By Diane Anderson-Minshall
Originally published on Advocate.com November 07 2012 12:40 PM ET
Riverside, California educator and GSA adviser Mark Takano has won his race against Republican opponent John Tavaglione for the newly-created 41st Congressional District, according to ABC7 Eyewitness News. The relection makes Takano the first openly LGBT person of color elected to Congress.
This election was a significant change from Takano’s first race in Riverside County nearly two decades ago, and it could be a sign of the times. “When I first ran for Congress in the 1990s, my background as an openly gay Asian was one of the focal points of the campaign, and in fact my opponent attacked me for it,” says Takano.
Outed during that contentious 1994 race, Takano’s opponents insinuated he had some sort of “homosexual agenda” and sent pink political mailers that questioned whether as a congressman Takano could represent the people of Riverside (a part of California’s right-leaning Inland Empire region) or would he really represent “San Francisco?”
“Times certainly have changed,” Takano said. “And in my current race not a single voter has asked me about being gay.”
While Inland Empire remains a bit right of center, Takano’s sexual orientation wasn't a factor in this race. As a candidate, Takano instead focused on what is critical to his constituents (more jobs, good companies, ample Medicare) in what many pundits called one of the most important races in the country.
New America Media reported that the Japanese-American educator’s race “is considered one that will determine which party controls the House for the next two years.” It’s a redistricted area that now skews slightly more Democratic than in the past.
Takano told New America, “Democrats need 25 seats and this is one of the critical, must-win seats. It’s very difficult to win without winning the 41st, which is where I am,” he noted. “I feel very strongly that the issues are with us. My effort is now painting a contrast between me and my opponent. I’m talking to Riversiders. It’s about common-sense Riverside values versus Washington extreme ideology. It’s common sense to be for middle-class tax cuts and tax cuts on small businesses, to be for not allowing Medicare to be turned into voucher care.”
Certainly Takano is glad his sexual orientation isn’t an issue this time around, but politics watchers can’t help but notice the timing of Takano’s triumph. For Asian Americans, he’s part of a record wave of candidates for Congress (25, of them three are Japanese Americans). And he’s among a record number of LGBT politicians running for Congress (eight in total). New York, in fact, elected its first Asian American woman to Congress yesterday.
Takano’s win comes at a time when LGBT organizations are working more closely than ever with other affinity organizations. The NLGJA joined Unity, a group previously only open to journalists of color. And the NGLTF, for example, joined other minority groups in demanding an end to stop-and-frisk police policies. Meanwhile, those communities came out nationally to support LGBT rights in numbers never before seen. When President Obama voiced support of marriage equality, the NAACP and The League of United Latin American Citizens and National Council of La Raza soon followed.
The alliances between LGBT folks and people of color has never been as strong as they are now, though Takano is quick to point out that there a relationship between gays and Asian Americans had already existed. The Japanese American Citizens League was the first non-LGBT organization to support marriage equality. In 2004, the group filed an amicus curiae with an ACLU lawsuit defending same-sex marriage in Oregon. And, as Takano reminds reporters, it was gay Congressman Barney Frank who got Congress to pass a resolution that would apologize to Japanese Americans, like his parents William and Nancy, who were interned during World War II.
Voters in Takano’s district have made history before. Riverside’s Dalip Singh Saund became the first Indian American and Sikh member of Congress in 1956. And Takano was right to believe that the community would do it again by working together on their shared issues.
“A broad coalition here of African-Americans, Asians, Latinos, and white voters care more about issues such as bringing good employers and job opportunities to Riverside, in addition to protecting Medicare,” says Takano. “Now my being openly gay is more of an interesting part of my background rather than a genesis for attacks — it's a demonstration of how far our country has come in a short time. I think it's definitely true that we are seeing a shift in our electorate where communities of color and the LGBT community are coming together, not only on social issues like equality for all Americans, but more importantly economic issues.”