Feb. 12, 2016
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press
Kyrsten Sinema, who is openly bisexual and a top candidate in the Democratic primary in Arizona’s 9th district, said her prospective constituents don’t care about her sexuality.

Sexual Orientation ‘Nonissue’ on Campaign Trail

A gay candidate for Congress walks into a bar. No joke: Nothing happens.

A record number of openly gay candidates are running for Congress this cycle, and the reaction, among a huge swath of voters, has been a collective yawn.

“It’s really becoming a nonissue,” Democratic consultant Steve Elmendorf explained. “If you look at a lot of these districts where people are running, the fact that they are gay is not really that important to the campaign.”

All across the country, serious contenders for Congress who are openly gay — Democratic and Republican — said their sexual identity plays almost no role in their election efforts.

“No one cares,” said Kyrsten Sinema, who is openly bisexual and a top candidate in the Democratic primary in Arizona’s 9th district. “It’s about my history of work in the district. ... They don’t care three straws about the other stuff.”

Other openly gay challenger candidates with a real shot of coming to Congress include: Sean Patrick Maloney, taking on freshman Rep. Nan Hayworth (R) in New York’s 18th district; Mark Pocan (D), running in Wisconsin’s open 2nd district; Mark Takano (D), running for California’s new 41st district; and Richard Tisei (R), taking on Rep. John Tierney (D) in Massachusetts’ 6th district. There are at least four other openly gay Congressional candidates this year, according to a count from the pro-LGBT-equality Human Rights Campaign, but all are long shots in states such as Idaho.

Tisei, who could very well become the only openly gay Republican Member of the 113th Congress, said that while his sexual orientation gets a lot of national media attention, voters are focused on other things, such as the economy.

“It hasn’t come up at all in any way, really, in any conversations I’ve had with voters,” Tisei said, noting that Massachusetts has had legal gay marriage for eight years.

Pocan agreed that the fact that he is openly gay is something that he rarely, if ever, hears about on the trail.

“Given I’m running to succeed Tammy Baldwin, as you can imagine, it’s pretty much a nonissue,” he said.

Baldwin, a lesbian, is running for Senate, while Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank (D), who recently married his longtime partner, is retiring.

Still, members of the LBGT community are hopeful about increasing their ranks in Congress and across all levels of government.

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