The formation of a powerful community
In a few short decades, the LGBTQ community in the U.S. survived police persecution, societal rejection, McCarthyism and the AIDS epidemic to emerge as a political force that couldn’t be ignored.
Victory Fund and Affinity Inc. Magazine explore the key moments in LGBTQ history that were turning points for the community as a whole.
Government Persection of the LGBTQ Community is Widdesoread
The 1950s were perilous times for individuals who fell outside of society’s legally allowed norms relating to gender or sexuality. There were many names for these individuals, including the clinical “homosexual,” a term popularized by pioneering German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing. In the U.S., professionals often used the term “invert.” In the mid-19th Century, many cities formed “vice squads” and police often labeled the people they arrested “sexual perverts.” The government’s preferred term was “deviant,” which came with legal consequences for anyone seeking a career in public service or the military. “Homophile” was the term preferred by some early activists, small networks of women and men who yearned for community and found creative ways to resist legal and societal persecution.
With draft eligibility officially lowered from 21 to 18 in 1942, World War II brought together millions of people from around the country–many of whom were leaving their home states for the first time–to fill the ranks of the military and the federal workforce. Among them were gays and lesbians, who quietly formed kinships on military bases around the world. They served in silence, always fearful that revealing their identity to a potential new partner or friend could get them dishonorably discharged, if not court martialled. The military first developed formal punishments for homosexual behavior during WWI, and over time developed increasingly probing means to root out “deviants” from within and prevent them from enlisting. In 1947, President Dwight Eisenhower implemented new standards for civil servants that banned homosexuals from serving in many positions.
The Lavender Scare
Thousands of members of the military and civil servants would be dismissed because of rules against homosexual behavior. A few anecdotes seemed to support the government’s reasoning homosexuals were a grave security threat because foreign governments could blackmail them. The idea was hard to counter as few homosexuals were in a position to publicly discuss their identity.
In the years following WWII, homosexuals were more directly tied to communism. The Cold War period gave rise to Senator Joseph McCarthy, who explicitly targeted “deviants,” not only in government service, but also in Hollywood as part of a larger project to rid America of its undesirable elements. The highly publicized effort to rid the U.S. of communists came to be known as the “Red Scare,” while the effort to dismiss homosexuals would later be termed the “Lavender Scare.”
There were no out LGBTQ elected officials in the entire country.
José Sarria Makes Historic Bid for Public Office
Fed up with police abuse, José Julio Sarria, aka “the Widow Norton,” a famous drag performer at Black Cat Café and founder
of the Imperial Court, ran for San Francisco Supervisor in 1961. He was the first out LGBTQ person to ever run for public office in the United States. Sarria garnered roughly 6,000 votes in a citywide election with thirty-four candidates, demonstrating to shocked politicians that there was a consolidated LGBTQ constituency. Although he lost, Sarria’s campaign brought visibility to the plight of San Francisco’s queer community and inspired generations of LGBTQ people to run for office.
Stonewall Rebellion Marks Turning Point
Vice squads–police units devoted to “cleaning up” undesirable parts of urban life–routinely raided the bars frequented by LGBTQ people. Laws against people of the same sex dancing together or wearing clothing made for the opposite sex were used as justification to arrest patrons. By the 1960s in New York City, the mafia owned many of these establishments and its members would bribe officers in order to avoid fines. Sometimes the arrangement meant that patrons would be forewarned of a pending raid in time to change their clothing and stop dancing. That wasn’t true during the early morning hours of June 28 1969, when the NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.
When they arrived at Stonewall, the police locked the doors so that no one could escape as they conducted arrests. As certain patrons were released, they joined a large crowd that had been gathering outside the bar. Those chosen for arrest started resisting the police officers with the encouragement of the jeering crowd. Violence broke out and the crowd overwhelmed police, who were forced to call in reinforcements. The conflict lasted into the next day as more and more people joined the riots from around the Village as word spread.
The Stonewall Rebellion marked a turning point for the LGBTQ community, demonstrating that LGBTQ people could and would fight against injustice, and serving as inspiration for many who would later run for office.
Kathy Kozachenko Becomes First Out LGBTQ Candidate to Win Public Office in the U.S.
Kathy Kozachenko entered college at the University of Michigan as a social justice advocate and joined the Human Rights Party – a pro-feminist, pro-racial justice and pro-LGBTQ party. Party officials encouraged her to run for Ann Arbor City Council and to do so as an out lesbian. Both Gerry DeGrieck and Nancy Wechsler had been elected to the council as Human Rights Party members before her, and both came out while in office, becoming the first elected officials to do so. But Kozachenko decided to take the party officials’ advice and run her campaign while out – although she did not make her sexual orientation central to her campaign.
On April 2, 1974, in a liberal district in liberal Ann Arbor, Kozachenko defeated her opponent by 52 points and became the first out LGBTQ person ever elected in the United States.
She spoke to her sexual orientation in her victory speech:
“This is the first time in the history of the U.S. that someone has run openly as a gay person and been elected to public office. Gay liberation was not a major issue in the campaign — both candidates in this ward said they supported gay rights, but 10 years ago, or even three years ago, lesbianism would have meant automatic defeat. This year we
talked about rent control. We talked about the city’s budget. We talked about police priorities, and we had a record of action to run on. Many people’s attitudes about gayness are still far from healthy, but my campaign forced some people at least to re-examine their prejudices and stereotypes.”
Her campaign was the first success in what would become a political movement to build LGBTQ power. On April 2, 2019, with Kozachenko’s blessing, LGBTQ Victory Institute launched its annual National Out to Win Day, to honor her achievement and to encourage more LGBTQ people to run for office.
First Out State Legislator Elected in the U.S.
