By Carrie Wade
It doesn’t take much Googling to confirm that America’s political landscape is tilted against LGBTQ folks these days. And not just because of the figures (and policies) at the top; basic protections like safe schools and job security still differ across state lines. That perpetual instability can be tough to reckon with, especially for queer and trans kids who have no idea what kind of world they’ll face once they reach voting age.
Fortunately, queer and trans people and our allies are not only running for office in record numbers—we’re winning, too. And our presence in political leadership makes forward progress inevitable. Just ask these five current office holders who are refusing to settle for anything less.
United States Senator, Wisconsin
Tammy Baldwin has a habit of making history. First woman ever elected to Congress from Wisconsin, first openly gay member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and America’s first out Senator? Check, check, and check. She’s been fighting for LGBTQ rights ever since her days in the Wisconsin Assembly, where she proposed legalizing same-sex marriage in 1994. She co-founded the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus in 2008 and in late 2017 introduced the LGBT Elder Americans Act, which would update the Elder Americans Act of 1965 to specifically include LGBT seniors and permanently establish a National Center on LGBT Aging. Baldwin knows better than most that the fight for justice doesn’t begin and end with marriage equality—she knows we have further to go, and wants to lead the whole way there.
United States Representative, California (41st District)
Today, Mark Takano co-chairs the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus as the first openly gay person of color in Congress. But during his first House race in 1994, his sexual orientation became an attack point, with opponents sending out pink mailers questioning his fitness for office. It took him two more tries to make it to Capitol Hill, and he’s had no problem speaking out since. He recently called President Trump’s proposed ban on transgender military servicemembers “a disgrace to the office he holds and the country he took an oath to protect,” and praised the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals for their decision prohibiting LGBT workplace discrimination. He’s currently pushing Congress to amend the Civil Rights Act accordingly.
A former high school English teacher (and Gay-Straight Alliance advisor!), Takano is known to break out his red pen as a form of protest. Bill Cassidy, Marco Rubio, and Mitch McConnell have all received Fs from Takano on their public statements over the years.
United States Senator, California
Not every first-term Senator becomes a household name, but Kamala Harris isn’t your typical newcomer, and these aren’t typical times. She was California’s first female Attorney General and the second black woman ever elected to the Senate, and is now one of Congress’ most outspoken critics of the Trump Administration. She’s also beloved online in GIF form and a popular ally to the LGBTQ community thanks to her opposition to “conversion therapy,” refusal to defend California’s Proposition 8 while serving as Attorney General, and work to outlaw the “gay panic” defense of hate crimes in California courts.
At the Human Rights Campaign’s 2017 National Dinner, Harris called out current attacks on LGBTQ rights while asserting that “fighting for everyone’s civil rights is in our common interest, and it is in our self-interest. No one should be left to fight alone.” While her track record isn’t perfect on trans rights in particular, she’s shown significant progress on those issues as Senator, using that same HRC speech to denounce disproportionate rates of violence against trans women of color. She’s one to watch and an important one to have in our corner.
City Councilmember, Minneapolis, Minnesota (Ward 8)
In November 2017, Andrea Jenkins became the first trans woman of color ever elected to public office in America, and did it with a whopping 70% (!) of the vote. But it’s not as if she came out of nowhere; she served as a senior policy to two of her predecessors in Ward 8 and has a 25-year record of public service. She’s also an accomplished poet and performer who won Twin Cities Black Pride’s inaugural Social Justice and Advocacy Award and the Power of One Award from the PFund Foundation, a grassroots LGBTQ organization serving the Upper Midwest. In an episode of PBS’ Minnesota Original, she told the audience at the Transgender Equity Summit that “as transgender and gender-nonconforming people, we create our own path, our own destiny. Our bodies are literally a work of art.” Now she’s changing the definition of what a politician looks like.
United States Senator, Illinois
Tammy Duckworth isn’t shy about speaking her mind—and as a decorated veteran and Congressional trailblazer, she’s earned that right and then some. She gained national notoriety by stashing her phone inside one of her prosthetics during the 2016 “No Bill, No Break” gun control sit-in in, and is now a highly-regarded progressive presence in the Senate. That reputation comes in part from her staunch support for LGBTQ rights. She delivered by far the most stinging rebuke to the proposed trans military ban to date, thanks to a perspective all her own:
When I was bleeding to death in my Black Hawk, I didn’t care if the troops saving me were gay, straight, transgender, black, white or brown pic.twitter.com/FTzjHpZuuH
— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) August 24, 2017
Game, set, match.
These five represent only a fraction of the openly LGBTQ people and allies who currently hold public office. And best of all, there could be lots more on the way. For more on who’s running in 2018 and beyond, check out the candidate list at the Victory Fund and learn more about candidate trainings from the Victory Institute. No reason you (or your kid) can’t be next in line.
Carrie Wade is a staff writer at the queer feminist website Autostraddle, where she covers disability, pop culture, and politics. Her writing has been featured on Everyday Feminism, Upworthy, and other outlets across the internet, and she is a frequent guest on podcasts and radio. See what she’s up to on Instagram and Twitter.