The number of candidates running for school board who identify as part of the LGBTQ community has nearly doubled, from 43 in 2020 to 82 candidates in the 2022 election cycle, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund. The organization helps to elect openly LGBTQ individuals into government.
Of almost 90,000 school board members nationwide, only 90 openly belong to the LGBTQ community, according to LGBTQ Victory Institute data released in July. That translates to about 0.1% of current school board members, the data shows. Just 28 states have a known LGBTQ school board member, with most having only one in the whole state, the report found.
Yet LGBTQ individuals comprise at least 7.1% of adults in the United States. Bridging the underrepresentation would require electing 6,300 more LGBTQ school board members, Victory Institute's analysis found.
Recent data from a survey released by School Board Partners shows a majority of current school board members aren't running for reelection. The "Great Resignation," the report said, “presents an opportunity to recruit and train new, more diverse leaders." School Board Partners is a nonprofit group that trains new school board members.
The increase in LGBTQ candidates comes amid spreading anti-LGBTQ policies in K-12 schools. Often, school boards play a key part in implementing anti-LGBTQ state laws or passing such local policies of their own.
In Florida, for example, the State Board of Education recently passed a slew of policies — including one that would allow schools to fire teachers and potentially revoke their licenses if they teach LGBTQ issues to young students. These new rules were approved to implement the state's "Don't Say Gay" or "Parental Rights in Education" law that took effect over the summer.
Such laws have "backfired," said Sean Meloy, vice president of political programs at LGBTQ Victory Institute. The laws have instead "motivated a historic wave of LGBTQ people to run for school boards this year," Meloy said in a statement.
Ashley Peele, an LGBTQ candidate running for a seat on South Carolina's Charleston County School Board of Trustees, said the decision to run was partially motivated by the candidacy of an opponent who is backed by anti-LGBTQ group Moms for Liberty.
"The stakes were too high to not get involved," Peele said. The school board that Peele is running for was called on by South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster in September to prohibit gender identity instruction without parents' consent after he signed anti-LGBTQ legislation this year in May.
Of 47 elected LGBTQ board members surveyed in April, 51% said they had been targets of anti-LGBTQ verbal attacks as a school board member. Almost two-thirds — 61% — cited supporting LGBTQ students as a primary motivation in their decision to run for a school board position.
A separate but recent report released by GLSEN, which advocates for inclusive public schools for LGBTQ+ students, showed the percentage of students who reported having many LGBTQ+ supportive school personnel dipped in 2021 compared to recent years.
"When students are making cards at school on Mother's Day, will the teacher have to sidestep the fact that my daughter has two moms because some administrators said they couldn't even touch on the subject?" Peele said. "I don't want any child to feel ostracized for who they are or for how they define family.”