Educator Elaine Noble was encouraged to run for the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1974 by former Congress member Barney Frank’s sister, Ann Wexler. The two women had formed the Women’s Political Caucus, and Wexler thought Noble would represent her Irish Catholic Boston district well, even though she was LGBTQ.
Harvey Milk Elected
Harvey Milk is internationally renowned as an LGBTQ hero, having used his position as the first out LGBTQ elected official in California to loudly fight back against the tornado of anti-LGBTQ discrimination furiously whipping the country into a frenzy with the rise of the Moral Majority and Anita Bryant’s crusade to “save our children” in 1977.
First Out Gay Judge Appointed in the U.S.
Despite the American Psychiatric Association removing homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973, the myth of gay “perversion” lasted, fueling state laws and ordinances that criminalized homosexuality. Courageously bucking that belief system, California Gov. Jerry Brown appointed attorney Stephen Lachs to the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1979—the first openly gay person appointed to the judiciary in America. In the eyes of those who sent him death threats, a criminal was adjudicating the law. Nonetheless, Lachs was elected in 1980 and thrice more times before retiring in 1999 as a well-respected judge and expert in family law.
Activist Frank Kameny Runs for U.S. Congress
Frank Kameny, an Army veteran with a doctorate in astronomy, was fired by the United States Army Map Service after the agency discovered he had once been arrested after being groped by a male stranger. In 1958, he was banned from any further federal employment, which he unsuccessfully appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
U.S. Representative Barney Frank Comes Out
Barney Frank was first elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1972 and served until his election to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1980, but did not yet publicly identify as LGBTQ. Afraid that coming out might hurt his career, Frank lingered in the closet until 1987, when he became the first member of Congress to voluntarily come out publicly as LGBTQ.
“For many years, I was ashamed of myself for hiding my membership in a universally despised group. I’d been afraid of exposure, and angry at myself for my self-denial. I’d felt shame as I watched younger gay men and lesbians confront the bigots openly with a courage that I lacked. After all those years, lying to people was much easier emotionally than finally admitting my lie,” Frank wrote in Politico on March 12, 2015, in an excerpt from his book, Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage.
But Frank received unexpected support and luxuriated in being an out gay representative. “I’m used to being in a minority. Hey, I’m a left-handed gay Jew. I’ve never felt, automatically, a member of any majority,” Frank said in a New York Times Magazine interview February 4, 1996. When Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey referred to him as “Barney Fag,” Frank refused to accept the right-winger’s apology, and the slur rebounded on Armey.
Over time, Frank would become one of the most influential members of the U.S. Congress, playing a key role as chair of the House Financial Services Committee. He would be reelected 12 times.
John Laird Elected One of First Gay Mayors in the U.S.
John Laird’s long career in public service began in 1981 with a successful race for the Santa Cruz City Council, where he served until 1990. But he was publicly closeted until 1983, when he responded to a reporter’s question about his sexual orientation by telling them he was gay.
Key West Makes History Electing Richard Heyman
Richard Heyman was first elected to the Key West City Commission in 1979, becoming one of the few out LGBTQ elected officials in the entire nation. But in 1983, he made history, becoming one of the first – if not the first – directly-elected out LGBTQ mayor in America.
Historic Appointment of First Lesbian Judge
In 1981, Governor Jerry Brown of California appointed Mary Morgan to the San Francisco Municipal Court, making her the first out lesbian judge in the United States.
Fighting for our seat at the table
Radicalized by ongoing legal discrimination and the poor government response to the AIDS epidemic, scrappy activists grew determined to elect LGBTQ leaders to local, state and federal offices.
Deborah Glick Makes LGBTQ History in New York
Fury over AIDS sparked an uprising among LGBTQ activists, some of whom decided to run for office and make change. In 1990, Deborah Glick won her election to become the first out state legislator in New York and one of the first in the country. Born in New York, Glick made the jump from grassroots activism to elected office and still proudly represents District 66, covering Lower Manhattan, including the neighborhoods of Greenwich Village, the East Village, the West Village, Tribeca, and Battery Park City. Her successes include the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, finally signed into law in 2002, the Hospital Visitation Bill, ensuring domestic partners enjoyed the same rights as spouses and next-of-kin, the
Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, protecting trans and gender non-conforming people, and the Reproductive Health Act, to name but a few.
Lesbian Dale McCormick Elected to Maine Senate
Dale McCormick started her career in Iowa rejecting stereotypes, becoming the nation’s first journeywoman carpenter in 1975. Two years later, she wrote and illustrated Against the Grain: A Carpentry Manual for Women and subsequently founded a construction and cabinetry company. She moved to Maine in the early 1980s and became politically active, representing Maine as a delegate to the 1984 and 1988 Democratic conventions.
Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund Founded to Build LGBTQ Political Power
Victory Fund’s First Candidate Makes History as First Black Lesbian Elected in the U.S.
The newly founded Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund chose Sherry Harris, an African-American lesbian with an MBA, as their first candidate. She was running for city council in Seattle, Washington.
“Our first fundraiser was in Dallas, and I wondered what would happen when I asked all my friends to contribute to a new organization supporting a Black lesbian running for office in Washington State,” says William Waybourn. “So I recruited Massachusetts
Congressman Barney Frank and former Naval Midshipman Joe Steffan to come and help draw a crowd. We raised a lot of money for the nascent organization, as well as for Sherry. The early victories of both Sherry’s race and Gail Shibley’s race in Oregon the next year underscored for me that we were on to something, and the Victory Fund would occupy an important place in our movement.”
In November 1991, Harris defeated a 26-year incumbent, becoming the nation’s first Black out lesbian elected official.
