October 31, 2020 at 8:00 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Activists in swing states drive LGBTQ voter mobilization efforts
Elias Cantu, third from left, is an LGBTQ activist in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. He is among those who attended a rally with Kamala Harris in McAllen, Texas, on Oct. 30, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Elias Cantu)

Advocacy groups in battleground states have pulled out all the stops in their efforts to encourage members of the LGBTQ community to vote.

Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith on Thursday in an email to the Washington Blade noted her organization has “launched the largest and most ambitious voter mobilization program in our organization history.”

She said Equality Florida has invested $1.5 million in reaching 560,000 “pro-equality voters across the state for whom LGBTQ issues are a litmus test, but who are at risk of not casting a ballot unless we contact them.” Smith added 72,000 Floridians who did not vote in 2016 have cast their ballots early because of these efforts.

“In a state where U.S. senators are elected by less than 10,000 votes, we know our community can decide the outcome of races up and down the ballot,” she said.

Smith said Equality Florida now has a 15-person field team and nearly 400 volunteers “to send more than 1 million text messages and make 270,000 phone calls.” Smith added Equality Florida has also sent 650,000 mailers and created digital ads that have generated more than 11 million impressions.

“It really matters when people get ads that speak directly to them as pro-equality voters; that talk about protecting their jobs, making schools safe, addressing hate violence, preserving marriage equality,” Smith told the Blade.

Joe Biden supporters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Sept. 26, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott earlier this week told the Blade the Equality Michigan Education Fund and the Equality Michigan Action Network “have reached” more than 500,000 voters across the state. Knott said Equality Michigan ahead of Election Day “plans on reaching an additional 250,000 LGBTQ+ and pro-equality voters, encouraging them to make their voices heard in the 2020 election.”

“Equality Michigan recognizes that the stakes of this election are enormous for the LGBTQ+ community,” Knott told the Blade. “Turning out all pro-equality supporters over the next week is the highest priority to ensure our voices are heard.”

Knott said the coronavirus pandemic has forced Equality Michigan to “begin educating and mobilizing pro-equality voters in a digital environment” through phone and text-banking. Knott noted Equality Michigan has also partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union and Drag Out the Vote, a drag queen-led campaign that encourages people to vote, “to ensure that pro-equality voters understand their voting rights this election cycle.”

“This November, not only are we voting on candidates that can expand and protect the rights of LGBTQ Michiganders and their families, we are voting on key issues all the way down the ballot that impact our local communities,” said Knott.

Arizona state Rep. Daniel Hernandez on Friday told the Blade during a telephone interview the Arizona Democratic Party through its Mission for Arizona campaign has produced a video series that features drag queens.

Hernandez, who represents Arizona’s 2nd Legislative District, a majority Latino area that includes Tucson and the border city of Nogales, told the Blade that Democrats could potentially have a majority in the Arizona Legislature for the first time since 1966. Hernandez also noted poised to defeat U.S. Sen. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) in a race that could determine whether Democrats regain control of the U.S. Senate.

Polls also indicate Joe Biden is slightly ahead of President Trump in Arizona.

Cher on Oct. 25 campaigned for Biden in Phoenix. Hernandez told the Blade that he and the four other openly gay members of the Arizona Legislature — state Sen. Tony Navarrete and state Reps. César Chávez, Arlando Teller and Robert Meza — are also “operating as high-level surrogates” for the Biden campaign.

“There’s a lot of work specifically happening to turn out LGBTQ voters in Arizona,” he said.

Arizona, Michigan and Florida are among the states that will likely determine the outcome of the presidential election. Pennsylvania also remains a contentious battleground.

National LGBT Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President Jonathan Lovitz, who lives in Philadelphia with his husband, is voting in Pennsylvania for the first time.

Lovitz and Jason Evans co-founded PhillyVoting.org, a campaign that specifically urges Black and LGBTQ people and Pennsylvanians of color to register to vote. State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, a gay Black man who represents House District 181 in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, is among those who have sought to thwart Republican voter suppression efforts in the state.

“All eyes are on Pennsylvania in this election,” Lovitz told the Blade on Friday.

Texas has also emerged as a battleground state in the presidential election.

Former U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster and his husband, Bob Satawake, on Friday were among those who attended a rally with Kamala Harris in Fort Worth. Harris was also in Houston and in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.

From left: Former U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic James “Wally” Brewster, Texas state Rep. Julie Johnson and Brewster’s husband, Bob Satawake, at a Kamala Harris rally in Fort Worth, Texas, on Oct. 30, 2020. (Photo courtesy of James “Wally” Brewster)

Brewster noted to the Blade that Texas has seen record turnout in early voting.

The former ambassador pointed out Gina Ortiz Jones, a former Air Force captain who is a lesbian, could win her race to succeed retiring Congressman Will Hurd in Texas’ 23rd congressional district. Brewster told the Blade that Democrats could also regain control of the Texas House of Representatives.

“Our freedoms and democracy is at stake,” said Brewster.

“We know that the abuse of LGBTQ individuals internationally is on the rise due to Donald Trump and the lack of U.S. leadership on human rights,” he added. “We are confident we will win in Texas if we continue to have this historical turnout of young people who understand we are all humans and all deserve the same dignity, respect and rights under the law.”

New Hampshire state Rep. Gerri Cannon, who is transgender, echoed Brewster.

“We need to take our country back from the authoritarian rule of law that spews out of the White House and a twitter feed,” Cannon told the Blade earlier this week. “The LGBTQ community and our immigrant populations have been targets of a government we never seen in the United States. We are targets of a war on U.S. soil.”

“If Donald Trump wins this election, we will live with the continuation of his effort to undermine all the work that has been done to protect our way of life and that of our loved ones,” she added.

The results of a poll the University of New Hampshire Survey Center released on Thursday indicate Biden is ahead of Trump in the state by a 53-45 percent margin. A separate UNH Survey Center poll also notes U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), who is one of seven out members of Congress, narrowly trails his Republican challenger, Matt Mowers, by a 48-50 percent margin.

FiveThirtyEight blog notes polls show Trump is ahead of Biden in Mississippi by an average of 55-39 percent margin. A poll that Civiqs released on Oct. 27 shows U.S. Rep. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) is ahead of her Democratic challenger, Mike Espy, by a 52-44 percent margin.

Rev. Brandiilyne Dear, an LGBTQ activist and pastor at Joshua Generation Metropolitan Community Church in Hattiesburg, Miss., told the Blade her congregation will monitor reports of voter intimidation on Election Day with the Mississippi Rising Coalition and the Mississippi Poor People’s Campaign.

Dear noted Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves earlier this year signed a bill that retired the state flag with a Confederate emblem. Dear also pointed out the Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Threat Assessment released on Oct. 6 notes white supremacists are currently the top terrorist threat in the country.

“This year, in Mississippi, we have seen many historic moments,” Dear told the Blade, referring specifically to the former state flag and the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The state appears to be shifting from all red to a nice and encouraging shade of purple,” she added. “However, this shift in the political climate is extremely polarizing. It has created even more racial conflict and has exposed and emboldened the underlying reality of White supremacists.”

A Black Lives Matter poster in Natchez, Miss., on July 30, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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