Prizm News / January 3, 2018 / By Bob Vitale
Ten out lawmakers will serve in the 116th Congress. This year’s history-makers include the first lesbian of color and the first bisexual senator.
By Bob Vitale
The most diverse Congress in history began today, and that diversity includes a record number of LGBTQ office-holders.
OK, there are only 10 of us—less than 2 percent of the U.S. House and Senate—but the LGBTQ firsts include the first bisexual senator, the first LGBTQ woman of color and three lawmakers who are the first out people elected to Congress from their home states.
Here they are:
When a colleague in the Arizona House spoke out against LGBTQ people in 2005, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema responded: “We’re simply people like everyone else who want and deserve respect.” Reporters asked about her use of the word we. Sinema’s answer to them: “Duh, I’m bisexual.”
Sinema, a former social worker and criminal defense lawyer, was the first openly bisexual person elected to the U.S. House in 2012. She broke the same barrier in the U.S. Senate with her elected last November to succeed Republican Jeff Flake.
She told The Advocate last year why she thinks LGBTQ people make effective politicians: “Growing up LGBT is often to be tried by fire and to wrestle with the fundamental question of who you are. Virtually all of us have faced bullying, discrimination, exclusion or worse. When you grow up like this, working to find common ground with people you sometimes disagree with is all you’ve ever known. That’s why LGBT leaders are some of the hardest-working, most effective leaders you’ll find.”
Before Tammy Baldwin was elected to the U.S. House in 1998, every other openly gay person in Congress had come out after they were elected. Baldwin was the first person to campaign, win and enter office as an out member of the LGBTQ community.
The Democrat also was the first out lesbian to serve in the U.S. House. In 2013, Baldwin became the first openly LGBTQ American to serve in the U.S. Senate. She won re-election in 2018.
Baldwin has served in public office since she was appointed to the Madison city council as a University of Wisconsin law student in 1986. She also has been a county supervisor and state representative.
“America is right to be proud of the progress we have made to pass on to the next generation a country that is more equal, not less equal,” Baldwin said in June 2017 when she and Sherrod Brown of Ohio cosponsored a Pride Month resolution in the U.S. Senate. “We have more work to do and I believe America is ready to take the next steps forward. Together, let’s continue to break down barriers so that every American has an equal opportunity to dream the same dreams, chase the same ambitions, and have the same shot at success.”
During last fall’s campaign, Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi promised that the longstanding attempt to add gender identity and sexual orientation to federal nondiscrimination laws would be a priority if her party won control of the U.S. House.
Democrats did win. Pelosi is now the speaker of the House, and openly gay Democrat David Cicilline will be the lead sponsor of the civil rights bill that’s called the Equality Act.
The former mayor of Providence is now the most senior LGBTQ member of the U.S. House. He’s the chair of the House Democrats’ policy committee and serves on the House Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees.
“I think this year will be an opportunity for us to finally move forward on the Equality Act, which I think is the single most important piece of legislation to our community in terms of, once and for all, prohibiting discrimination against members of the LGBT community as a matter of federal law,” Cicilline told the LGBT Washington Blade this week.
Sean Patrick Maloney
Since his start as a volunteer for Bill Clinton’s two presidential campaigns, Sean Patrick Maloney has worked in the White House, in the New York governor’s office, and as a tech executive and attorney.
The openly gay Democrat was elected to the U.S. House in 2012 by defeating an incumbent Republican who waffled on whether she supported repeal of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that barred federal recognition of same-sex marriages performed even in states that had adopted marriage equality.
When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down DOMA in 2013, Maloney offered his emotional reaction:
“When I get up and get the kids ready for school, make them breakfast, make sure the left shoe’s on the left foot, pick them up at soccer practice and all the things we do every day, it means that they don’t have to grow up in a country wondering why our family is less than somebody else’s. And that’s a good thing.”
When Tammy Baldwin was elected to the U.S. House in 1998, openly gay Democrat Marc Pocan was elected to her seat in the Wisconsin Assembly. When Baldwin was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2012, Pocan was elected to her seat in the U.S. House.
