LGBT gains breathtaking leap forward

By Lisa Keen

A first-ever openly gay person elected U.S. Senator, the largest ever number of openly LGBT people elected to Congress, two new speakers at state houses, the first-ever openly transgender person elected to a state legislature, and the first openly LGBT candidates elected in numerous states.

That's just a snapshot of what made Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund President Chuck Wolfe call Nov. 6 a "breathtaking leap forward."

Election Day 2012 contests for LGBT candidates spanned 37 states, including such conservative bastions and North Dakota and West Virginia. They included victories in seven out of eight federal office races, 71 out of 94 state offices, and 40 out of 50 local offices.

Of 152 LGBT candidates on the ballot Nov. 6, 77 percent (118) won, while 22 percent (33) lost. One local election race is still pending. By comparison, in 2010, 65 percent (106) of 164 openly LGBT candidates won, according to the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund.

There were many historic firsts this year, including the high-profile victory of U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, overcoming a multi-million-dollar super PAC campaign against her by right-wing operative Karl Rove, to become the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Senate.

"It goes right up there in history with Ed Brooke of Massachusetts," said long-time gay Democratic activist David Mixner. Brooke, a Republican, became the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate, in 1966.

"Words almost can't describe the barriers this has broken down and it is a moment in the institution of the U.S. Senate that will be forever remembered," said Mixner. He said Baldwin's victory was in large part due to her being "a really great candidate who worked her ass off."

But he also said Baldwin's victory and that of so many others Nov. 6 was a "shift in attitudes" of American voters about LGBT officials and issues.

In California, teacher Mark Takano became the first openly gay person of color elected to Congress, winning a seat representing conservative Riverside, California.

The LGBT community also celebrated the elevation of four of its own to positions as state legislative Speaker of the House, two new to the position and two re-installed.

Oregon State Rep. Tina Kotek, 46, who has been serving as the House Democratic leader, is now in a position to become the state's first openly gay Speaker and, thus, the first lesbian to head a state legislative chamber anywhere in the country. Kotek, a three-term representative of North Portland, helped pass legislation in 2007 to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. Her areas of focus have been education, health, and fighting hunger.

State Rep. Mark Ferrandino, 35, a Democrat representing Denver, was the unanimous choice of the Democratic majority in Colorado's 65-member House of Representatives. Ferrandino will receive the gavel in January from outgoing Republican Speaker Frank McNulty, who killed a civil union bill poised for passage by sending it back to committee last May. Openly gay Colorado State Senator Pat Steadman was a potential candidate for president of the State Senate but was beat out by a strong LGBT civil rights supporter, John Morse, from conservative Colorado Springs.

And two incumbent speakers will hold onto their positions: Rhode Island Speaker Gordon Fox and California Speaker John Perez.

Fox, re-nominated House Speaker Nov. 9, was at the center of controversy recently for setting aside a marriage equality bill and pushing instead for a civil unions bill. The bill passed and represented a step forward for the state, but many LGBT activists were sorely disappointed at Fox's tactical decision to push for what he knew would pass, rather than insist on full equality. Fox, 50, represents Providence and is an attorney. He was first elected to the House in 1992, was elected majority leader in 2002, and was first elected speaker in 2010.

California Assembly Democrats unanimously chose John Perez to serve as speaker again. Perez, a 43-year-old union organizer from Los Angeles, was first elected speaker in 2010, becoming the state's first openly gay speaker.

In other historic election news Nov. 6, Democrat Stacie Laughton became the first openly transgender person to be elected to a state legislature, winning a seat representing her hometown of Nashua in the New Hampshire state house. Laughton, who owns and operates a small business selling environmentally friendly products, had already been elected to public office once, serving on the Nashua Board of Selectmen. Her issues of focus have been helping the homeless and supporting a proposed commuter rail.

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which helps direct funding to openly LGBT candidates, did not include Laughton on its list of endorsed candidates but issued a statement celebrating her historic victory. Laughton lives with her campaign manager and former wife Lisa Laughton.

Almost as remarkable as the first transgender election was the election of openly gay candidates in North Dakota and West Virginia. Democrat Joshua Boschee won a seat to the North Dakota state house, being the top vote-getter (3,411 votes) out of four candidates for two seats representing North Fargo. Boschee, a native of North Dakota, has been involved in both city, community, and LGBT institutions. And Democrat Stephen Skinner, an attorney and founder of Fairness West Virginia, a statewide LGBT civil rights group, beat his Republican opponent by 699 votes,less than one percent of the 7,475 cast in the House of Delegates race to become the state's first openly gay legislator.

And the list goes on. Other standout LGBT candidates on Nov. 6:

* Following her primary campaign for the Texas legislature this summer, Democrat Mary Gonzalez identified herself as a pansexual and ran unopposed in the general election, securing a seat representing El Paso. On her campaign website, she noted that she is board co-chair of allgo, a "statewide queer people of color organization" and has been involved with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

* Democrat Jacob Candelaria, 25, won a New Mexico state senate seat representing Albuquerque in his first run for public office. After winning 69 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, he was unopposed for seat from the heavily Democratic district Nov. 6 and became the first openly gay man to be elected to the New Mexico legislature.

* Angie Buhl, 27, won re-election to her State Senate seat in South Dakota, representing Sioux Falls. Before her first election in 2010, she worked as a consultant to Equality South Dakota. She beat her competitor by winning 2,973 votes, or 55 percent of the senate voting district. The Argus Leader newspaper characterized Buhl's race as one of the "most hotly contested legislative match ups this year." Her opponent was another Democrat who had held the seat until 2010 and ran as an independent to oppose Buhl in the general election. The newspaper endorsed Buhl.

* Democrat Kay Floyd took 69 percent of the vote to win her Oklahoma City district State House seat held by openly gay politician Al McAffrey, who is now in the state senate.

* Marcus Brandon, who in 2010 won his first-time run for state representative in North Carolina, becoming the state's first openly gay member of the House, won re-election unopposed Nov.6.

* Lesbian Kate Brown won re-election as Oregon's Secretary of State, despite a well-funded Republican challenge.

At deadline, biotech manager Steve Hansen was awaiting results of a tally of 4,000 remaining votes in his race for the Sacramento City Council. As of Nov. 9, he was only 46 votes behind opponent Joe Yee.

Throughout 2012, the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund tracked a total of 177 LGBT candidates in all in 2012, though 25 of those lost their primary races earlier in the year.

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