Know Your Queer History Part Three: Politicians
Know Your Queer History
Part Three: Politicians
by Grace M.
Queer history was probably not included in your grade school curriculum—but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist! Part of being a good ally (that’s you, parents!) is learning about the history, hardships, and celebrations that the LGBTQ community has experienced, and remembering all the contributions made by queer folks throughout history.
The LGBTQ community is still fighting for adequate political representation—however, we have come a long way in the past few decades. This week, we are highlighting a few of the LGBTQ political trailblazers whose work and visibility paved the way for the increasing number of LGBTQ political candidates today.
Harvey Milk 1930 - 1978
Harvey Milk is perhaps the most well-recognized LGBTQ politician in U.S. history. Elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977, Milk was the first openly gay elected official in the history of California. Milk first ran for office unsuccessfully in 1973, and again in 1976. During that time, he gained popularity as an outspoken leader in the community and as an activist in the gay rights movement. His campaign brought an uplifting message about the future for LGBTQ youth and held the belief that direct representation from gay politicians was needed to ensure that the LGBTQ community gained equality under the law. His election in 1977 received national attention, and during his time in office he was a champion of liberal issues and gay rights ordinances. However, after serving only 11 months, Milk was assassinated by an anti-gay former city Supervisor and colleague with whom Milk had often clashed with over gay rights issues. Harvey Milk is remembered as a martyr and leader in the gay rights movement and for breaking down barriers as one of the first openly gay politicians in U.S. history—and at a time where being gay was still widely considered to be a mental illness. His outspoken politics and unapologetic advocacy for gay rights paved the way for many LGBTQ politicians, activists, and community leaders, and he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.
Barbara Jordan 1936 - 1996
Barbara Jordan was a lawyer, an educator, and a groundbreaking Democratic politician who achieved many milestones for representation for women and black communities throughout her career. She was first elected to office in 1966, becoming the first black woman to be elected to the Texas Senate. In 1972, she became the first woman and first black person elected by Texas to the U.S. House of Representatives. Throughout her time in office, Jordan’s political work focused on civil rights, the environment, and workers’ rights. She was a gifted speaker and was the first woman and first black person to give a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention. Her speech at the hearings during the impeachment process of President Nixon is widely recognized as one of the greatest speeches of the 20th century. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994. Jordan was a queer woman but kept her private life to herself, as queer sexualities were widely stigmatized—in fact, it wasn’t widely known that she was queer until after her death. Nonetheless, Jordan’s legacy as a queer black female politician is an important reminder of the contributions that LGBTQ people have been making throughout history, pioneering important causes and providing representation for other marginalized identities.
Elaine Noble 1944 - present
Elaine Noble was the first openly gay candidate elected to state office when she became a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1975. During her campaign, she fought hard to define herself by her platform, not by her sexual orientation. She focused on practical problems that voters could relate to, like fixing potholes and ensuring access to affordable housing. However, anti-gay stigma was widespread at the time and her historic victory was not easily won. Noble and her staff endured ongoing harassment, vandalism, and violence throughout the campaign that continued during her time in office. In March 1977, she participated in the first LGBTQ delegation invited to the White House to discuss issues important to the queer community. Although Noble is an often overlooked part of political history, she played a major role in paving the way for others. Her election as an openly gay person has been cited as inspiration for other politicians to come out and for more LGBTQ people to run for office themselves.
These LGBTQ individuals, as well as countless more, have made important contributions to our local and national governments, and have paved the way for the queer politicians of today to continue the fight for LGBTQ rights. As of today, all 50 states have been served by at least one openly LGBTQ politician at some level of government—but we still have a long way to go. Even as Republicans and the Trump administration seek to roll back protections for LGBTQ individuals, the queer community continues to fight back in so many brilliant ways, including with LGBTQ people running for office in record numbers. In the 2017 midterms, we saw many LGBTQ folks running and winning elections, like Andrea Jenkins, Danica Roem, and Stephe Koontz!
We just can’t say this enough: having LGBTQ representation—whether it’s in the movies we watch, the books we read, the businesses we work for, or the policies that affect every aspect of our lives—has never been more important. Having LGBTQ people in office makes our world safer and more equitable, and shows kids like your own that they deserve a seat at the table. Please remember to vote every chance you have, and take this knowledge with you to the polls.
Pride Month is coming to a close, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t all continue to learn about and celebrate the contributions of LGBTQ people throughout history. For more places to learn, we recommend checking out:
The podcast Making Queer History
Thanks for learning with us, this month and always. We love our little My Kid Is Gay community over here, and it truly makes us so happy to hear about your personal journeys as well as your Pride celebrations!
Happy Pride, everyone! <3 <3 <3