Gail Shibley, Kate Brown Appointed to Oregon House
Tom Duane Becomes America’s First Out HIV-Positive Elected Official
Tammy Baldwin Wins a Seat in the Wisconsin Assembly
In 1992, Tammy Baldwin, a strong progressive, ran for a seat in the Wisconsin Assembly, becoming one of six out LGBTQ officials to win that year. She won her third re-election in 1996 with 71 percent of the vote. During her campaigns, she often cited anthropologist Margaret Mead saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
In 1998, Baldwin was elected to Congress as Wisconsin’s first woman and first out LGBTQ representative. A hard worker, Baldwin authored an amendment to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that allowed young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance plans until the age of 26, an important element of Obamacare that became law in 2010.
Healthcare was one reason Baldwin ran for office, having lacked health insurance as a child and “battling a serious illness, feeling that no family should have to go through what ours did.” Baldwin says her two passions are “equality and health care for all,” something she grappled with when the HIV/AIDS crisis hit Dane County.
In 2012, Baldwin made American history when she became the first out LGBTQ person elected to the U.S. Senate, with strong bundling and campaign support from Victory Fund. Baldwin was named to the Senate Democratic leadership after the 2016 elections.
Glen Maxey Wins First Full Term in Texas House
Victory Fund Supports First Congressional Candidates
Before the 1990s, opportunities to elect out representatives to Congress were few and far between. By the time of Victory Fund’s founding in 1991, only three out gay representatives had served – all of whom were men who’d come out after being elected.
Victory’s Presidential Appointments Initiative Founded
Christine Kehoe Becomes San Diego County’s First Out Official
President Clinton Meets with LGBTQ Leaders
In Historic First, Roberta Achtenberg Confirmed by the Senate
In 1992, out San Francisco Supervisor Roberta Achtenberg addressed the Democratic National Convention on the most pro-LGBTQ civil rights platform in U.S. history. Longtime Bill Clinton campaign staffer Bob Hattoy also delivered a powerful speech on being a gay man with AIDS. Both were breakthroughs.
The LGBTQ vote was not clinched, however. “We waited with baited breath to see if any reference to ‘gay’ was included” in Clinton’s acceptance speech, says Achtenberg. If not, David Mixner was prepared to lead the 133 gay and lesbian delegates off the convention floor in protest. “We needed to be vindicated, and indeed, we were.”
After Clinton’s victory, Victory Fund’s William Waybourn spearheaded the Presidential Appointments Project. At the top of the agenda was ensuring the nomination and confirmation of Achtenberg to be Assistant Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“My appointment was designed to be the vanguard,” Achtenberg told journalist Karen Ocamb in her 2016 book Representation Matters, though no one imagined the degree of ugly resistance. “That took everybody by surprise, including [Sen.] Ted Kennedy, who at one point called me up at night and apologized on behalf of his colleagues.”
The headline-making resistance was led by venomously anti-gay North Carolina Republican Senators Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth. Helms, who tried to be a “brooding presence” during the committee hearing, called Achtenberg “that damned lesbian,” which lesbians soon appropriated and turned into a tee shirt.
Founding Victory Fund board member Hilary Rosen got busy lobbying senators. “Hilary is really the person who engineered the positive confirm,” said Achtenberg. “She knew where all the bodies were buried, and she went up to the line to make it happen.”
Achtenberg’s confirmation became a mobilizing moment for the LGBTQ movement. “Everybody knew I could not go down,” she says. “It felt like we had to do whatever it took to win.” Vice President Al Gore was on standby in case he was needed to break a tie on the floor, but on May 24, 1993, Achtenberg won 51 to 34, with a number of “chickens” not voting.
Achtenberg looks back with pride. “It hurt deeply to be called all kinds of names. Helms questioned the legitimacy of my relationship with my family. He said I was unfit. They questioned whether I could uphold the Constitution, as if being gay meant you were not a patriot. But we prevailed, and it’s thanks to people like David and Hilary and the Victory Fund who stuck their necks out. It’s easier now, and we’re glad of it.”
Allan Spear’s Human Rights Act Passes
LGBTQ Victory Institute Founded
Sheila Kuehl Becomes First Out California Lawmaker
Perhaps the highest profile Victory Fund candidate in 1994 was Sheila James Kuehl, who portrayed smart teen Zelda Gilroy on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis in the early 1960s. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she co-founded the California Women’s Law Center and wrote California’s first domestic violence laws.
Kuehl bore a responsibility other candidates did not shoulder: as the first LGBTQ person in the California legislature, she would be tasked with “representing” an emerging political minority starving for a seat at the table. Kuehl quickly learned, however, that the significance of being an out candidate had its upside, as she saw one night at dinner in Santa Monica when a “big burly guy” approached her restaurant table.
“I was a little bit freaked out and wondering how this was going to turn out,” Kuehl recalls, having received anonymous death threats during her campaign. “He said: ‘You’re Sheila Kuehl, right?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I am.’ And he said, ‘I just want to tell you—I hate all politicians. I can’t stand them. They dissemble, they lie, they never tell you the truth. I hate ’em all, except for you.’ And I said, ‘Well, thank you very much, but why me?’ And he said, ‘Well, you’ve already told us the worst thing about yourself. Why would you lie about anything else?’”
That voter saw coming out as courageous. “The notion of truth-telling where such a truth is very difficult, is sort of extra points for a politician,” Kuehl says.
Nineteen ninety-four also saw the Republican takeover of the California Assembly after 25 years of a Democratic majority. “I am going [to Sacramento] being Little Miss Gay Person all by myself, and not only was I worried about that—we also had a new, different kind of Republican majority,” she says. “These guys brought their Bibles to the floor. One of them consistently wore his Boy Scout uniform. One of them wore lederhosen. It was like a circus.”
