NOEL KING, HOST:
This midterm season, nearly 400 LGBTQ candidates ran for state, local and federal offices. Many of them made history. Advocacy groups see the wins as a reaction to hostility from Washington and statehouses in recent years. NPR's Leila Fadel has the story.
LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: Kansas elected its first openly LGBTQ person to Congress. Sharice Davids gave her victory speech after her win against the Republican incumbent.
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SHARICE DAVIDS: Because the time for people to not be heard and not be seen and not be listened to or represented well changes now.
FADEL: Michigan got its first openly lesbian attorney general with Dana Nessel. Chris Pappas will be New Hampshire's first openly gay congressman. And in Colorado, Jared Polis becomes the first openly gay man elected governor in what advocates are calling a rainbow wave.
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JARED POLIS: For the LGBTQ pioneers for equality in the generations before me, who endured so much hardship and hurt to make it possible for so many of us, myself included, to live and to love openly and proudly...
FADEL: And Polis isn't the first LGBTQ governor. That was Oregon's Kate Brown, who got re-elected this week. Every LGBTQ incumbent for Congress kept their seat on Tuesday night, and the overall number grew. One win came in Minnesota, where Democrat Angie Craig unseated Republican Jason Lewis, who'd called trans student bathroom access an abomination. Chad Griffin is the president of the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group.
CHAD GRIFFIN: What happened was a resounding victory for equality and a rejection of those who choose to attack us and truly sending the message - attack the LGBTQ community, and you do so at your own peril.
FADEL: After Tuesday, there are only four states in the whole country that have never elected an openly LGBTQ person to their state legislature. That's according to Annise Parker, the president of the Victory Fund, an organization that supports openly LGBTQ candidates. The former Houston mayor says, building on past gains was one factor in these wins, but anxiety also drove voters.
ANNISE PARKER: We feel we're under assault across the country, particularly from our state legislators.
FADEL: Parker says in the last two years, more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills surfaced in statehouses across the country.
PARKER: Anti-adoption bills, conversion therapy bills, so-called religious freedom bills, anti-transgender bathroom access bills - on and on and on.
FADEL: Back in Kansas, where Sharice Davids won, Hailee Bland Walsh says she's relieved.
HAILEE BLAND WALSH: It's not only hopeful; frankly, it's lifesaving.
FADEL: Walsh and her wife never imagined that they'd see an open lesbian serve in their district. She's been afraid as a minority in an America that's becoming more and more uncivil.
BLAND WALSH: There's something really fundamental about feeling safe. And today, for the first time in couple of years - I'm getting emotional about it, but I feel safe.
FADEL: These candidates, though, aren't winning on votes from LGBTQ communities alone. In Colorado, Zack Katz, a straight white man, voted for Governor-elect Jared Polis.
ZACK KATZ: I voted for him without remembering that he was gay.
FADEL: Katz says what he voted for was Polis' stance on guns, health care and education - concerns on the minds of many American voters. Leila Fadel, NPR News.
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