Women have been able to vote (in most states) only for a little over 100 years, less than have the time the U.S. has been in existence, and they've been running for office in large numbers and getting appointed to major government positions only since the 1970s. But in the last 50 years, and especially since the 1990s, many have left their mark, and more than a few of them have been lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer. Following is a look at some of the women from our community who've made history. Oh, and there are no Republicans among their numbers.
Pictured from left: U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, Virginia Rep. Danica Roem, U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, and Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins
KATHY KOZACHENKO, a lesbian, was the first out member of the LGBTQ+ community elected to any political office in the U.S., winning a City Council seat in Ann Arbor, Mich., in April 1974. There were two gay men on the council in the liberal college town (home to the University of Michigan), but they didn't come out until after they were elected. Kozachenko served one two-year term, then moved away, but she remained an activist, volunteering in political campaigns and helping to organize the March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in 1979. She was named to the LGBTQ Victory Institute's first Hall of Fame class in 2021.
1974 saw another first: In November, lesbian ELAINE NOBLE became the first out candidate elected to a state legislature when voters in a Boston district sent her to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. A Democrat, she was encouraged to run for office by Ann Lewis, sister of another groundbreaker, Barney Frank, who was already in the Massachusetts House but wasn't out yet. Noble served two terms, and in 1977 she was part of the first gay and lesbian delegation to visit the White House. She later founded an LGBTQ-supportive drug and alcohol treatment center, taught school, sold real estate, and volunteered in Democratic politics.
ROBERTA ACHTENBERG weathered the wrath of infamously homophobic U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms to win the distinction of being the first Senate-confirmed out presidential appointee. A former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Achtenberg was nominated by President Bill Clinton to be assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development. Helms called her a "damn lesbian" and accused her of a vendetta against the Boy Scouts simply because she wanted the group to be inclusive. But the Senate confirmed her by a vote of 58-31 in 1993. Achtenberg later served on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
TAMMY BALDWINbegan her political career in her native Wisconsin, serving on the Madison Common Council in 1986 and then being elected to four terms on the Dane County Board of Supervisors. She was elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly in 1992, and in 1998, Wisconsin sent the lesbian legislator to Washington as the first member of Congress who was out from the get-go (others had come out while in office). She served seven terms in the U.S. House and then, in 2012, was elected as the nation's first out U.S. senator. She's still in the Senate, advocating for LGBTQ+ equality — including the Respect for Marriage Act, which President Joe Biden signed into law last year — and other progressive causes.
In 2010, ANNISE PARKER was elected mayor of Houston, making her the first out mayor of a top 10 U.S. city (Houston is the fourth largest). Parker, a lesbian, had previously worked in the oil and gas industry and served on the Houston City Council and as city controller. After three terms as mayor, in which she helped pass an LGBTQ-inclusive civil rights ordinance only to see it repealed by voters, she became president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund and Victory Institute, helping train and elect out candidates.
KATE BROWN became the nation's first out bisexual governor in 2015, when she was sworn in as Oregon's top official after the resignation of Gov. John Kitzhaber. The state has no lieutenant governor, so as secretary of state she was next in line. She was elected in her own right in a special election in 2016 and reelected in 2018, both LGBTQ+ firsts. She could not run again in 2022 due to term limits, but her successor, lesbian and fellow Democrat Tina Kotek, has continued our community's representation in Oregon's highest office.
DANICA ROEM in 2017 defeated the most anti-LGBTQ+ member of the Virginia House of Delegates and was then sworn in as the first out trans person to serve in any state's legislature (a trans candidate had been elected in New Hampshire in 2012 but withdrew before taking office). Roem has now been reelected twice, both times taking down homophobic, transphobic challengers. She's running for state Senate this year.
There was another first for trans people in 2017 when ANDREA JENKINS was elected to the Minneapolis City Council — she was the first out African American trans woman elected to any office in the U.S. She was elected council president in 2022. Before becoming a council member, she was on the body's staff and was later curator of the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota's Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection in Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Studies. She has been a trans activist for years and has won national and international acclaim with her poetry and other writings.