But the LGBTQ community “was very proud of my election, and I wanted them to see that it was a bright spot” in the dark elections. Kuehl was buoyed by her LGBTQ elected predecessors and felt the future would yield “more gay people, more gay people, more gay people” as representatives.
“I think the grand virtue of the Victory Fund is it immediately gives you national access to donors, supporters, and people who had actually run for office and won who will encourage you,” Kuehl says. “It’s very important because you honestly don’t know who’s on your side when you first run.”
Several months after her election, the Los Angeles Times wrote a front-page story, the headline of which Kuehl jokingly amended to “Republicans like lesbian member, are surprised.”
Congressman Steve Gunderson Outed
“My fellow Republican has a revolving door on his closet. He’s out, he’s in. He’s out, he’s in. Now I guess you’re out because you went and spoke at a huge homosexual dinner.”
Those words were lodged at GOP Congressman Steve Gunderson of Wisconsin on the House floor on March 4, 1994 by his colleague Rep. Robert Dornan of California, “outing” him to the world and making him the third out member of Congress after Gerry Studds and Barney Frank.
Dornan was referring to a Human Rights Campaign dinner where Gunderson – a strong supporter of gay rights before he was outed – mentioned sharing a beach house in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, with “Rob” and “our two dogs.”
Tim Van Zandt Breaks Barriers in Missouri House
Karen Bustein Launches Historic AG Bid in New York
Roberta Achtenberg Runs for Mayor of San Francisco
After two years of serving in the Clinton administration’s Department of Housing and Urban Development, Roberta Achtenberg stepped down to run for mayor of San Francisco. Achtenberg was well known in San Francisco, having been the first out lesbian on the Board of Supervisors. Given little chance at the outset, she gained considerable support–including Victory Fund’s endorsement—but eventually lost in the primary by a narrow margin. If elected, Achtenberg would have served as San Francisco’s first out LBGTQ mayor.
Michael Nelson Elected Mayor of Carrboro, NC
Ed Flanagan Becomes America’s First Out LGBTQ Statewide Official
Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe Comes Out
Arizona Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe came out to control the message, rather than have The Advocate out him in response to the veteran Congress member’s July 12, 1996, vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act.
“That I am a gay person has never affected the way that I legislate. The fact that I am gay has never, nor will it ever, change my commitment to represent all the people of Arizona’s Fifth District,” Kolbe said in a statement, the Tucson Citizen reported August 1, 1996.
Kolbe defended his decision. “My vote on DOMA is defensible on the merits,” he told the Tucson Citizen, adding in his statement that marriage is an issue that should be left to the states. “I abhor, and vigorously oppose, discrimination in the work place based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation—any treatment that is not based on merit.”
With his announcement, Kolbe joined Massachusetts Democratic Reps. Barney Frank and Gerry Studds and Wisconsin Republican Rep. Steve Gunderson in being the only four openly LGBTQ Congress members at the time. Despite his DOMA vote, the Victory Fund board voted to endorse Kolbe for re-election in 1998.
Kolbe’s legislative career started in 1976 when he was elected to the Arizona State Senate. In 1984, the moderate pro-choice Republican was elected the first of ten times to represent the Arizona-Mexican border region in Congress, where he was known as a strong supporter of guest worker programs for immigrants and for drafting and passing the North American Free Trade Agreement. He decided not to seek a twelfth term in 2006.
In 2000, Kolbe became the first openly LGBTQ person to speak before the Republican National Convention, albeit without mentioning LGBTQ rights. That year, Kolbe also discovered and reported fellow Republican Rep. Mark Foley’s communications with congressional pages, though the scandal outing Foley wouldn’t be exposed until 2006.
Though circumstances forced Kolbe to come out, afterward he felt a weight lifted. “It is a relief to have this out in the open,” he told the Tucson Citizen. “I have probably had better conversations with family and friends in the last 48 hours than in the last 48 years. In my family, these kinds of things were simply not discussed.”
In 2013, Kolbe married Hector Alfonso and signed onto an amicus curiae brief supporting marriage equality submitted to the Supreme Court in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the federal case challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8.
Sabrina Sojourner Elected “Shadow Rep” for DC
Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano Comes Out
David Parks Elected as Nevada’s First Out LGBTQ Official
Larry McKeon Wins Seat in Illinois House
Cathy Woolard Breaks Barriers with Atlanta Council Victory
Philip Reed Elected First Gay Black City Council Member in New York City
Annise Parker Elected Citywide in Houston
After two previous attempts to win a seat on the city council, Houston’s Annise Parker won her election in 1997 to an-at large position, representing the whole city. Her election made her one of America’s most powerful LGBTQ leaders, with a large constituency rivaling those of many governors. Parker was reelected in 2005 and 2007 before serving as Houston comptroller and later mayor.
Benjamin Cruz Appointed to Guam High Court
Brian Bond Becomes LGBTQ Victory Fund and LGBTQ Victory Institute Executive Director
Tammy Baldwin Elected to Congress
Trailblazing Wisconsin Assemblywoman Tammy Baldwin won her 1998 election to represent the Madison-area 2nd District in Congress, making history on multiple fronts. The 1998 election victory made Baldwin the first woman to represent Wisconsin in Congress as well as the first non-incumbent LGBTQ candidate elected to Congress. She was the first out lesbian to ever serve in in the U.S. House, and later – following her 2012 U.S. Senate election – the first LGBTQ official to serve in both chambers of Congress.
Baldwin was one of four lesbians running for Congress in 1998 who received Victory Fund’s support, and the only successful candidate of the group. Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, a high-profile activist for gay rights in the military, ran in Washington’s 2nd Congressional District. California Assemblymember Christine Kehoe challenged Rep. Brian Bilbray in California’s 49th District. Victory Fund also endorsed former state Rep. Susan Tracy, who ran for Congress in Massachusetts’ 8th District but didn’t advance in the primary.
