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The New Divas: Maxine, Kamala, Hillary, and the Women of Washington

Political Divas

Obsessing over pop stars is so yesterday -- it's the female politicians challenging Trump who have our eternal devotion. 

When California Congresswoman Maxine Waters confronted slippery Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at a committee meeting, she refused to let him eat up her precious minutes. "Reclaiming my time!" the 79-year-old legislator repeated several times, slicing brilliantly through Mnuchin's transparent stalling techniques.

Waters coined a new power phrase -- one repeated by out writer-actress Lena Waithe during her Emmy speech -- but it was far from the first time the politician brilliantly challenged the white patriarchy ruling Washington. Her fearlessness at calling for Donald Trump's impeachment, just weeks into his tainted presidency, cemented her national profile as a "powerful black woman," as she describes herself. Like many Americans, gay and bi men began to look at Waters as a heroine of this frightening new age.

"Impeach 45!" chanted the crowd at this summer's L.A. Pride, with Waters leading the chorus.

Waters, along with other high-profile female politicians like Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Nancy Pelosi, filled a void left by Hillary Clinton's Electoral College defeat -- a strong woman mounting a challenge in the halls of power long occupied by straight white men.

When U.S. Sen. Harris of California stood up to then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly or Attorney General Jeff Sessions, it won her new fans on LGBT sites. Stories on New York Sen. Gillibrand's refusal to vote for Trump's atrocious Cabinet picks lit up Facebook and newsfeeds. Massachusetts Sen. Liz Warren got her own catchphrase phrase when "she persisted" in reading a letter from Coretta Scott King that warned of the dangers of Sessions. Even Nancy Pelosi's detractors had to give her credit for outsmarting Trump, with the House Minority Leader helping stall his horrendous agenda at nearly every turn.

"I see other gay/bi friends getting more vested in politics than ever before because of what happened in the 2016 election," said Lane Hudson, a former White House page who worked for Hillary Clinton's 2008 and 2016 campaigns. "Gays have always admired strong women, and I'm glad that female politicians are now in the mix."

In the fall, Clinton reemerged, offering interviews to promote her book What Happened and using them to boldly challenge Trump. The former secretary of State told journalists that Trump was being played by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, and then blasted the president's handling of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico. While Republicans and sexists called for the popular vote-winner to just go away after November, it became clear her voice was needed -- and effective.

"Clinton pressed Trump to deploy hospital ship Comfort to Puerto Rico. Now it's preparing to go," read a Washington Post headline from this month.

Clinton's latest role as as national stateswoman would be her, what, eighth act? The former campaign worker/attorney/Arkansas first lady/U.S. first lady/senator/secretary of State/first female major party candidate for president is now in the midst of a classic diva move: staging an epic comeback.

With current events playing out like an episode of House of Cards, women like Clinton and Waters are becoming more compelling to some gay men than, say, Madonna or Beyonce.

"The fact that gay men respect strong women in power like Hillary, Maxine Waters, Kamala Harris, Nancy Pelosi, and others is a testament to the same mistreatment the LGBT community endures from the society, blinded by misogyny, sexism, bigotry, and even racial divide," says Nelson Melegrito, founder of the group Bros4Hillary. "We closely identify to the marginalized section of our community and champion the heroes that defend us. ... The diva label in this case is not a bad thing -- it is a bold statement of Resistance."

On the following pages, see what makes these women the divas of our time.


Maxine Waters, U.S. Representative, California's 43rd Congressional District

You may already know about "reclaiming my time" and "Impeach 45!" but don't forget that Waters has long stood up to the powers that be. The politician got the last laugh when Fox News host Bill O'Reilly -- who said Waters wore a "James Brown wig" -- was fired from his job after numerous accusations of sexual harassment against him were exposed. "I am a strong black woman, and I cannot be intimidated. I cannot be undermined. I cannot be thought to be afraid of Bill O'Reilly or anybody," Waters told MSNBC's Chris Hayes.

Waters is ranking member of the House Committee on Financial Services, but her interests have long included social justice. Since taking office in 1993, she's worked for racial minorities' and women's rights, and supported the LGBT cause long before it was fashionable. Speaking of fashionable, have you seen those suits? Read more about Waters here.


Nancy Pelosi, House Minority Leader, U.S. Representative, California's 12th Congressional District

Just as with Clinton, some called for Pelosi's head after the November election. The House minority leader faced even more heat after Democrats failed to win two special elections this year. Pelosi was undeterred.

"When it comes to personal ambition and having fun on TV, have your fun," Pelosi said to her critics this summer. "I love the arena; I thrive on competition; and I welcome the discussion. But I am honored by the support."

Intead of heading out to the pasture like many wanted, Pelosi teamed up with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to block Trump's border wall and find a way to allow Dreamers -- people brought to this country as children by undocumented parents -- to stay in the U.S.

