Why Representation Matters

By George Roberson
Gay & Lesbian Victory Institute

When you think of government, you might think of big buildings all around the country: the White House, the Capitol, state capitols and city halls. It’s easy to think of buildings as the center of power. Some of them have been around for hundreds of years, after all.

But people, not buildings, are the true heart of power in this country. Elected and appointed people across the country make decisions every day that affect all of our lives, from how much a doctor’s visit costs to who we can marry.

The people we elect are important. And that’s why it’s so important that every voice is heard — that every person feels they are being represented. Everyone deserves to feel like there are people in government who care about what they care about.

But these days, a lot of citizens feel isolated from power. It seems as though the country is more divided than ever. That’s why it’s so important that all groups get represented: If everyone has a seat at the table, we can make decisions that fit the needs of many different types of people.

In a meeting at the White House in March about health insurance coverage for pregnancy and breast cancer screenings, there were no women at the table. Women were not able to speak up about these women’s health issues because they were excluded from the conversation. Many women criticized the decisions this group of men ended up making. If more women were included, the group of lawmakers could have better understood what women need.

People in government need to look and act like the people they represent. That’s true at every level. And it’s proven that just having those people in the room can make a difference. When they lend their point of view to the discussion, things change. People seated near lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer lawmakers in state governments were more likely to vote against anti-LGBTQ laws, for example.

The people we elect matter because, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, freedom is never given voluntarily; it must be demanded. Someone has to ask those in power to do the right thing for underrepresented communities, and it helps if that person is in the room when decisions are being made.

There are opportunities for passionate people everywhere to get involved and be the representation they seek in government. There are many organizations devoted to helping people with any level of political experience (including none) run for office: Victory Institute for LGBTQ people, Run to Win for women, the New American Leaders Project for people from immigrant communities, and so on.

Those who represent us in government matter because they affect our lives. If the people representing you aren’t doing a good job, replace them. You can make your voice heard on any level. You can start small by running for a neighborhood advisory committee and work your way up to a school board or city council. If you run for office, you can make a difference.