NORMAN, Okla. — With the rising prominence of the LGBTQ movement, supporters are growing as a voting bloc.
But treating the whole “community” as the same would be a mistake, according to one study conducted by University of Oklahoma sociology professor Meredith Worthen. There are more differences within the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer groups than would normally be assumed.
Worthen’s research examines the so-called “Rainbow Wave” of voters during the 2018 Midterm elections. That term also refers to the amount of LGBTQ political leaders who were elected to various state and national seats.
For example, James Cooper became Oklahoma City’s first openly gay council member when he was voted into office last November. Kyrsten Cinema, a Democrat from Arizona, was the first openly bisexual person to be voted into the U.S. Senate.
However, it is wrong to put the entire LGBTQ community into one voting bloc that always votes liberal, Worthen said.
“I would cringe every time I heard this ‘rainbow wave’ phrase, because I’m not sure that you really know that’s what is happening,” Worthen said. “It makes sense on the face of it. The issue is, though, nobody really knew that.”
Certainly when compared to heterosexual people, the group is more liberal; but compared with each other, the picture begins to change.
“If you compare LGBTQ people to straight people, then you will mostly find that type of pattern, no surprisingly,” Worthen said. “But if you look within the community — and I use that loosely because there are some real, non-community type feelings there — you’ll find some interesting differences.”
When comparing sexual identity, pansexual, lesbian and gay voters are the most liberal, Worthen said.
“Bisexual individuals are way less liberal, on the face of it, when compared to lesbian and gay individuals,” she said.
Additionally, when it comes to gender identity, cisgender and non-binary women are the most liberal groups. But interestingly enough, Worthen said, trans women are the least liberal.
“I expect it has something to do with their voices just not being met, not being heard,” she said. “We say, ‘Of course, it’s liberal. These are the spaces,’ but perhaps these aren’t the spaces at all that trans women feel are connecting with who they are.”
Worthen said she doesn’t really understand why that is, but some of it could be traced back to the time of the Stonewall Riots. This event — which is seen as the beginning of the LGBTQ rights movement and has its 50th anniversary on Friday — did not spark a uniform movement, Worthen said.
“At that time, the whole movement was co-opted by white, gay, cisgender men,” she said. “Even with lesbian women, there was a whole fracture with them breaking off into their own groups. Bisexuals have really always been lost in the movement. They’re not as visible, there’s a great deal of hostility and a fracture between lesbian women and bisexual women. Some of that is pretty real today, especially with older generations of lesbian women.”
The same can be said for trans women, Worthen said, who have found themselves on the outside or even completely excluded from these various movements. For trans women of color, this was especially true.
“There’s a negative relationship between being a trans woman and being liberal,” Worthen said. “That’s robust. There’s something going on there. I think they might be their own thing. It just doesn’t make sense for trans voters, and most people are not looking at trans voters or what trans people think about.”
And now, there is an increased importance to better understand the complexities of the LGBTQ community as a voting bloc. It is increasingly becoming more politically visible, as is evident by the election of transgender woman Danica Roem to the Virginia House of Delegates.
She wasn’t the only trans individual to be elected to an office, either. To put it simply, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who is running for president, shouldn’t assume he’ll receive the LGBTQ vote simply because he’s openly gay, according to Worthen’s findings.
“I think that’s the problem with all this stuff,” Worthen said. “That’s why Hillary Clinton lost. They think ‘I don’t need to talk to these people because they will definitely vote for me.’
“People don’t think there’s a story here. They think it’s just so black and white. But if we don’t dig down into these nuances, we won’d understand these individual groups.”
Worthen is currently writing a book, “Queers, Bis and Straight Lies,” that delves into the inner workings of each LGBTQ culture. She said one chapter does cover political issues and varying political support for these groups.
She hopes to finish it later in the summer and publish sometime in 2020.
Troxtell writes for The Norman Transcript, a CNHI News Service publication.