President Joe Biden will nominate Gina Ortiz Jones, a lesbian military veteran and former congressional candidate, as undersecretary of the Air Force, the White House announced Tuesday.
If confirmed by the Senate, Jones would be the first lesbian, second member of the LGBTQ+ community, and first woman of color (she’s Filipina-American) to serve in the post. Eric Fanning, a gay man, was undersecretary of the Air Force for two years during President Barack Obama’s administration, then became secretary of the Army.
“Gina Ortiz Jones has spent her career working to protect U.S. economic and national security,” a White House press release notes. She was an intelligence officer in the Air Force and was deployed to Iraq during the war there, serving under “don’t ask, don’t tell.” After leaving the Air Force, she worked for the federal government as an adviser on intelligence and trade, with agencies including the Defense Intelligence Agency and Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. She left government service six months into Donald Trump’s presidency, saying his people “were interested in neither the public nor the service,” The Dallas Morning News reports.
She was the Democratic nominee for the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas’s 23rd Congressional District, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio, in 2018 and 2020. She lost narrowly to incumbent Republican Will Hurd in 2018, and after he left office, by a somewhat larger margin to Republican newcomer Tony Gonzales in 2020.
In her races, she emphasized the need for accessible, affordable health care for all Americans and expressed strong support for public education and social justice. She has continued to speak out on social media since the election, advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, racial justice, and gun control; condemning hate crimes; and encouraging voter registration and COVID-19 vaccinations.
The Advocate interviewed her during both of her runs. She would have been the first Filipina-American in Congress and the first out member of the LGBTQ+ community elected to the body from Texas. “I’d be honored to be the first of those things, but it’s so much more important that I’m not the last of those things,” she told The Advocate in 2020.
Now that she is likely to be a first in a different position, activists and public officials are elated. “We are beyond thrilled,” Jennifer Dane, executive director of the Modern Military Association of America, which advocates for LGBTQ+ service members and veterans, told the Morning News. “She represents diverse intersections of minority groups, and her visibility at the top echelons of leadership is exactly what our communities need. ... She knows firsthand what damaging effects discriminatory policies like ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ have on the health and well-being of the force.”
U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, chair of the House Armed Services Committee, noted to the Washington Blade that Jones has “served her country both in and out of uniform.” He added, “If confirmed, Ms. Jones would be the first woman of color to serve as undersecretary of the Air Force, marking yet another historic nomination as the Biden-Harris administration continues to prove their commitment to building a diverse Department of Defense that reflects the American population.” The administration last week announced two other out nominees for Defense Department positions, lesbian Brenda Sue Fulton and transgender woman Shawn Skelly.
And the LGBTQ Victory Institute, which provides training and support to current and prospective out government officials, sent a celebratory tweet.