Out queer politicians matter to LGBT people. They inspire the next generation of out political leaders, who right now might be very young people in college, high school or even younger. Just like that brown child being told by his grandmother this week that he can finally be anyone he wants to me, some gay or transgender child is opening the newspaper, or peeping over their parent's shoulder at the tv, and seeing an LGBT person elected to perform public service.
That LGBT child is seeing openly gay Jared Polis become a Colorado Congressman. They are witnessing open bisexual Kate Brown become Oregon's next Secretary of State (not to mention highest elected openly bisexual political figure in the U.S.). One kid who knows they're not the gender assigned to them by society will discover by chance the fact that the people of Silverton, Oregon elected the first openly transgender mayor in U.S. history, Stu Rasmussen.Harvey Milk was the first openly-gay man to be elected to public office in the US in 1977. His most recognized speech, “You Cannot Live On Hope Alone,” was given in 1978, shortly before he was assassinated.
Harvey stated it well in one of his most famous political speeches of his career, a speech which convinces me that he was the LGBT movement's Barack Obama:
This election cycle LGBT representation in Congress increased by 33%, with the election of Jared Polis to the House of Representatives. This brings the amount of out LGBT people in Congress (really, just out gay and lesbian people), to 3. Along with Tammy Baldwin and Barney Frank, Jared Polis is all we have. Of course I'm sure there are many closeted, semi-self hating queers in Congress, but they don't count.
Political, cultural and corporate representation for the LGBT community is an essential goal of the LGBT movement. Our community needs to see visible & powerful leaders so that our aspirations, often lowered due to our own fear of discrimination or hostility, are instead only limited by willpower.
Much talk has been made about Rahm Emmanuel's appointment as Chief of Staff in the upcoming Obama administration, but one as of yet little discussed topic is his replacement in the House of Representatives. LGBT people may have, even in the dark aftermath of prop 8, a glimer of hope for national leadership:
Right now there are three out gay congressional representatives, Jared Polis (CO), Barney Frank (MA), and Tammy Baldwin (WI). But when Rahm Emanuel accepted the chief of staff position in the Obama administration a short list of replacements was released. The great surprise? Deb Mell, the first out lesbian elected in an Illinois race, has thrown her hat in the ring. For those who are reeling from Prop 8 losses, this is a glimmer of hope.
I don't know much about Deb Mell, but from what little I know of her, she would sure be a great way to bring LGBT voices literally to the table.
Deb Mell is an interesting figure, obviously a product of a political dynasty, but nevertheless a person with a story and struggle of her own.
Deborah Mell was expecting a peaceful event when she joined hundreds of demonstrators in downtown Chicago for a pro-gay marriage rally in March 2004.
Instead, things got rowdy, and Mell was arrested. A female police officer said Mell attacked her, and Mell was taken away in a paddy wagon…
In the end, though, getting arrested was one of the best things that happened to Mell, because it prompted her to become more of an activist. That same year, she won the NOW Chicago chapter’s award for activist of the year. She also received the Howard Brown Cornerstone Award for community excellence.
And this year, Mell’s candidacy earned the endorsement of the Victory Fund, whose research shows that gay candidates need twice the amount of financial resources of their straight counterparts to win office.
“When someone breaks a barrier, it takes more to let folks know, and more money is needed to prepare for attacks,” said Tressa Feher, the Victory Fund’s leadership network director. “Mell will definitely bring another chair to the leadership table.”
Whether or not Deb Mell is elevated to the House of Representatives, I look forward to a continuing expansion of open LGBT office holders in the country.
The Victory Fund highlights other races that are historic markers for the LGBT movement this election cycle:
Among the winners in 2008:
* Sam Adams was elected mayor of Portland, Oregon earlier in the year. He will become the first openly gay mayor of one of the 30 largest U.S. cities when he’s sworn in next year.
* Jason Bartlett, who came out as gay in his current term, was reelected to the Connecticut State House. He is only the second openly gay African-American state legislator in the nation.
* Thomas Robichaux and Seth Bloom, both gay men, simultaneously became the first-ever openly LGBT elected officials in the state of Louisiana when they were elected to the Orleans Parish School Board in an October primary.
* John Perez became the first openly gay person of color elected to the California Assembly.
* Lupe Valdez was reelected to a second term as sheriff of Dallas County, Texas. First elected in 2004, Valdez was the first woman, the first Latina and the first out lesbian ever to win the post.
* Kevin Beckner won a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission in Florida, unseating an anti-gay incumbent and becoming the first openly gay man elected in the county.
* Rebecca Kaplan will be the first out lesbian to serve on the Oakland, Calif. City Council after winning her race Tuesday.