Jackie Biskupski Becomes Utah’s First Out Elected Official
Arizona Elects Country’s First Out Republican State Legislator
David Catania Wins Full Term on DC Council
Fred Hochberg Appointed SBA Deputy Administrator
Tom Duane Takes Office as First Gay New York State Senator
Jim Hormel Sworn in as America’s First Gay Ambassador
A philanthropist with a law degree from the University of Chicago Law School, Jim Hormel was a founding member of the Human Rights Campaign Fund and was on the board of the American Foundation for AIDS Research. In 1995, President Clinton appointed him to serve on the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and in 1996, he served on the U.S. delegation to the UN General Assembly.
But when Clinton nominated him as U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg in 1997, with approval from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, anti-LGBTQ religious zealots refused a floor vote, claiming Hormel was pro-pornography because he funded an LGBTQ history section at the San Francisco Public Library. Clinton gave him a recess appointment in May 1999, and he was sworn in as America’s first gay ambassador by Secretary Madeline Albright in June 1999 with his then-partner, Timothy Wu.
Jim Hormel was sworn in as U.S. Ambassador to Luxembourg by Secretary of State Madeline Albright in June 1999. Courtesy of the U.S. State Department.
“Until the time that people accept that all of us are born into our sexual orientation and identity, LGBT citizens will still endure discrimination and selective application of the Constitution’s protections,” Hormel wrote in an op-ed for CNN on November 16, 2011.
Breaking barriers in all 50 states
The LGBTQ community is in the cross-hairs of America’s culture wars, but that doesn’t stop brave leaders from winning public office and making progress on LGBTQ rights in red states and blue states.
California Elects Four Lesbians to Assembly
Karla Drenner Becomes Georgia’s First Out State Legislator
LGBTQ Council Majority Elected in Wilton Manors
Gay Lawmaker Secures Civil Unions in Vermont
Bill Lippert spent the 1970s and 1980s building community spirit by organizing Vermont’s first LGBTQ pride rally in Burlington and launching supportive foundations. But he felt the tug of legislative politics after Gov. Howard Dean appointed him to a vacant seat in the Vermont House of Representatives in 1994 during a backlash against LGBTQ rights. By 2016, he served eleven full terms in office.
Central to Lippert’s legacy is his historic effort in 2000 to draft and pass Vermont’s landmark civil unions bill as vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee. In December 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled in Baker v. State of Vermont that same-sex couples had the constitutional right to the rights and responsibilities of marriage but did not confer marriage itself. Instead the court told the legislature to either grant marriage or come up with a parallel structure.
After a series of ugly hearings and death threats that clearly excluded the possibility of passing marriage, they came up with “civil unions,” granting everything but the word “marriage.”
Lippert’s emotional speech on March 15, 2000, is widely credited with the bill’s passage. The House was silent as Vermont’s only openly LGBTQ legislator asked his colleagues to understand same-sex relationships as “miracles” amid unrelenting prejudice—a “triumph against discrimination and prejudice.” And he described the crucible of the AIDS epidemic. “Don’t tell me what a committed relationship is and isn’t,” he said.
The Rutland Herald reported on March 16, 2000, that Lippert felt it was strange to ask: “Should we get our rights now, or should we wait a little longer, or should we ask all the people whether we should get our rights?”
The bill passed the House 79 to 68 and Governor Howard Dean signed it into law on April 26. When the law went into effect on July 1, 2000, Vermont became the first state to confer to couples in a civil union the same benefits as marriage in the eyes of state law
Years later Lippert led the passage of a marriage equality bill, including overriding Gov. Jim Douglas’s veto, bringing marriage to same-sex couples on April 7, 2009. He subsequently married his partner of 26 years, Enrique S. Peredo Jr.
Cathy Woolard Elected Atlanta City Council President
Two Lesbian Lawmakers Come Out
Having authored a civil unions bill in the Rhode Island House, Rep. Nancy Hetherington hoped to appeal to her colleagues’ humanity by publicly coming out as a lesbian, someone directly affected by her bill. She did so in an op-ed in The Providence Journal on March 8, 2001.
“What do civil unions mean to me?” Hetherington wrote. “As a gay person, they mean having the same concerns for my family as everyone else has and wanting to see those I love protected by every means legally available to me.”
She didn’t seek re-election and retired from the legislature in 2002.
Maryland Delegate Maggie McIntosh had served in the state House since 1992, when she was appointed to fill a vacancy. In May 2001, she came out in a speech while accepting an award and went on to be re-elected in 2002 and also chosen as majority leader by her caucus that year.
David Cicilline Elected Mayor of Providence
California LGBTQ Legislative Caucus Founded
California’s four out legislators officially formed the country’s first LGBTQ state legislative caucus in June 2002. The group – which was dedicated to being the LGBTQ community’s voice in the California Assembly – grew by two the following year after the elections of Mark Leno and John Laird, the legislature’s first gay men members. California’s LGBTQ Legislative caucus has been one of the country’s most significant sources of progress on LGBTQ rights.
Massachusetts Trailblazer Jarrett Barrios Wins State Senate Seat
Bonnie Dumanis Wins San Diego Campaign and Becomes America’s First LGBTQ District Attorney
Bohnett Leaders Fellowship Launches
Ron Oden Elected in Palm Springs, Becoming America’s First Black Gay Mayor
First elected to the Palm Springs City Council in 1995, Ron Oden successfully ran for mayor in November of 2003. This marked the first time that an out Black leader had ever become mayor of an American city. During Oden’s tenure, Palm Springs experienced tremendous growth, and the city’s budget doubled over the course of his term. Oden served one term and unsuccessfully ran for seats in the California State Assembly and Congress. He made a comeback bid in 2015, but lost the Palm Springs mayoral race to Robert Moon.
