General Articles

Post-midterm elections: Let’s celebrate, recalibrate, and focus on the work ahead

By Samantha Dercher, Federal Policy Director

Youth Wave, Pink Wave, Rainbow Wave, Blue Wave. Whatever you call it, there’s a lot for sex ed advocates to celebrate after the 2018 midterm elections – and a few things that concern us, too.

The dust still hasn’t fully settled, with votes for some candidates for public office still getting counted, but let’s start with youth turnout. According to our friends at URGE, last week, not only did we see the election of the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but we also saw a youth voter turnout so high, it looked more like a presidential election than a midterm (which usually sees much lower turnout).

Young people know how much they have to lose – or gain – depending on who they elect and they showed up to the polls accordingly. Only 21% of young people (aged 18-29) voted in the 2014 midterms. But that number shot up to 31% for this election.

We still have a long way to go to make sure young people are enfranchised and using their hard-won right to vote (more on that later). But, it’s also extremely clear that young people’s fingerprints were all over the biggest successes of this election. They organized, they volunteered, they ran for office, and they elected a more diverse class of elected officials than we’ve ever seen before.

It was a historic election for women as well. There were incredible numbers of women running for office, spurred by the 2017 Women’s March, the #MeToo movement, and the vital role feminism has played in resistance and progressive politics since the 2016 election.

In January, at least 121 women will be serving in Congress – and that number could rise as election results continue to roll in. That said, we’re still nowhere near gender parity in government. Even with this week’s victories, women will still only comprise 23% of Congress. However, it’s clear that the future really is female–and we’re ready to work with all our new leaders on progressing women’s rights, sex ed, and LGBTQ rights.

Tuesday also showed some major successes for LGBTQ rights and for LGBTQ-identifying candidates, too. To name a few inspirational and historic wins: we saw the election of Colorado’s Jared Polis, the first openly gay man in the U.S. to ever be elected governor. Minnesota elected its first openly LGBTQ person to Congress, with Angie Craig winning her race against Republican Rep. Jason Lewis.

Sharice Davis will be the first openly lesbian woman to represent Kansas in Congress – and she joins New Mexico’s Deb Haaland as the first two Native American women ever elected to Congress. These are just a handful of our incredible new class of leaders. Thankfully, they’re paving the way for even more LGBTQ involvement in the highest levels of government.

In addition to these advancements in federal representation, state and local races also saw gains that have the potential for the biggest impacts on sex ed throughout the country. Most of the sex ed policy decisions are made at the state-level, so these changes could lead to some incredible progress in this field.

Seven states will now be led by governors who, unlike their predecessors, are dedicated to women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and access to health care. Champions for sex ed and other progressive health and social policies also gained control of six state legislative chambers that were previously controlled by opponents of our most important sexual health and access issues.

Additionally, some of the state ballot initiatives that passed will have huge consequences for the future of our country. Massachusetts passed a measure to ensure that the law protects people from discrimination based on gender identity – the first-ever statewide referendum on transgender rights. And Medicaid expansion passed in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah will bring health care to immense numbers of low-income people and, in particular, many young people of color.

Florida passed an initiative that would restore voting rights to 1.4 million Floridians who are currently prohibited from voting due to felony convictions. This disproportionately impacts racial minorities, who are subject to harsher policing and sentencing and have borne the burden of felon disenfranchisement for far too long, finally giving them a new opportunity to have a say in their democracy.

As heartened as we are by these incredible victories, we know that women, LGBTQ individuals, young people, and racial and religious minorities still have a lot to fear in many areas of the country. The Senate remains under conservative control, and will likely make obstruction of the House’s agenda and support for the President’s attacks on democracy the top priorities of the 116th Congress.

In particular, exceptionally dangerous abortion referendums passed in Alabama and West Virginia. These measures effectively changed their respective state constitutions to no longer protect the right to abortion, laying the groundwork for a potential, absolute abortion ban in both states.

SIECUS will be watching these cases closely and working with our allies to respond to these disgusting threats to reproductive rights.

The need for nonpartisan redistricting—and an end to gerrymandering and blatant voter suppression—has never been clearer after what we witnessed during this election. Voters in North Dakota, Texas, Kansas, Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida are just a few examples of those who took their state’s suppression efforts to court in order to fight for a fair election in 2018.

Ending felon disenfranchisement, burdensome voter ID laws, and other insidious methods of voter suppression to prevent young people and people of color from exercising their right to vote needs to be a top priority. Without elections that actually reflect the choices of the electorate – the ENTIRE electorate – our democracy will never truly represent us.

As always, SIECUS is in this fight for the long haul – continuing to work in every state, in every county, and in every school district, to make comprehensive sexuality education a reality for every young person in the nation.

And we know that we need a fully functioning democracy, as well as elected officials who recognize that there is no sexual and reproductive health and rights without racial equity, free exercise of religion, economic inequality, or fully funded public schools.

All of these issues–and many more–intersect. And SIECUS looks forward to working with newly elected members of the 116th Congress to keep working to push all of these issues forward to build a better, more inclusive world.