Gay, bisexual and transgender Americans fear their rights are at risk as the United States goes to the polls for midterm elections on Tuesday.
Republicans stand a strong chance of taking control of the US House of Representatives, while Democrats retain a slim hope of keeping a majority in the Senate.
The vote will see a record number of LGBTQ+ candidates stand for office.
But many LGBTQ+ groups fear that Republican gains could lead to a rollback of rights, from gay marriage to trans inclusion in sport and discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in schools.
Senior Republicans have denied same-sex marriage is at risk, and said state laws limiting discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in schools or trans youth sport inclusion are needed to protect other children and give parents more control.
Here’s what you need to know:
Why is the LGBTQ+ community so concerned?
LGBTQ+ groups fear the impact if the Republicans take control of Congress, after numerous governors and state representatives launched a wave of legislation targeting their rights.
Some also fear that same-sex marriage could be under threat following the overturning of the landmark abortion rights ruling Roe v. Wade in June.
“The rights of LGBTQ+ people in the UƒS are under serious threat, and there’s a real risk that critically important gains made in recent years could be lost,” Massachusetts-based LGBTQ+ rights activist Dallas Ducar told Openly.
The Republican National Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Why are there fears over gay marriage rights?
The overturning of Roe v. Wade raised concerns that another liberal milestone ruling – the 2015 case that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide – might also be under threat from a conservative-dominated Supreme Court.
The top court has swung to the right under appointments made by former Republican President Donald Trump. Biden hopes to nudge the federal judiciary back leftwards, but his appointments can be blocked by the Senate.
Republicans deny same-sex marriage is under threat.
“Same-sex marriage … isn’t in political jeopardy,” Republican Senator John Cornyn told Reuters in September.
Delphine Luneau at the LGBTQ+ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) said she was reassured by bipartisan support for the Democrat-sponsored Respect for Marriage Act, which would enshrine same-sex marriage rights into federal law.
“We know that President Biden will sign it if it reaches his desk,” HRC spokesperson Luneau said of the bill.
“And there have been a number of both parties who have publicly committed to support the Respect for Marriage Act in the Senate.”
The draft law has already been passed by the House of Representatives. But a vote in the Senate was postponed until after the midterms, as negotiators failed to win enough Republican support to ensure passage.
What about laws over LGBTQ+ people and inclusion?
Since the start of the year, more than 300 bills have been introduced targeting LGBTQ+ rights, according to the HRC, with many aimed at limiting trans participation in school and college sport.
Conservative advocates of the bills have said action is needed to restrict trans players to ensure fairness.
Trans groups say exclusions leave vulnerable gender minorities facing stigma.
A number of Republican governors and representatives have targeted LGBTQ+ rights in the run-up to the midterm elections.
On Oct. 18, Republican Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana introduced a draft national bill called the Stop Sexualization of Children Act.
The law, which would bar the use of federal funds for any event or literature involving LGBTQ+ issues for children aged under 10, has more than 30 Republican co-sponsors.
Republicans have said laws need to be strengthened to protect parental consent and to govern what materials children access in schools.
In March, Florida’s Republican governor signed into law a bill dubbed by opponents as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which limits discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in schools.
Last year, Texas governor Greg Abbott passed a law restricting the participation of trans athletes in accordance with their gender identity in high school sports.
What are the positives for LGBTQ+ people in the midterms?
For the first time, a gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans candidate is standing in each of the country’s 50 states and the capital, Washington.
Almost 680 LGBTQ+ candidates are on the ballot, 18% more than in 2020, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund.
Nine members of the House and two of the Senate, Congress’s upper chamber, are openly gay, lesbian or bisexual. All are Democrats.
Two women, both Democrats, are vying to become the United States’ first openly lesbian governor: Tina Kotek in Oregon and Massachusetts’ Maura Healy.
And in New York’s 3rd congressional district, for the first time, two openly gay candidates are competing for election to a US congressional seat.
Reporting by Hugo Greenhalgh and Benjamin Ryan.
GAY TIMES and Openly/Thomson Reuters Foundation are working together to deliver leading LGBTQ+ news to a global audience.