It’s a new day for gay politicians and the US Congress.
In last year’s election, Tammy Baldwin became the first out lesbian to win a race for Senate. Down the hallway, in the House of Representatives, there are now six openly gay and lesbian politicians.
A New York Times article (25 January) chronicles how these out politicians are being accepted by an institution not known for its hospitality toward LGBT officials. Mark Takano, a Democrat from California, noted how his unsuccessful runs in the early 1990s were defined by his sexuality. His opponents called him a ‘homosexual liberal.’ Last year, he crushed his opposition by 20 percentage points.
‘Flash forward 18 years and the very macho building tradesmen are behind me,’ Takano said. ‘I’m getting pictures with them in their hard hats.’
Seven out politicians is significant, but represents only about 1 percent of the seats in the House and Senate.
‘But there was an amazing leap forward in 2012 relative to history,’ Denis Dison, a senior strategist with the Victory Fund, said to the New York Times. ‘And in 2014 if two or three or four more out candidates are elected, this is not going to seem as big an accomplishment.’
The Victory Fund works elect openly LGBT politicians to public office.
With history there are noticeable setbacks. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, benefits do not apply to LGBT families. In fact, one of the first things the Republican controlled House did this year was vote for funding for the defense of DOMA in the courts.
There are also moments that are either awkward or hilarious. Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin was at a recent retreat for new members. People from a Christian group asked him if his wife was also in attendance and if they like to attend a prayer meeting (Pocan wears a wedding ring).
‘I said, "No, but my husband did,"’ he recalled. There was uncomfortable silence. ‘Then she said, "Well, we have more offices to go to now."’