Adam Ebbin Breaks Barriers with Election in Virginia
Annise Parker Becomes Houston Controller
Chuck Wolfe Begins Tenure as LGBTQ Victory Fund and Institute CEO
Lupe Valdez Becomes America’s First Out Lesbian Sheriff
Even after over 20 years working in law enforcement, Latina, lesbian, former migrant farm worker Lupe Valdez was seen as the underdog in her race for Dallas County Sheriff. However, the 2004 vote swung in her favor and was elected as the first Democrat in the position in 25 years and the first woman elected to the role by a 17,000 vote margin. Valdez also made history as the first out lesbian to be elected as a county sheriff anywhere in the United States. Valdez was reelected four more times and unsuccessfully ran for Governor of Texas in 2018.
Rives Kistler Becomes First Out State Supreme Court Justice
Julia Boseman Shatters North Carolina’s Lavender Ceiling
Victory Fund Endorses First Trans Candidates
Lesbian Latina Elected to San Antonio City Council
Nebraska Elects First LGBTQ Official
Victory Institute and INLGO Merge
Founded in 1985, the International Network of Lesbian and Gay Officials (INLGO), existed to serve as a resource and a formal network of the dozens of out officials elected worldwide. The group’s annual conference was perennially the largest gathering of such officials, and the gathering still takes place each year as Victory Institute’s International LGBTQ Leadership Conference, which boasts hundreds of attendees from dozens of countries. In 2005, INLGO and Victory Institute formally merged following a joint 2004 conference.
Lesbian Legislative Candidates Break Barriers in the South
Virginia Linder Elected to Oregon Supreme Court
Victory Fund candidate Virginia Linder made history in 2006, when she won a three-way race for the Oregon Supreme Court. In doing so, Linder became the first ever out lesbian member of a state supreme court and the first out LGBTQ person elected as a non-incumbent to a state supreme court. Motivated by the Civil Rights and Women’s Rights Movements, Virginia Linder graduated from Willamette University with a law degree in 1980. She worked for Oregon’s justice department for 17 years before beginning her judicial career. Before her election to the state Supreme Court, Justice Linder served almost nine years on the Oregon Court of Appeals. She was the first woman to hold the office of Oregon solicitor general and was the first woman to represent Oregon before the United States Supreme Court.
Victory Institute launches Coming Out Project
Number of Out Elected Officials Grows to 400+
In 2007, Victory Fund endorsed more candidates than in any odd-numbered election year in its history – and by a lot. It endorsed 71 candidates, 43 of whom won, growing the number of out LGBTQ elected officials to more than 400 for the first time. Yet 19 states still lacked an out state legislator and six states had no out LGBTQ elected officials at all. States without any out elected officials included: Alaska, Louisiana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia.
First Gay Men Elected in Alabama and Tennessee
First LGBTQ Republican Elected in the South
Marriage Equality Law Passes New York Assembly
Connecticut Lawmaker Jason Bartlett Comes Out, Wins Re-election
Bi Trailblazer Kate Brown Elected Statewide in Oregon
Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus Forms
In the 2008 elections, Jared Polis won his bid to represent Colorado’s second district in the House, becoming the first out LGBTQ member of Congress from the state. With the help of Victory Institute, Jared came out to his constituents while serving on the Colorado Board of Education. His 2008 election gave him the distinction of being the first out gay man to ever elected to Congress as a non-incumbent.
With Polis’s win, he joined Reps. Barney Frank and Tammy Baldwin in Congress and assisted them in founding the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus. A bipartisan effort, the Caucus includes both out elected officials (who serve as the group’s co-chairs) and allies dedicated to advancing LGBTQ equality through legislation and opposing discriminatory measures. The first caucus featured 91 House members.
Lawrence Webb Makes History as Virginia’s First Black Gay Official
Film Brings Harvey Milk’s Story to the Big Screen
Annise Parker Stuns Doubters with Houston Mayoral Election Victory
Obama White House Prioritizes LGBTQ Representation in Appointments
From the jump, the Obama Administration sought to include and emphasis out voices in federal positions. Several out trans voices joined the federal branch, including Amanda Simpson as Senior Technical Advisor in the Bureau of Industry and Security and Dylan Orr as special assistant to assistant secretary of labor in the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the Department of Labor. Both Simpson and Orr made history as the first out trans people presidentially appointed to the executive branch of any administration.
The Obama Administration also appointed John Berry as Director of the Office of Personnel Management, becoming the highest-ranking openly LGBTQ official to serve in the executive branch in any U.S. Administration, and later, as the Ambassador to Australia. He was unanimous confirmed by the U.S. Senate both times. Fred P. Hochberg also served in the highest ranks of government, serving two terms as Chairman and President of the Export–Import Bank of the United States.
America’s First Black Lesbian Lawmaker Elected in Georgia
President Obama Appoints America’s First LGBTQ U.S. Attorney
Harvey Milk Honored by the White House
Brian Bond named Deputy Director of the Office of Public Engagement
LGBTQ leadership ascendant
As more Americans are introduced to LGBTQ people on their TV screens, via the internet or within their family, out candidates run and win key races across the country.
