When John Perez became speaker of the California State Assembly in March 2010, he was only the second LGBT person to be elected to lead a state legislative chamber in US history.
He now finds himself with lots more company – especially after last week’s US elections where 118 LGBT people were elected nationwide.
‘It was a phenomenal election across the country,’ Perez tells Gay Star News.
He was buoyed by such milestones as Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin becoming the first out lesbian elected to the US Senate and Mark Takano of California the first openly gay Asian-American elected to the US House of Representatives.
‘Everyone talks about the presidential election and obviously it is spectacular to reelect a president who is such a strong ally,’ Perez says. ‘But as a state legislator, I also watch what happens in state legislatures. I know what a difference it makes to have representation at every level of government so it was a phenomenal election.’
It was also an election that saw three states – Maryland, Maine and Washington – approve gay marriage while a fourth state – Minnesota – voted down an attempt to ban gay marriage.
Perez thinks those results are proof of changing attitudes among voters.
‘I think the reality is people know their gay friends and family in a way that they never knew them before,’ he says. ‘There has been a greater discussion in popular culture but there’s also been some tough conversations in households as well. At the end of the day, we’re a much more inclusive and embracing society than people have thought in the past.’
Since Perez broke through as speaker in 2010, Gordon Fox was made speaker in Rhode Island and last week, Mark Ferrandino was voted Colorado House speaker. In addition, Oregon’s Tina Kotek is on track to become the first lesbian speaker in US history.
‘It’s going faster than most people imagined but it’s not going fast enough,’ Perez says. ‘When we stop counting firsts, when we’re equally represented everywhere, that’s when we’ll know we’ve hit the mark. But we’ve made great progress.’