On Friday news broke that Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber had announced his resignation because of his involvement in a public corruption scandal. That’s a big deal, but Kitzhaber’s decision to step down means that Oregonians (and the rest of the nation) are about to witness a LGBT milestone. The state doesn’t have a lieutenant governor, so the current secretary of state, Kate Brown, will be sworn into office (exactly when is still unknown at this writing). When that happens, she’ll be the first openly bisexual governor in United States history.
“To have an entire state be governed by a woman who identifies as a member of the LGBT community is going to be huge,” says Denis Dison, interim executive director of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund and Institute, a Washington, D.C.–based advocacy group for openly LGBT elected and appointed officials.
“It’s tempting to think sometimes that the LGBT movement can rely solely on our allies to do the heavy lifting for us. And for a long time our community envisioned itself as activists who were encouraging our allies to do the right thing,” Dison says. “We thought of ourselves as being outside the capital waving a sign or writing a petition, or telling straight people that they had to do the right thing for us.” Now LGBT youth have a growing number of examples of lawmakers who can negotiate the nation’s political halls of power.
“The idea is to show young people who are LGBT that you can be authentic, you can live your life in truth and still be respected by your community enough that they elect you to represent them.” says Dison.
Click through to learn more about Brown and 10 other openly LGBT politicians who may not all be household names but who are managing to wield plenty of influence and power.