David Cicilline Elected Rhode Island’s First Out Congressman
Victoria Kolakowski Elected First Trans Trial Judge
Kentucky’s First Gay Mayor, Jim Gray, Wins in Lexington
Born and raised in the Bluegrass State, Jim Gray has always seen the best in Kentucky. At the age of 19, Gray’s passion for politics was ignited and he was elected as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1972. Later, Gray ran for one of three at-large seats on the Lexington City Council, and as the largest vote-getter of the three, served as vice-mayor of the city for three years. After publicly coming out in 2005, Gray received nothing but well-wishes and praise from his community, later stating in an interview that “Lexington is a welcoming and inclusive city.” Living up to Gray’s statement, the city elected him mayor with 53 percent of the vote in 2010, making him the first out LGBTQ mayor in the state.
Nickie Antonio Victorious in Ohio
LaWana Mayfield Elected to Charlotte City Council
Robin Kniech Elected At-large in Denver
LGBTQ Lawmakers Secure Marriage Equality in New York State
Out New York Assembly member Daniel O’Donnell and Senator Tom Duane introduced the Marriage Equality Act of 2011 after a narrow defeat in 2009 and subsequent electoral efforts to oust some of their anti-LGBTQ colleagues. Three anti-equality senators had been replaced with pro-equality legislators in the 2010 elections, making way for the bill to clear the upper chamber, where it had previously stalled. The bill was fast-tracked by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who signed it into law on June 24, 2011.
Victory Congressional Internship and Fellowship Launches
Tammy Baldwin Elected to the U.S. Senate
Four LGBTQ Candidates Elected to Congress
First LGBTQ State House Speakers Take the Gavel
The 2012 elections saw a swell in the number of out LGBTQ state lawmakers, with seven states gaining their first or only such lawmaker that year. Florida, New Mexico, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and West Virginia all elected LGBTQ legislators in 2012, while other states such as Colorado, California and New York grew their LGBTQ membership. In total, Victory Fund supported 104 state legislative candidates in 2012.
In Pennsylvania, gay civil rights lawyer Brian Sims made headlines as the first out LGBTQ person elected to the General Assembly defeating a 28-year incumbent to represent the 182nd State House District. He won by 233 votes.
Gay Republican Runs for President
Maine Congressman Mike Michaud Comes Out
Delaware Senator Comes Out During Marriage Debate
Illinois Enacts Marriage Equality
Winning marriage equality in Illinois required more arm-twists and plot twists than a mega-drama soap opera. Victory Fund candidate Illinois House Rep. Greg Harris first introduced a civil unions bill in 2007. Harris also first introduced the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Bill on February 22 of the same year. The bill suffered a slew of failures and fierce opposition from the anti-LGBTQ Illinois Family Institute and the Catholic Conference of Illinois, with Cardinal Francis George of Chicago issuing a letter decrying the bill that was put in every parish bulletin. But Harris also had his own team of adamantly aggressive supporters including President Barack Obama, who was following the drama in his home state.
On November 5, 2013, when it finally passed, Obama tweeted: “This is huge . . . the Illinois House just passed marriage equality.” That was followed by a statement that read, in part: “Michelle and I are overjoyed for all the committed couples in Illinois whose love will now be as legal as ours—and for their friends and family who have long wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and equally under the law.”
Maura Healey Elected Nation’s First Out LGBTQ State AG
Toni Atkins Assumes Speakership in California Assembly
Robert Garcia Elected Long Beach Mayor
USPS Unveils Harvey Milk Stamp
President Obama Appoints LGBTQ Judges
Presidential appointees working in the executive branch and federal agencies can influence policymakers and steer agencies to recognize and address equality issues. Recognizing this insider power, Victory Institute’s Presidential Appointments Initiative presented more than 3,000 vetted resumes of LGBTQ leaders to the Obama transition team in late 2008. The Obama administration subsequently set a record for LGBTQ hires—with more than 300 out LGBTQ people appointed to professional full-time or advisory positions in the executive branch and federal agencies. In addition to executive branch appointments, Obama also appointed several out LGBTQ jurists to federal courts, including Darrin Gaynes, Judith Ellen Levy and Staci Michelle Yandle, who were all confirmed in 2014.
Jackie Biskupski Elected Mayor of Salt Lake City
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg Comes Out
Just days before the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that guaranteed same-sex couples the right to marry, Pete Buttigieg – the young mayor of South Bend, Indiana – penned an op-ed to his constituents in the South Bend Tribune explaining why the pending ruling was personal.
“Like most people, I would like to get married one day and eventually raise a family. I hope that when my children are old enough to understand politics, they will be puzzled that someone like me revealing he is gay was ever considered to be newsworthy.”
I was well into adulthood before I was prepared to acknowledge the simple fact that I am gay. It took years of struggle and growth for me to recognize that it’s just a fact of life, like having brown hair, and part of who I am. Putting something this personal on the pages of a newspaper does not come easy. We Midwesterners are instinctively private to begin with, and I’m not used to viewing this as anyone else’s business.
Buttigieg was overwhelmingly re-elected in November 2015, becoming the first out LGBTQ person elected mayor in Indiana.
Two LGBTQ Leaders Elected in Music City
Aisha Mills Selected as Victory President & CEO
Five Trailblazing Queer Lawmakers of Color Win 2016 Elections
Five groundbreaking LGBTQ candidates of color won election to state legislatures in 2016, beginning an upward trend in the number of LGBTQ state legislative candidates of color who would run for office.
America Elects First Out LGBTQ Governor: Oregon’s Kate Brown
While serving, she was elevated to governor in 2015, after her predecessor was forced to resign. She became the second out LGBTQ person to serve as governor – the first being former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, who came out in 2004 while in office and resigned a few months later.
Running in her first election for governor in 2016, Brown revealed the fear she felt as a new lawyer at the prospect of losing her job in the 1980s because she was dating a woman. Since then, she has worked hard to secure LGBT rights, including signing a bill banning so-called “conversion therapy” on minors.
