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PRIDE & POLITICS: 30 barrier-breaking LGBTQ leaders

The U.S. elected its first openly gay public official in 1974 when Kathy Kozachenko, then a student at the University of Michigan, won a seat on the Ann Arbor City Council.

Now, a half-century later, more than a thousand lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people have become elected officials and government leaders, and there have been at least seven out LGBTQ heads of state globally.

The importance of LGBTQ representation in government can be summed up in this adage: “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu.”

Kathy Kozachenko

On April 2, 1974, Michigan student Kathy Kozachenko was elected to the Ann Arbor City Council, making her the first openly gay person elected to public office in the U.S. While she served only a single term, Kozachenko opened a door to LGBTQ representation in politics when the community was rapidly gaining visibility in American society.

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk became the first openly gay elected official in California — and one of the first in the country — when he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977. Within his first year in office, Milk sponsored and helped pass the country’s first gay rights ordinance, which barred anti-gay discrimination in housing and employment in San Francisco. Less than a year after he was elected, Milk, 48, was assassinated by the sole supervisor who voted against the ordinance, becoming a martyr and an icon in the LGBTQ community.  

Barbara Jordan

Barbara Jordan became the first Black woman elected to the Texas Senate in 1966, and six years later, in 1972, she made history again by becoming the first woman and first Black person elected to Congress from the state. In 1994, two years before her death, Bill Clinton awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work as a political trailblazer.

Elaine Noble

Elaine Noble became the first openly gay person elected to statewide office in the U.S. when she was elected to represent Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in November 1974.

“When I ran for political office, it was really important to me to be open about my gayness even though I felt a lot of pressure from people telling me to either downplay it or not say anything about it at all, and it was important to me because it was part of who I am personally, and it’s part of my politics, and I really didn’t think I needed to play that game in order to win,” Noble told WGBH-TV of Boston years later.

Barney Frank

Former Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., became the first openly LGBTQ member of Congress when he came out as gay in 1987. In 2012, Frank married his longtime partner, James Ready, becoming the first member of Congress in a same-sex marriage. Frank served in Congress from 1981 until he retired in 2013.

Tammy Baldwin

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., was first elected to public office in 1986, as a 24-year-old law school student. In 1999, she became the first lesbian and the first out LGBTQ nonincumbent elected to Congress. Then in 2012, after more than a decade in the House of Representatives, she made history again as the first out LGBTQ person elected to the U.S. Senate, where she’s still a member.

Steve Gunderson

Former Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., was outed as gay on the House floor in 1994, making him the first and one of the only openly gay Republicans to ever serve in Congress. In 1996, Gunderson was the sole Republican in Congress to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, which allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states that permitted such unions. Gunderson served in Congress from 1981 until 1997.

Aya Kamikawa

Aya Kamikawa, who serves as a Tokyo municipal official in the Setagaya City Council, became Japan’s first out transgender elected official in 2003. She serves one of the most populous districts in Tokyo.

Jared Polis

Jared Polis, D-Colo., made history in 2008 when he was elected to serve Colorado’s 2nd Congressional District, becoming the first nonincumbent openly gay man elected to Congress. Polis made history again when he was elected governor of Colorado a decade later, becoming the first openly gay man elected governor of any U.S. state. Polis was re-elected in 2022 by a wide margin. 

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir

Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir took on the role of prime minister in Iceland in 2009, becoming the country’s first woman and openly gay person to fill the position. She is also thought to be the world’s first openly LGBTQ head of state, aside from Per-Kristian Foss, who served briefly as Norway’s acting prime minister in 2002. After Iceland legalized same-sex marriage in 2010, Sigurðardóttir and her spouse were one of the first couples to get married.

Annise Parker

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker was one of the first openly LGBTQ mayors of a major American city and one of only two women to ever lead Texas’ largest city. Parker, who served as mayor from 2010-2016, is also the only person in Houston history to have ever served as mayor, council member and controller of the city.

Mark Takano

Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., became the first openly LGBTQ person of color and first gay Asian American elected to Congress when he successfully ran for California’s 39th Congressional District seat in 2012. Now, more than a decade later, Takano is still serving his Southern California district. 

Kyrsten Sinema

Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat-turned-independent, became the first out bisexual ever elected to the Senate in 2018 and only the second openly LGBTQ person, behind Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. Before she made history in the Senate, Sinema made history when she was elected to the House in 2013, becoming the first openly bisexual member of either chamber of Congress. Sinema announced in March that she would not run for re-election this year. 

Xavier Bettel

Xavier Bettel, who became prime minister of Luxembourg in 2013, was the first openly gay prime minister in the world to be re-elected for a second term. He also is the first serving European Union leader to marry a same-sex partner, after same-sex marriage was legalized in Luxembourg in 2015.