DANA NESSEL, a lesbian, was elected Michigan's attorney general in 2018, making her its first out statewide official, and she was reelected in 2022. She has fought for the rights of LGBTQ+ people and other marginalized populations as AG, as she did before that. As an attorney in private practice, she handled DeBoer v. Snyder, in which a Michigan lesbian couple challenged the state's ban on same-sex marriage, a case that was eventually consolidated with Ohio's Obergefell v. Hodges and cases from Kentucky and Tennessee and heard before the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in the 2015 marriage equality ruling.
ANGIE CRAIG was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Minnesota's Second Congressional District in 2018, flipping the seat from Republican to Democratic. She has been reelected twice; in one race a third-party candidate said he was recruited specifically to siphon votes from her, but she prevailed. She has the distinction of being the first lesbian wife and mother in Congress — she and her wife, Cheryl Greene, have four sons. In February of this year, she was attacked in an elevator at her D.C. apartment building but defended herself by throwing hot coffee at the assailant. She shows the same resolve in fighting for LGBTQ+ rights and other progressive actions.
SHARICE DAVIDS is one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress and the first gay one. Elected in 2018 (unseating a four-term Republican) and reelected in 2020 and 2022, she represents a Kansas district in the U.S. House. "I would never say that I speak for all Native people or even my tribe [Ho-Chunk]," she told The Advocate in 2021. She added, "Like any group, Native people are not a monolith. I think it's helpful to constantly remind people of that and make sure that folks know that I might be an expert on my lived experience or certain parts of legislation or policy."
In 2020, SARAH MCBRIDE, the former national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, was elected to the Delaware Senate, becoming the first out trans state senator in the U.S. She was reelected last year. She also made history while working for HRC — in 2016, she addressed the Democratic National Convention, making her the first out trans person to speak at a major party's national convention. She is a longtime activist and has written a moving memoir, Tomorrow Will Be Different: Love, Loss, and the Fight for Trans Equality, about her time as caregiver to partner and husband Andrew Cray, a trans man who died of cancer four days after their wedding in 2014.
DR. RACHEL LEVINE became the first out transgender official confirmed by the U.S. Senate when the chamber in 2021 approved her appointment as assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services. Levine, who was previously Pennsylvania's health secretary, is the highest-ranking out trans person in the federal government. She is also a four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, the first woman to achieve that rank in the corps and the first trans four-star admiral overall.
Last May, KARINE JEAN-PIERRE, a lesbian and longtime activist, became the first African American and first out LGBTQ+ person to be White House press secretary. She had been the principal deputy White House press secretary and took over the top post when Jen Psaki left for a job with MSNBC. Jean-Pierre has promoted President Biden's programs and has also used her post to speak out against homophobia and transphobia; in one recent press briefing, she pointed out how ridiculous it is for politicians to seek to ban or restrict drag performances.
In November's election, BECCA BALINT was elected to Vermont's sole seat in the U.S. House, making her the first woman and first out LGBTQ+ person to represent the state in Congress. As her district covers the whole state, she also became one of Vermont's first two out statewide officials; Michael Pieciak, a gay man, was elected state treasurer last November. Balint, a lesbian, was previously a Vermont state legislator, serving as Senate majority leader and president pro tempore.
2022 saw the election of the nation's first two lesbian governors. MAURA HEALEY was elected easily in Massachusetts, where she's also the state's first woman governor. She previously made history in 2014, when she became the first out LGBTQ+ person elected as attorney general of any state. As AG, she brought the first state challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. In her inaugural address as governor, she said, "We must center equity in all we do. I will be directing each agency in my administration to conduct a full equity audit. Let Massachusetts be the place that shines a light on every systemic barrier, and then does the hard work to break them down. Because that's who we are."
Oregonians chose TINA KOTEK as their governor in 2022. She prevailed in a tough three-way race. She was previously a state legislator and was the first member of the LGBTQ+ community to be Oregon's House speaker. In her inaugural address, she promised to deal with the most pressing issues facing Oregon, including homelessness, a lack of affordable housing, and the need for access to behavioral health care. "We won't be perfect, but we will improve every year, so Oregonians can proudly say their state government was there for them," she said.