“There are many things that young people need, but breaking them down based on their sexual or gender identity is not one of them—and in fact, it’s inexcusable,” Brown said during the emotional signing ceremony, The Advocate reported May 22, 2015. “Our young people deserve acceptance, support, and love. To the young people who question their identities, suffer from bullying, or struggle with what it means to come out, today is your day . . . Your voices have been heard.”
On November 8, 2016, Brown won her election with 51 percent of the vote, making history as the first out LGBTQ person ever elected governor in the United States. After completing the rest of her predecessor’s term, she ran for reelection in 2018, beating her Republican opponent by more than six points.
From ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to a Gay Army Secretary
Eric Fanning describes his historic Senate confirmation to be Secretary of the Army as “bizarre.”
National Monument Dedicated at the Stonewall Inn
Danica Roem Makes Trans History
Year of the Trans Candidate
Danica Roem made the biggest headlines in November 2017, yet other history-making trans candidates won their elections, leading Victory Fund to call it the “Year of the Trans Candidate.” Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham won seats on the Minneapolis City Council, both becoming the first out trans people to serve on a city council in a major U.S. city. Lisa Middleton won election to the Palm Springs City Council, becoming the first out trans person elected to a non-judicial office in California, and Tyler Titus became the first out trans person elected in Pennsylvania when they won a seat on the Erie School Board. In just one election cycle, the number of out trans elected officials doubled nationwide.
Jenny Durkan Elected First Lesbian Mayor of Seattle
Palm Springs Elects America’s First All-LGBTQ Council
Annise Parker Takes the Helm at Victory Fund and Victory Institute
A “Rainbow Wave” on Election Night
Intro-On Election Night 2018, media outlets across the nation and world reported a “Rainbow Wave” of LGBTQ candidates had won their elections – a narrative pushed by Victory Fund in the aftermath of an astounding year for LGBTQ candidates. At least 432 out LGBTQ candidates were on the ballot that November – the most ever – and an unprecedented 244 of them won.
Following Big Victories, 2019 Dubbed ‘Year of the Lesbian Mayor’
The Chicago mayoral race had seemed like a long shot. With 13 candidates in the mayoral race and polls showing Lightfoot with little name recognition, many politicos were questioning her viability in late 2018. Yet Victory Fund’s political staff reviewed her campaign plan, analyzed her fundraising efforts and recognized her messaging was perfectly aligned with the mood of Chicago voters. In December 2018, Victory Fund became her first national endorsement, nearly four months before the primary. On Election Night, Lightfoot won all 50 Chicago wards and 73 percent of the vote, taking former Houston Mayor Annise Parker’s title as the highest-ranking LGBTQ mayor in U.S. history.
LGBTQ Caucus Founded in Nashville
Queer Representation Triples In Indianapolis Government
Leading at the highest levels
In federal, state and local bodies, LGBTQ officials wield the gavel, and more LGBTQ leaders of color, bisexual and transgender officials are elected than ever before.
Adjusting to Campaigning During a Pandemic, Hundreds of LGBTQ Candidates Win
Pete Buttigieg Wins Iowa Presidential Primary Caucus
In the nearly two-and-a-half centuries of the history of the United States, no major party has ever nominated an out LGBTQ candidate to lead a presidential ticket. In 2020, the Democratic Party came closer than ever to shattering the ultimate lavender ceiling.
First Black Out LGBTQ Members of Congress Elected in New York
Trans and Non-Binary Candidates Break New Ground
In the three years since Danica Roem’s historic victory in 2017, in which she unseated a 24-year incumbent and became Virginia’s first out transgender state legislator, three other transgender women also won elections to become state legislators: Lisa Bunker and Geri Cannon of New Hampshire and Briana Titone of Colorado.
The 2020 elections doubled the number of out transgender legislators — from four to eight. Sarah McBride of Delaware became the country’s first out trans state senator and Stephanie Byers became the first out trans person of color ever elected to a state legislature. Taylor Small became the first out trans person elected to Vermont’s state legislature and Stacie Laughton was elected to the New Hampshire state House, the third out trans person to do so in New Hampshire. Mauree Turner also became the first out non-binary person to win a state legislative seat, with a victory in her race for the Oklahoma state House.
Local trans and non-binary candidates also made gains, with historic firsts in Arkansas, Illinois and West Virginia.
Minneapolis Leaders Stand With Black Lives
Election Day 2020 Boasts Historic Victories for Queer People of Color and Women
Sean Patrick Maloney Named DCCC Chair
Anti-LGBTQ Attacks on Candidates Increase After Years of Decline
Pete Buttigieg Is First Senate-Confirmed LGBTQ Cabinet Member
Early in 2020 Pete Buttigieg was making history as the first viable out LGBTQ presidential candidate in U.S. history and by the end of 2020 he was making history on an entirely new front. On December 16, 2020, President-elect Joe Biden nominated Buttigieg to be his Secretary of Transportation – an agency with more than 55,000 employees. Never before had a U.S. president appointed an out LGBTQ person for their Cabinet.
Dr. Rachel Levine Is First Out Trans Senate-Confirmed Appointee
As the pandemic struck the United States and the rest of the world, Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine gained national notoriety for her thoughtful yet forceful response, including regularly televised press conferences where science reigned supreme. Her competency – along with much prodding by LGBTQ Victory Institute’s Presidential Appointments Initiative – convinced President Biden to nominate Dr. Levine to be his Assistant Secretary for Health on January 19, 2021.
Isabella Casillas Guzman appointed Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration
In March 2021, Isabella Casillas Guzman, was sworn in as the 27th Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration. She represents the more than 30 million U.S. small businesses and is committed to helping small business owners and entrepreneurs start, grow and be resilient.