Ten LGBTQ members of Congress were sworn in on Thursday, marking the largest class of out representatives and senators — and the most diverse overall — in American history.
Eight of the elected LGBTQ politicians were ushered into the House of Representatives and two embarked on six-year terms in the Senate. All 10 are Democrats.
The newcomers — at least in their current posts — include Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Congressmembers Angie Craig of Minnesota, Sharice Davids of Kansas, Katie Hill of California, and Chris Pappas of New Hampshire. Sinema had previously represented Arizona in the US House since 2012.
Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin and Congressmembers Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, and Mark Takano of California are returning after winning reelection in November.
This LGBTQ contingent is expected to lead the effort to prompt Congress to move on long-stalled legislation such as the Equality Act — a comprehensive civil rights measure first introduced in the current era in 2015, but based on an approach pioneered by two New York City House members, Ed Koch and Bella Abzug, in 1974.
Annise Parker, CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a written statement that the new LGBTQ representatives in Congress will “shape the debate on equality legislation and issues moving forward.”
Parker’s comments reflected the tougher terrain LGBTQ issues face in the Republican-led Senate compared to the newly Democratic House, where the Equality Act and other community initiatives enjoy strong support.
“In the US Senate, those opposed to the Equality Act will now need to look two openly LGBTQ senators in the eyes and tell them their lives are not worth protecting,” said Parker, who served as mayor of Houston from 2010-2016. “In the US House, Speaker Pelosi will have eight LGBTQ representatives to consult about how various healthcare or criminal justice reform policies uniquely affect our community.”
Baldwin is coming off her second Senate victory six years after she became the first out lesbian or gay US senator. A former member of the House of Representatives, she became the first out lesbian elected to Congress in 1998.
Maloney, who represents the Hudson Valley north of the city, won re-election to the House after an unsuccessful bid to capture the Democratic state attorney general nomination this past September. In 2012, he became the first openly gay member of Congress from New York.
Cicilline, who as the former mayor of Providence was the first out gay chief executive of a state capital, is entering his fifth term in the House of Representatives.
Pocan continues to serve in the House of Representatives after succeeding Baldwin in 2012, when she left the House after winning her Senate seat.
Takano, the first out gay member of Congress of Asian descent, easily cruised to re-election against Republican Aja Smith, by a 30-point margin. Takano ascended to the House of Representatives in 2012 after losing House campaigns in 1992 and 1994, when his sexuality was an issue.
The crop of newcomers entering Congress represents a series of “firsts.” Sinema became the first openly bisexual US senator after narrowly defeating Republican challenger Martha McSally (though Arizona Governor Doug Ducey went on to appoint McSally to replace interim Senator Jon Kyl, who stepped in after John McCain’s death in August). Sinema served in the House from 2013 until this past week.
Craig defeated incumbent Congressmember Jason Lewis after losing to him in a close race in 2016. With her victory in 2018, she became the first out lesbian mother elected to Congress and the first LGBTQ member of Congress from Minnesota.
Davids is the first out lesbian or gay member of Congress from Kansas and the first Native American person elected to Congress in US history. She toppled incumbent Republican Kevin Yoder in November.
Hill, who is bisexual, knocked off another incumbent in Republican Steve Knight. At just 31 years of age, she is the youngest of the 10 LGBTQ members of Congress.
Pappas rounded out the list of newcomers with his victory in New Hampshire. He made the jump from a state government position to become the first out gay member of Congress from New Hampshire.