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How 3 Openly Queer Governors Are Fighting For Progressive Causes

How 3 Openly Queer Governors Are Fighting For Progressive Causes

Governors Tina Kotek, Jared Polis and Maura Healey

Amidst a tense national political landscape, Govs. Polis, Healey, and Kotek champion LGBTQ+ rights, exemplifying state-led progressiveness.

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As the 2024 general election nears and national divisiveness grows, three progressive and queer governors paint a picture of hope and inclusivity. These elected Democrats stand in the path of GOP efforts to target the LGBTQ+ community both rhetorically and legislatively.

The Advocate spoke with Democratic Governors Jared Polis of Colorado, Maura Healey of Massachusetts, and Tina Kotek of Oregon about their resilient advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights within their states and their dedication to all of their residents’ protection amid a fraught national climate.

Colorado’s Stance: “Colorado for All”

Polis, one of the trio of out LGBTQ+ governors in the U.S., stands as a testament to evolving political landscapes, underscoring inclusivity with the motto “Colorado for All.”

Elected in 2018, he served as a U.S. Congressman representing Colorado’s 2nd District from 2009 until he made history as the first out gay governor in 2019.

His tenure has seen the advent of progressive measures aimed at fostering a welcoming atmosphere for all, regardless of their backgrounds. Polis’ dialogues emphasize a commitment to making Colorado a haven of inclusivity that accepts all individuals, irrespective of their identity or whom they love.

“I really ran on Colorado for all, which means it’s for everybody, gay or straight, new immigrants, people have been here for generations,” he said.

Polis, 48, suggested his landslide victory emphasizes his state's support for those inclusive policies.

“I won by 19 percent in my reelection, and we support policies that make Colorado better for everybody," he said.

One of Polis' major accomplishments was the passage of Marlow’s Law, which facilitates the legal parenthood on birth certificates for both members of a couple, whether same-sex or opposite-sex. This legislation eases the process for second parents to gain legal parentage on their child’s birth certificate, catering to same-sex and opposite-sex couples, especially those relying on assisted reproductive technology.

“We made it easier for second parents to be able to become the legal parents on the birth certificate of their own child,” Polis said, emphasizing the importance for children to have legal recognition of their parentage.

When asked about the contrast between his electoral success and that of fellow Coloradan and vehement anti-LGBTQ+ Rep. Lauren Boebert, Polis said, “I actually carried it in my reelection, showing that clearly, the mandate from her voters was not a homophobic one when they actually reelected me as governor.”

Polis also spoke on gender-affirming health care for transgender people, indicating that Colorado’s welcoming environment attracts individuals from less accepting states.

“People might want to move here, whether it’s from states like Florida or Texas, if they’re seeking a state where people respect them for who they are, where their kids are safer in school,” he said.

Polis has a progressive vision for the future.

“We’re going to be at 80 percent clean energy by 2030," he said. "We’ve also reduced the income tax twice, and our goal is to reduce the property tax this November.”

He also acknowledged Colorado's housing affordability challenges, pledging action to create more housing.

Moreover, Polis acknowledged the migration trend of individuals from red states to more inclusive states like Colorado, seeking gender-affirming care and acceptance.

“People might want to move here, whether from states like Florida or Texas if they’re seeking a state where people respect them for who they are and where their kids are safer in school,” Polis said.

He noted, “No state is perfect, and I can’t honestly say that we’re a state without homophobia or transphobia, but at the very least, people of all ages have protections here.”

“There’s plenty of room in this world to be who you are and be true to yourself; at the end of the day, that’s the most important thing to live your life authentically,” he said.

Massachusetts: A Beacon of Inclusivity

Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey, the nation’s first out lesbian governor, underscored the dire need for staunch LGBTQ+ advocates in politics, given the problematic rollback on LGBTQ+ rights occurring in several U.S. states.

Healey, 52, who was elected in 2022, voiced distress over recent actions by some state legislatures and Republican governors aiming to stifle LGBTQ+ rights, calling it “heartbreaking and also infuriating.”

According to her, these acts not only hamper the hard-fought freedoms of the LGBTQ+ community but also mark a painful regression from strides made over the years.

