With his upset victory Saturday in the Public Utility Commission, Davante Lewis became the first openly LGBTQ person elected to statewide office in Louisiana. She is also the first openly LGBTQ Black person elected in the state’s history.
“I think it’s important that our elected officials start to reflect the real people of our state,” Lewis said in an interview earlier this week. “The story of my choice because of my age, because of my race, because of my sexual identity, is not lost on me.”
“My success breeds success for many other candidates and I take it very seriously,” he said.
Lewis defeated three-term incumbent Lambert Boissiere III, a black Democrat from New Orleans. The Associated Press called the race for Lewis and the votes are still being counted Saturday night.
Other LGBTQ people in Louisiana politics also celebrated Lewis’ victory as a historic victory.
“Louisiana voters have sent a strong message. Being gay is no longer a barrier to public service,” said Stephen Handwerk, former executive director of the Louisiana Democratic Party and a gay man. “Davante has also sent a strong message to children growing up today that they, too, can hold elective office.”
The number of LGBTQ people holding elected office in the country has skyrocketed in the last five years, but Louisiana has largely fallen out of that trend. Until Lewis takes office, the state has just two openly LGBTQ elected officials: Baton Rouge Councilmember Aaron Moak and Alexandria City Councilwoman Catherine Davidson. Before Lewis’ victory, only four other states — Hawaii (1), South Dakota (1), Alabama (1) and Mississippi (0) — had fewer LGBTQ representatives in elected office, according to data from the LGBTQ Victory Institute picked up.
Louisiana is also one of the only states that has never elected an LGBTQ person to its state legislature. Only three states this year (Louisiana, Alaska and Misssippi) did not have a sitting LGBTQ state legislator. Neighboring Texas has seven LGBTQ legislators, so many that formed an LGBTQ caucus in 2019 – and Arkansas has one, according to the Victory Institute.
As a gay black man, Lewis will also be a trailblazer. When he takes office, Lewis will be the only black LGBTQ elected official in Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama, according to the Victory Institute. Only 11% of all LGBTQ elected officials nationwide identify as Black or African American.
But in his new job, Lewis won’t oversee public policy issues typically associated with the LGBTQ community. The Public Utilities Commission is primarily concerned with the regulation of public utilities. Helps set consumer electricity rates and oversees efforts to prepare the state’s power grid for hurricanes.
Perhaps for those reasons, Lewis’s sexual orientation was not a central issue in his campaign. She got most of the momentum for her campaign by emphasizing green energy and criticizing the incumbent for failing to hold utilities accountable. Many Louisiana residents have been frustrated by high electric bills, the state’s reliance on oil and gas, and utility outages that last for weeks after natural disasters.
Even if it wasn’t a focus, Lewis didn’t shy away from his identity as a gay man. This week, he had an event with Forum for Equality, one of the largest LGBTQ advocacy groups in the state. The national LGBTQ Victory Fund, a political arm of the Victory Institute, also helped his campaign with money and personnel in Louisiana.
“We give priority to states like Louisiana, states where we don’t have a lot of representation,” said César Toledo, Victory Fund political director. “We see Davante Lewis as a step in the right direction and as someone who will carry the torch of the movement towards equality.”
When he takes office, Lewis will not only be the highest-ranking LGBTQ person in elected office in Louisiana, he will also be one of the highest-ranking Democrats. PSC seats are larger than congressional districts. District 3, which Lewis will represent, stretches from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. Only two other Democrats, Gov. John Bel Edwards and PSC member Foster Campbell, will represent as many or more Louisiana residents.
Louisiana LGBTQ advocates said they hope Lewis’ victory will encourage more people to run for office. “He sends a shock wave through the entire political spectrum because he says that LGBT people are here. We deserve to take up space in our state government,” said Evan Bergeron, a gay man who ran an unsuccessful campaign for the Louisiana House in 2019. “It is changing the narrative.”
Moak, the gay man who is on the Baton Rouge metro council, is also buoyed by Lewis’ victory. As a Republican, he plans to run for the state legislature next year.
“It would be great to have another LGBT elected official with me,” he said in an interview earlier this week. “It is not a question about what you are. It’s about whether or not you can do the job.”
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