The Expanded Role of LGBT Americans in Government

Gay Men Celebrating at City HallIf you were tuned in to the coverage of the recent election, you probably already realize that November 6th was a watershed moment for LGBT rights in this country. For the first time in history, this country elected a president who openly supports same-sex marriage and ran on an equal rights platform. Marking the first time such initiatives have passed when put to a popular vote, citizens in Maine, Maryland, and Washington voted to legalize same-sex marriage. Minnesota became the first state to successfully oppose a proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as between “one man and woman.” And according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, a majority of Americans now support same-sex marriage. These victories were hard-won, the result of years of work on the part of LGBT Americans and our allies, but our victories this year were not merely because of how hard we fought or the support of sympathetic progressive groups. We succeeded this year where we have not before because more and more, we are becoming an accepted and visible part of this nation.

Nowhere was this trend more evident than in the results of November 6th’s legislative races. LGBT Americans gained an unprecedented number of direct representation this election, in both national and local legislatures. In fact, the Gay & Lesbian Victory fund, a political action committee that provides support for LGBT candidates nationwide, saw 123 of its 180 officially endorsed candidates win their races.

The most widely publicized of these victories was that of Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin who defeated Republican challenger Tommy Thompson to become the first openly gay member of the United States Senate. Baldwin’s win, however, was only one of many historic appointments. Kyrsten Sinema, a democrat from Arizona, became the first openly bisexual member of Congress. In Oregon, Tina Kotek became the first lesbian speaker of the house in a state legislative chamber. Mark Takano, a Japanese American from Riverside, California, became the first LGBT person of color elected to Congress. Notably, it appears sexual orientation played little to no role in the outcomes of these elections. Although discriminatory attacks centered around both her bisexuality and her unmarried status were launched at Rep. Sinema during her primary race by her democratic rival, these tactics were not pursued in the general election. When Rep. Takano ran for Congress in 1994, his opponents tried to make a case that he would promote the homosexual agenda over the concerns of his constituents. In contrast, he feels his sexual orientation was a nonissue in the 2012 election. He goes so far as to say, in a quote to LGBT news source The Advocate, that “in my current race not a single voter has asked me about being gay.” These newly elected representatives were able to run openly while focusing on the issues—such as healthcare and the economic recovery—they found most pressing for their constituents and the nation at large. And, on the basis of the issues they stood for, they were able to win.

In my Brooklyn apartment in June 2012, I watched via CSPAN as New York republican state senators broke party ranks to vote in favor of same-sex marriage. I heard the words of Senator Mark Grisanti from Buffalo, who went against his campaign promises and put his future political career in jeopardy to vote his conscience. As someone who grew up in a conservative part of Texas who saw little support for the gay community outside my immediate family, a republican’s decision to vote in favor of marriage equality, even in a blue state like New York, seemed jaw-dropping. These recent elections were a powerful reminder that perseverance on the part of LGBT activists, families, and their allies is paying off. We are, inch by inch, voting our way toward a more inclusive America.

By Jennifer Rosedale, Staff Contributor



photo credit: davitydave via photopin cc

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