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History in Nebraska: Lincoln Council Has Three Out Members, Gay Chair

Lincoln City Council

James Michael Bowers is the first out council chair, and Sandra Washington and Tom Beckius provide additional LGBTQ+ representation.

The Lincoln City Council: seated, from left: Tammy Ward, Richard Meginnis, and Jane Raybould; standing, from left, Sandra Washington, Bennie Shobe, James Michael Bowers, and Tom Beckius.

LGBTQ+ history has been made in the capital city of Nebraska.

After Monday's swearing-in of new Lincoln City Council members, three of the seven members are drawn from the LGBTQ+ community, and one of them was elected council chair, the first out official in that position.

James Michael Bowers, a gay man who became the first out member of the council when he was elected in May 2019, was elected chair at Monday's meeting, the LGBTQ Victory Fund reports. Sandra Washington, a lesbian, and Tom Beckius, a gay man, were also sworn in at the meeting.

Washington and Beckius were the two top vote-getters for three open council seats in the May 4 election. Washington had been appointed to fill a vacant seat on the council in June 2019, so this was the first time she was elected, and Beckius is new to the council. Washington is the first Black lesbian elected to any office in Nebraska, and she, Bowers, and Beckius represent one-third of the out elected officials in the state.

"Growing up, there were not a lot of [LGBTQ+] role models," Bowers noted at the meeting, according to the Lincoln Journal Star. "You're left to figure things out for yourself; you don't see people like yourself in leadership positions." That's changing, he said, and Lincoln is at the point where having a gay council chair is uncontroversial.

He plans to run for the state legislature next year. Megan Hunt, who is bisexual, in 2019 became the first member of the LGBTQ+ community elected to the legislature.

Beckius told the Journal Star that the presence of three out council members "says Lincoln is open to leaders of all colors and stripes, and I think it does turn a corner in a way. What matters most is our ability to serve the community, no matter who we are."

Victory Fund, which has supported all three, praised the council's progress. "James earned the council chair position by leading on issues important to his community -- including his efforts to fight the pandemic -- but the impact of his election is about more than issue positions and legislation," Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker said in a press release. "In just two years, Lincoln went from having never elected an out LGBTQ city councilmember to now having strong LGBTQ representation and an LGBTQ chair. The rapid progress is certain to inspire more LGBTQ people to run, not just in Lincoln, but throughout the state, and their leadership will change hearts and minds along the way."

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