“It is infuriating, and it makes me all the more committed to making sure that I do what I can to be a strong leader for civil rights and protections for the LGBTQ community," Healey said.

Healey, the state’s former attorney general since 2015 with a background in civil rights law, said politicians have a responsibility to protect marginalized communities, especially LGBTQ+ youth, who are disproportionately affected by much of the recent Republican legislation.

Just like Polis, Healey noted that people from less inclusive states like Texas and Florida are moving to Massachusetts in pursuit of protections and benefits such as gender-affirming care and abortion access, Healey said.

“In the face of a lot of ugliness and bigotry that we’ve seen elsewhere in the country, … Massachusetts has an incredibly strong foundation, not just a system of laws and policies to protect the LGBTQ+ community, but also a culture that promotes inclusivity,” she said.

And despite federal funding cuts by far-right Republicans targeting projects like an LGBTQ+ senior citizen center in Massachusetts, Healey’s resolve shines through.

She emphasized the state’s commitment to protecting such critical community projects.

“It’s just more of the same, isn’t it? From what we’ve seen from Republicans in Congress,” Healey said, criticizing the House GOP interference.

In stark contrast to the restrictive policies seen elsewhere, Healey proudly noted Massachusetts’s progressivism, saying, “I think at a time when, you know, I look at other governors taking their states backward, Massachusetts is always going to move unapologetically forward.”

Healey emphasized that an attack on a singular community invariably jeopardizes everyone’s rights.

“It must matter to all of us. I mean, at the end of the day, when any of us is attacked because of some characteristic or quality unique to us, it makes us all vulnerable,” she explained.

Oregon’s Advocacy: Representation Matters

Oregon Gov. Tina Kotek's tenure is marked by a steadfast commitment to LGBTQ+ issues, health care access, and ensuring representation.

A notable part of Kotek’s advocacy has been representation in politics and media.

“My wife and I know that when we show up, we are modeling what it means to be LGBTQ in Oregon, and it makes a big difference just to be there,” she said.

Kotek’s political tenure symbolizes a record of the 56-year-old’s resilience and advocacy. Before taking office in 2023, she served as the Speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives from 2013 until 2022 — the longest serving Speaker in that body’s history.

“I mean, my very first bill in my freshman year legislature was standing up for [LGBTQ+ rights]," she said of her first year in the state legislature in 2007.

As the discussion pivoted towards the upcoming elections, the governor reflected on the trajectory of her political life amid escalating divisive rhetoric. She emphasized the underlying hope that fuels her public service.

“I’m at public office because I’m a very hopeful person,” she noted. “I don’t think you should do public office if you’re not.”

Kotek’s reflections are pivotal as the nation gears up for another election cycle. The heightened rhetoric and attacks on the LGBTQ+ community accentuate the need for robust advocacy and representation, which Kotek has tirelessly championed.

Kotek provided an optimistic outlook, encapsulating her spirit of continuous advocacy.

“We are strong. We are resilient. We are not going back,” she said. ”That feeling is what keeps us all going.”

(Editor's note: A clarification was added that Polis was the first out gay governor.)

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Christopher Wiggins

Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).
Christopher Wiggins is a senior national reporter for The Advocate. He has a rich career in storytelling and highlighting underrepresented voices. Growing up in a bilingual household in Germany, his German mother and U.S. Army father exposed him to diverse cultures early on, influencing his appreciation for varied perspectives and communication. His work in Washington, D.C., primarily covers the nexus of public policy, politics, law, and LGBTQ+ issues. Wiggins' reporting focuses on revealing lesser-known stories within the LGBTQ+ community. Key moments in his career include traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris and interviewing her in the West Wing about LGBTQ+ support. In addition to his national and political reporting, Wiggins represents The Advocate in the White House Press Pool and is a member of several professional journalistic organizations, including the White House Correspondents’ Association, Association of LGBTQ+ Journalists, and Society of Professional Journalists. His involvement in these groups highlights his commitment to ethical journalism and excellence in the field. Follow him on X/Twitter @CWNewser (https://twitter.com/CWNewser) and Threads @CWNewserDC (https://www.threads.net/@cwnewserdc).