Although he describes Wisconsin’s capital city of Madison as “kind of Shangri-La” for LGBTQ people, he also shared with Washington’s Metro Weekly in 2017 a horrific story about being knocked unconscious once by two people with a baseball bat while leaving a gay bar. It sparked his activism in the community.
Pocan is viewed as one of the most progressive members of Congress, but he told Metro Weekly about reaching out to colleagues on the other end of the political spectrum
“One of my projects has been Jim Jordan from Ohio, who used to be the head of the Freedom Caucus and signs on to most of the anti-LGBT legislation in Congress,” he said. He just happened to go to UW-Madison during the exact same four years I did. And so he and I have been very friendly because we’ve got the Badger connection. Three of his kids went to Madison and one wrestled for UW. And one time he was coming in for a wrestling match and there was a really bad snowstorm. And my husband was picking me up, and he was going to miss his kids’ match. And I’m thinking, ‘This is my chance to give him a ride with a gay couple. He’s going to have this conversation. It’s going to be great.’ He was going to get a ride with us. Unfortunately, they lost my luggage that day, so he wound up taking a cab.”
On the first day of voting last fall in Ohio, openly gay Democrat Mark Takano visited Central Ohio to drum up support for progressive candidates up and down the ballot.
“It was not wrong for us to pin our hopes on the courts,” he told Prizm, recounting past victories on marriage equality and other issues. “But not with the appointment of partisan hacks in judicial robes. The elevation of Justice (Brett) Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court puts in serious doubt our ability to get workplace protections through the judicial route. Congress, more than ever, is relevant.”
Takano, the first out LGBTQ person of color elected to Congress, won his fourth term in November. He had been a high school teacher and community college trustee for more than 20 years before that.
Angie Craig was listed as the “roommate“ of her partner when they adopted their first child in 1997. Make that, when her partner adopted their first child; the law at the time where they lived didn’t let same-sex couples adopt. Only one of them could be listed as their son’s mother.
It wasn’t the only indignity they endured. The grandparents of the woman who chose Craig and her partner to adopt the baby objected and took their objections to court.
“That really formulated the rest of my life and career,” Craig told Elle last year. “Not knowing whether you’re going to put your kid to bed that night because someone thinks maybe you shouldn’t be a mother.”
Craig, a former newspaper reporter and business executive, was elected to the U.S. House last fall and is starting her first term.
After serving as a White House Fellow during Barack Obama’s final year as president, Sharice Davids returned to her native Kansas to run for office. The lesbian Democrat defeated an incumbent Republican last fall and is now the first out LGBTQ woman of color to serve in Congress. Davids is one of two Native American women elected in November to the U.S. House.
“Having LGBT people sitting in the room while decisions are being made, and sitting there as peers, will shift the conversation,” she told The New York Times last year. “I think it’s important that the lived experiences and the point of view of LGBT folks be included in conversations that affect all of us.”
Davids is a lawyer and former professional mixed-martial arts fighter.
Some of the people around Katie Hill suggested she keep her sexual orientation hidden when she began her campaign for Congress. Because she’s married to a man, they argued, there was no need to be open about being bisexual.
She paid them no mind.
“I’ve been out as being bi since I was a teenager, right after high school,” she told The Advocate right before the November election, when she defeated a Republican incumbent who had carried on the anti-LGBTQ legacy of his father, a state lawmaker who wrote California’s first marriage-equality ban.
At 31, Hill is one of the youngest members of Congress. She’s the former executive director of People Assisting the Homeless, a California nonprofit, she helped found.
After graduating from Harvard, Chris Pappas returned to his home state to help run his family’s restaurant. The openly gay Democrat also served in the New Hampshire House, as his county’s elected treasurer and on the state’s Executive Council before his election to Congress in November.
“Every gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer teenager in America should be able to dream big with the knowledge nobody can hold them back because of who they are or who they love,” he says on his campaign website.