Davante Lewis becomes Louisiana’s first openly LGBTQ person elected to state government
Baton Rouge activist defeats 3-term incumbent Lambert Boissiere III
Davante Lewis defeated Lambert Bossier III in a Dec. 10, 2022, runoff for the District 3 seat on the Louisiana Public Service Commission. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)
With his upset win Saturday to the Public Service Commission, Davante Lewis became the first openly LGBTQ person ever elected to a state-level office in Louisiana. He is also the first openly LGBTQ Black person elected in state history.
“I think it’s important that our elected officials start to reflect the actual people of our state,” Lewis said in an interview earlier this week. “The history of my election for my age, for my race, for my sexual identity, is not lost on me.”
“My success breeds success for many other candidates and I take that 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 with votes still being counted Saturday night.
Other LGBTQ people in Louisiana politics also celebrated Lewis’ victory as a historic win.
“Louisiana voters have sent a strong message. No longer is being gay 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 kids growing up today that they too can hold elective office.”
The number of LGBTQ people holding elected office in the country has surged over the past five years, but Louisiana has largely been left out of that trend.
Until Lewis takes office, the state has just three openly LGBTQ elected officials: Baton Rouge Councilman Aaron Moak, Alexandria City Councilwoman Catherine Davidson and Caddo Parish Commissioner John-Paul Young. Prior to Lewis’ win, only four other states – Hawaii (1), South Dakota (1), Alabama (1) and Mississippi (0) – had fewer LGBTQ representatives in elected office, according to data the LGBTQ Victory Institute collected.
Louisiana is also one of the only states that has never elected an out LGBTQ person to its state legislature. Only three states this year – Louisiana, Alaska and Misssippi – didn’t have a LGBTQ state lawmaker serving. Neighboring Texas has seven LGBTQ lawmakers – so many that they 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 LGBTQ Black elected official in Louisiana, Mississippi or Alabama, according to the Victory Institute. Only 11% of all LGBTQ elected officials across the country identify as Black or African American.
But in his new job, Lewis will not be overseeing public policy issues that are typically associated with the LGBTQ community. The Public Service Commission mostly deals with utility regulation. It helps set consumer electricity rates and oversees efforts to make the state’s electrical grid hurricane-ready.
Perhaps for those reasons, Lewis’ sexual orientation wasn’t a focus of his campaign. He gained most of his campaign momentum by emphasizing green energy and criticizing the incumbent for not holding utility companies accountable. Many Louisiana residents have been frustrated by high electric bills, the state’s reliance on oil and gas as well as weeks-long utility outages after natural disasters.
Even if it wasn’t a focus, Lewis did not shy away from his identity as a gay man. This week, he had an event with Forum for Equality, one of the state’s largest LGBTQ advocacy groups. The national LGBTQ Victory Fund, a political arm of the Victory Institute, also assisted his campaign with both money and staff on the ground in Louisiana.
“We prioritize states like Louisiana, states where we don’t have a lot of representation,” said Cesar Toledo, political director for the Victory Fund. “We see Davante Lewis as a step in the right direction and someone who is going to be carrying the torch for the movement to equality.”
When he takes office, Lewis won’t just 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 fellow 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.
“It sends a shockwave across the political spectrum because it says 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. “He is changing the narrative.”
Moak, the gay man who sits 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’s not a question about what you are. It is about whether you can do the job or not.”
Correction: This story did not originally include Caddo Parish Commissioner John-Paul Young among Louisiana’s out LGBTQ elected officials.
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