories only affirming the priorities of the next generation of Democratic voters.
Looking at the record numbers of younger and minority candidates joining their ranks in Congress this year, however, don’t be surprised if you see the Squad increasing its membership count when the House reconvenes in January.