This week’s blog post is from special guest Brian Sims. Brian made history this year by becoming the first openly LGBT person elected to the Pennsylvania State Legislature. Troup Consulting is proud to have him offer an update on LGBT politics following this year’s elections.
Let’s get honest… For those that oppose LGBT equality, there is simply no way around the fact that this year’s election was a referendum on LGBT equality at the state and federal level. History books will talk about the 2012 elections as the year when the visibility of the nation’s LGBT citizens, and their struggle for full equality moved to center stage.
Where to begin would be difficult were it not for the momentous victory of Tammy Baldwin in Wisconsin. Baldwin, a pioneer in LGBT politics for over 20 years, added more history to her reputation when she was elected as the first out person to join the U.S. Senate. To put that in context, in almost 225 years, the United States has had 1,900 Senators. Only 39 have been women. 16 have gone on to become President. None have ever been openly gay. Tammy Baldwin will be the most powerful openly LGBT person in government, ever.
If you were worried about her Congressional seat (you were, weren’t you?), don’t be. Mark Pocan, who is also openly gay, was elected to fill the seat that Baldwin has occupied since the early 90’s.
Pocan will be joining out incumbents Jared Polis in Colorado and David Cicilline from Rhode Island, along with newly elected candidates, Mark Takano from California and Sean Patrick Maloney from New York. These guys will be joined by out bisexual Arizona groundbreaker Kyrsten Sinema, who brings the grand total to six openly LGBT members of Congress.
The wins in State Legislatures are no less extraordinary and, for me, even more indicative of the changes in LGBT policy and advocacy that the 2012 elections helped to signify and solidify.
At the statewide level we saw an out, lesbian lawmaker, Tina Kotek selected as the Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, and just to the North, Ed Murray was selected as the Majority Leader of the Washington State Senate. These are meaningful positions, not just titles, and they are extremely relevant to the work that each had done previously as out legislators.
And speaking of out, state legislators, there’s a lot more now than ever before! In fact, along with my own state of Pennsylvania, 5 other states elected their first out legislators. Before I tell you which ones, I’ll tell you just ONE reason it matters: No state that has ever enacted any type of LGBT relationship recognition legislation, did so without first having an out member of its state legislature. It Matters.
This year, Florida, possibly the most populous state to have never elected an openly gay statewide legislator, elected two: Joe Saunders and David Richardson. In West Virginia, Stephen Skinner became the first out person even elected to the state legislature, as did North Dakota’s Joshua Boschee, South Dakota’s Angie Buhl, and New Mexico’s Jacob Candelaria. An important side note is that Texas, the second most populous state in the nation, elected its first out legislator in almost a decade, Mary Gonzalez, only the second in its history.
Here in Pennsylvania, I was honored to be elected my state’s first openly gay legislator, representing Center City Philadelphia in the State House of Representatives. Like many of these other out officials, I came by way of advocacy for the LGBT community. After years as an LGBT civil rights advocate and attorney in Philadelphia, I decided to campaign for the state legislature with the support of both my local (Liberty City Democratic Club) and statewide (Equality Pennsylvania) LGBT political organizations. Both of these endorsements followed perhaps my most important endorsements from the gay community, and one of the earliest, the National Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.
I can say without hesitation that for myself, without the training, support, and guidance of the National Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, not only would I likely have lost my election, but I most likely would never have become a candidate to begin with.
The Victory Fund is the nation’s leading LGBT political organization. With a mission to increase the numbers of openly LGBT people in all levels of government, the National Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund has a 20-year record of success that includes virtually every major breakthrough for LGBT people in elected office.
Busy this week? These aren’t even the reasons I’m most excited to attend this week’s Victory Fund LGBT Leaders 2012 Conference in Long Beach. Aside from the fact that it’s in Southern California in December, I’m going to get to spend time with dozens of people that I met through the Victory Fund as a supporter, a Board Member, a trainee, and as a candidate. In short, the VF Team helped to teach me that I could become a candidate, showed me how to sustain a campaign if I chose to do so, and eventually gave me the structural and national support I needed to win my election.
I’ve attended several of these Conferences in the past and I know that the sessions are substantive and applicable, the speakers are dynamic and relevant, and most importantly, the attendees are among the nation’s most active leaders in LGBT policy, advocacy and government.
This year, I’m excited to be a part of a panel put together by Troup Consulting entitled, “Telecom & Technology in Government, Advocacy and Economic Opportunity.” Troup has always been dedicated to increasing diversity everywhere that matters and I’m really thankful that they’re making it possible for me to take part in this year’s Conference!