Maite D. Oronoz Rodriguez

Maite D. Oronoz Rodríguez became an associate justice of Puerto Rico’s Supreme Court in 2014, becoming the first LGBTQ person to serve on the territory’s highest court. In 2016, she became the court’s chief justice, a position she still holds. Oronoz Rodríguez’s wife, Gina Méndez-Miró, is also a federal judge serving in Puerto Rico.

Kate Brown

Kate Brown, an Oregon Democrat, became the first openly LGBTQ person to serve as governor of any U.S. state when her predecessor, John Kitzhaber, resigned amid a public corruption scandal in 2015. Brown was elected to serve the rest of Kitzhaber’s term in a special election in 2016 and was re-elected for a second term in 2018. Brown served until last year, unable to run again because of term limits, and her successor, Tina Kotek, is one of two out lesbian governors, along with Massachusetts’ Maura Healey, currently serving in the U.S.

Robert Garcia

Before he was elected to Congress in the 2022 midterm elections, Rep. Robert Garcia, D-Calif., became the first openly LGBTQ person and first Latino to be elected mayor of Long Beach, California, in 2014.

Danica Roem 

Danica Roem, a Virginia Democrat, became the first out transgender person ever elected and seated in a state legislature in 2017. Last year, she won a seat in the Virginia Senate, achieving a milestone as the only out trans person ever elected to her state’s upper chamber and only the second trans person ever elected to any state Senate, following Sarah McBride of Delaware. 

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, became the first openly gay person to win a presidential nominating contest when he won the 2020 Iowa Democratic presidential caucuses. Buttigieg made history again in 2021 when the Senate confirmed him as transportation secretary, making him the nation’s first out LGBTQ person to be confirmed to a Cabinet post.

Andrea Jenkins

When Andrea Jenkins won a seat on the Minneapolis City Council in 2017, she became the first out transgender Black woman elected to public office in the U.S. In 2022, after having served on the council for five years, she made history and headlines once again as the first out transgender city council president in the country.

Sharice Davids 

Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat from Kansas, made history in 2018 by becoming the first openly LGBTQ Kansan elected to Congress. She joined Deb Haaland of New Mexico that same year as one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress. Davis still serves in the House.

Ritchie Torres 

Rep. Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., became the nation’s first gay Afro-Latino in Congress when he was elected in 2020 to serve New York’s 15th Congressional District. Before entering national politics, Torres made history in local politics: In 2013, he was elected to the New York City Council at age 25, becoming the youngest member in its history.

Sarah McBride

Sarah McBride, a Delaware Democrat, made history in 2021 as the first transgender person elected to a state senate in the U.S., though it wasn’t the first time she broke political barriers: In 2016, she became the first out trans person to speak at the Democratic National Convention. Last year, McBride announced her bid for Delaware’s single House seat, and if she succeeds in November, McBride will become the first out transgender member of Congress.

Mauree Turner 

At just 27, Mauree Turner became the first openly nonbinary state legislator in U.S. history after winning a seat in the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2020. Turner, who still serves in the state House, is also thought to be the first Muslim lawmaker to serve in the Oklahoma Legislature.

Erika Hilton 

Erika Hilton made history as one of the first two out transgender people to be elected to Brazil’s National Congress, alongside Duda Salabert. Hilton is the first Black transgender woman in the country’s Congress. She was previously a member of the city council in São Paulo.

Tyler Payne 

Tyler Payne, a Florida Republican, made history in 2021 when he became the first openly gay mayor of Treasure Island, Florida, and one of the only openly LGBTQ Republican mayors in the country. In a break from Florida’s Republican Party, Payne has been a vocal critic of the state’s so-called Don’t Say Gay law, which limits instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s public schools.

James Roesener

James Roesener, a New Hampshire Democrat, in 2022 became the first openly transgender man elected to a state legislature. At the time of his election, there were only eight out transgender state legislators across the U.S. He continues to be the only transgender man in a state legislature.

Laphonza Butler

Sen. Laphonza Butler, D-Calif., was sworn in as California’s junior senator in October 2023, filling the seat of longtime senator Dianne Feinstein, who died at age 90. Butler, who shortly after her appointment announced she would not run in 2024 to keep the seat, is only the third Black woman and third out LGBTQ person to serve in the chamber.

Maura Healy

Maura Healey, a Massachusetts Democrat, made history in November 2022 as the first out lesbian to be elected to a governorship, dedicating her win to “every little girl and every young LGBTQ person out there.” Oregon’s Tina Kotek was elected governor of her state shortly after Healey, currently giving the U.S. two lesbian governors.

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Zooey Zephyr 

Zooey Zephyr became the first openly transgender person elected to the Montana Legislature when she won a seat in the state House of Representatives in 2022. She received national attention last year after state Republicans blocked her from speaking on the House floor because of her comments on transition-related medical care for trans youths.

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