Many deride Pelosi as the ultimate "San Francisco politician," but that's bad? Hailing from the nation's most liberal city, she's fought for LGBT rights for three decades -- all the while looking fabulous, we might add.


Kamala Harris, U.S. Senator From California

It's a thing of wonder to watch Kamala Harris grill people like John Kelly, the alpha male now trying to rescue Donald Trump's failing presidency. Her confrontation of his hard-line immigration tactics -- where she was shushed by a male senator -- spawned a million memes. But it wasn't a show -- Harris is a brilliant lawyer at heart and one you always want on your side.

Harris, the former San Francisco district attorney, first made history as California's first female attorney general -- she also broke barriers as a woman of color (she's of Jamaican and Indian heritage). As AG, Harris refused to defend California's Proposition 8, helping send it to history's trash heap. Harris's popularity helped her breeze to her Senate win in November.

She hasn't moved cautiously since taking office this year. She's been a vocal agitator against Trump, loudly challenging his attacks on immigration and health care, and rallying her enormous constituency to blanket other senators with calls and emails to save Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and Obamacare.

With her resolve never diminished by intimidating men like Kelly, it's easy to see Harris keeping her cool while facing off against Trump or Mike Pence on a debate stage. Simply put, she's fierce.


Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Senator From Massachusetts

Warren is a paragon of resistance and persistence. During Sessions's confirmation hearing, she was reading Coretta Scott King's 1986 letter about his efforts to suppress the black vote in Alabama when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell cut her off, invoking a rarely used rule. "Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech," he said afterward. "She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted." He didn't expect that to become a rallying cry for women, but "Nevertheless, she persisted" began showing up on memes (many created by Kamala Harris), T-shirts, and more.

Warren has actually been persisting all her life. Growing up, she knew financial hardship, but she graduated from high school at age 16, became the first member of her immediate family to graduate from college, then went on to become a lawyer and law professor, with particular expertise in bankruptcy law. In 2010, President Obama chose her to set up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has helped countless Americans, and in 2012 she was elected to the Senate. There she's been a champion of the marginalized and a thorn in Trump's side, voting against confirmation of 19 of his 22 Cabinet-level and other senior appointees, including Sessions -- a number exceeded only by Kirsten Gillibrand. An important voice on health care, she has consistently voted against repeal of the Affordable Care Act and says if it's replaced, it must be with something even better, like universal, single-payer coverage.


Hillary Clinton, 2016 Democratic Presidential Nominee

Clinton is probably the best-qualified presidential nominee who didn't get elected. Well, she won the popular vote, and some underhanded dealings may have skewed the Electoral College results, but in any case she's not in the White House now. Nevertheless, Clinton remains the epitome of a strong, brilliant woman, and she has an exemplary record of public service -- from her early work with the Children's Defense Fund to her efforts to expand health insurance as first lady in the 1990s to her tenures as a U.S. senator and secretary of State. In the latter position, she famously gave a speech to the United Nations saying, "Gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights." In 2016 she mounted what was most likely the most pro-LGBT presidential campaign ever.

While Election Day brought bad news to Clinton and the rest of us, the good news is she's not going away. She's committed to "being an activist citizen and part of the resistance," she told journalist Christiane Amanpour in May, and this month she's back much in the public eye with her best-selling campaign memoir, What Happened. As she makes the talk show rounds, she's holding Trump's feet to the fire on issues such as health care reform and the response to hurricane damage in Puerto Rico. And while Clinton is serious about serious matters, let's not forget that she has a lighter side, as evidenced by her appearance on Saturday Night Live as Val the bartender opposite Kate McKinnon as Clinton.


Kirsten Gillibrand, U.S. Senator From New York

Gillibrand has proved herself a worthy successor to Clinton in the Senate. New York Gov. David Paterson appointed her as U.S. senator in 2009 to replace Clinton's term when the latter became secretary of State, and Gillibrand has since been elected to the post twice. She's been a staunch and savvy supporter of LGBT rights and other progressive causes, and this year she joined with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, one of the few moderate Republicans left, in a bipartisan attempt to stop Trump's reinstatement of the ban on military service by transgender people.

Rolling Stone has called Gillibrand Congress's "most unapologetic feminist," who is therefore "best positioned to channel the white-hot rage that drove millions of women to take to the streets in protest of Trump's inauguration." She doesn't come off as enraged, though, but "has maintained the ability to fly ever so slightly under the radar, exploiting opponents' consistent failure to recognize her as a lethal political threat," Rolling Stone noted. She has voted against Trump's position 93.7 percent of the time, the highest percentage among senators, including votes against 20 of 22 Trump nominees for Cabinet and other top-level positions, the most of anyone in the chamber.

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