With such a spotlight on the new marriage equality laws in Maryland and Maine, there's been another huge win for equality that deserves a little more love.
Four new LGBT politicians have joined Congress in the House of Representatives. As well as bringing the total representation of the LGBT community in Congress to seven members, these additions have broken new barriers along their way to the national stage, and are promising to intensify the fight for change. A Washington Blade article published in late Novemer obtained statements from each of the four candidates detailing their plans for LGBT issues and outlining future strategies in Congress to navigate LGBT rights in the midst of a Republican dominated floor.
Kyrsten Sinema, the first openly bisexual member of Congress, told the Blade that she planned to tackle the bipartisan issue by establishing "authentic relationships and mutual respect" with her opponents in the House, noting that the divisive House lines displayed in former terms has not been conducive to beneficial legislature.
Sinema is joined in this endeavor by Mark Takano, the first openly gay Asian American elected to Congress. Aiming for a seat on the Committee of Education and the Workforce to help to push through the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, Takano stated that he is interested in improving relationships with more moderate Republicans and potentially work on an "equality agenda" together.
A potential alliance could also form between Takano and Sean Patrick Maloney, the first openly gay representative from New York. Both have expressed interest in encouraging President Obama to issue an executive order that bars discrimination against LGBT employees by federal contractors. While the White House considered the order in April, the administration eventually backed down, telling the Huffington Post that they intend to work with "congressional sponsors" on legislation.
Fortunately, there is a significant number of potential sponsors for it now. Mark Pocan, the first gay candidate to consecutively follow another gay member of Congress (Tammy Baldwin) in the same state is one, as is Jared Polis, who also spoke about plans to expand and finance the LGBT Equality Caucus in the House, and is gathering Congress members committed to pushing forward LGBT rights.
There are two important shifts represented by these new members — a crucial increase in diversity within Congress and the potential for lateral party cooperation. This upcoming Congress has already been hailed as the most diverse ever, and rightly so. While it is encouraging to see so many new LGBT members rising to the national legislative level, the emergence of representation of diversity within the LGBT community itself is particularly laudable.
Takano even commented that he thought his sexuality was a non-issue in his bid for the seat, and that his race was more of a priority with voters. With media and popular discourse often focusing on one aspect of the LGBT experience, his seat in Congress takes on a special significance and brings to light the fact that LGBT issues affect all American constituencies.
Additionally, Takano, Sinema, and Maloney have also directly spoken of their hope for communication and teamwork with Republican candidates, which is a refreshing change from talk of gridlock and intentional obstruction often voiced by both sides of the political spectrum. It seems obvious that cooperation is needed for successful governance, but the ever-widening split between Republicans and Democrats points to another reality.
This extension of an olive branch could be symbolically important to the continuation of President Obama's administration. While the results of these efforts remain to be seen, the initiation of these new, passionate candidates willing to constructively engage with their political opponents bodes well for Congress' new term and future equality legislation.