Share This Year
View All Decades

Ed Flanagan Becomes America’s First Out LGBTQ+ Statewide Official

Ed Flanagan attends a Victory Fund fundraiser.
Ed Flanagan attends a Victory Fund fundraiser.

First elected as Vermont State Auditor in 1993, Ed Flanagan came out in 1996 before seeking re-election, when he received enthusiastic backing from LGBTQ+ Victory Fund. When he won his election, he became the first out LGBTQ+ person ever elected to statewide office in the United States. He served until 2001.

A Victory Fund election night fax to reporters announces Flanagan's 1996 victory.

After a few unsuccessful campaigns, Flanagan was elected to the Vermont State Senate in 2004 and served until 2011.

“It is hugely important to have a living, breathing member of the gay and lesbian community there on the Senate floor,” Flanagan told the Detroit News, September 20, 1999. “In debating health care and defense policy, they will remember that this Flanagan guy is gay. After I have gained respect, that’s when the bigotry will be evaporated.” 

Arizona Congressman Jim Kolbe Comes Out

U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-AZ. Courtesy of Edgar B. Anderson
U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-AZ. Courtesy of Edgar B. Anderson

Arizona Republican Rep. Jim Kolbe came out to control the message, rather than have The Advocate out him in response to the veteran Congress member’s July 12, 1996, vote in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act.

“That I am a gay person has never affected the way that I legislate. The fact that I am gay has never, nor will it ever, change my commitment to represent all the people of Arizona’s Fifth District,” Kolbe said in a statement, the Tucson Citizen reported August 1, 1996. 

Kolbe defended his decision. “My vote on DOMA is defensible on the merits,” he told the Tucson Citizen, adding in his statement that marriage is an issue that should be left to the states. “I abhor, and vigorously oppose, discrimination in the work place based on race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation—any treatment that is not based on merit.”

With his announcement, Kolbe joined Massachusetts Democratic Reps. Barney Frank and Gerry Studds and Wisconsin Republican Rep. Steve Gunderson in being the only four out LGBTQ+ Congress members at the time. Despite his DOMA vote, the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund board voted to endorse Kolbe for re-election in 1998. 

Kolbe’s legislative career started in 1976 when he was elected to the Arizona State Senate. In 1984, the moderate pro-choice Republican was elected the first of ten times to represent the Arizona-Mexican border region in Congress, where he was known as a strong supporter of guest worker programs for immigrants and for drafting and passing the North American Free Trade Agreement. He decided not to seek a twelfth term in 2006.

In 2000, Kolbe became the first out LGBTQ+ person to speak before the Republican National Convention, albeit without mentioning LGBTQ+ rights. That year, Kolbe also discovered and reported fellow Republican Rep. Mark Foley’s communications with congressional pages, though the scandal outing Foley wouldn’t be exposed until 2006.

Though circumstances forced Kolbe to come out, afterward he felt a weight lifted. “It is a relief to have this out in the open,” he told the Tucson Citizen. “I have probably had better conversations with family and friends in the last 48 hours than in the last 48 years. In my family, these kinds of things were simply not discussed.”

In 2013, Kolbe married Hector Alfonso and signed onto an amicus curiae brief supporting marriage equality submitted to the Supreme Court in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the federal case challenging the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8.

Sabrina Sojourner Elected “Shadow Rep” for DC

Sabrina Sojourner
Sabrina Sojourner

A largely symbolic role created by the city government, the District of Columbia’s “shadow representative” isn’t the same as the District’s official non-voting delegate to the U.S. House. But like the delegate position, the shadow rep is elected district-wide and is expected to champion the interests of the people who live in the nation’s capital city. 

LGBTQ+ Victory Fund supported its first ever candidate for the role in 1996, lesbian activist Sabrina Sojourner, who had worked on campaigns since age 16 and was a member of the DC Democratic State Committee since 1992. She’d enjoyed a September primary with no real opponents and faced one Republican in the overwhelmingly Democratic district. 

With odds heavily in her favor, LGBTQ+ Victory Fund was quick to endorse, and supported her campaign with a $1,000 check. Indeed, Sojourner won her race with over 85% of the vote, becoming the District of Columbia’s first out LGBTQ candidate ever elected citywide. She is also recognized as the first out lesbian elected to Congress – just not by U.S. law, yet

Tempe Mayor Neil Giuliano Comes Out

Neil Giuliano at a campaign rally.
Neil Giuliano at a campaign rally.

Neil Giuliano was first elected to the Tempe, Arizona city council in 1990 and won his race for mayor in 1994. After his re-election in 1996, he came out while in office, prompting efforts by anti-LGBTQ+ politicians to recall him, although the recall effort never reached the ballot. Giuliano would go on to win two more terms while out, becoming the first out LGBTQ+ person elected mayor of a midsize U.S. city. In 2005, he would become President & CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), serving in the position for nearly four years. He is currently an LGBTQ+ Victory Fund board member.

David Parks Elected as Nevada’s First Out LGBTQ+ Official

Rep. David Parks

Formerly serving as assistant director of Clark County’s Regional Transportation Commission and Chairman of the Paradise Town Advisory Board, David Parks was elected to the Nevada State Assembly in 1996 despite homophobic attacks during the campaign. The 1996 victory made Parks the first out LBGTQ+ candidate to ever win any public office in the state of Nevada. Parks had a long career in the legislature, eventually serving as the President Pro Tempore of the Nevada Senate. 

Larry McKeon Wins Seat in Illinois House

Larry McKeon
Larry McKeon

Running as out gay as well as HIV-positive, LGBTQ+ Victory Fund candidate Larry McKeon won a seat in the Illinois General Assembly in the 1996 elections, becoming the state’s first out lawmaker. He championed LGBTQ+ equality in the legislature that was dominated by Republicans during his tenure. McKeon served long enough to see his landmark anti-discrimination law signed into law in 2005. He retired in 2006 citing a decline in health and passed away in 2008 at age 63. 

LGBTQ+ Victory Fund Endorsed Candidates in 1996

LGBTQ+ Victory Fund endorsed 50 candidates in 1996.


Chuck Carpenter (R), State House, Oregon

Ken Cheuvront (D), State House, Arizona

Libby Cowan (D), Costa Mesa City Council, California

George Eighmey (D), State House, Oregon

Paul Feinman (D), State Civil Court, New York

Art Feltman (D), State House, Connecticut

John Fiore (D), Wilton Manors City Council, Florida

Ed Flanagan (D), State Auditor, Vermont

Deborah Glick (D), State House, New York

Jill Harris (D), New York City School Board, New York

Leslie Katz (D), San Francisco Board of Supervisors, California

Sheila Kuehl (D), State Assembly, California

Mark  Leban (D), Dade County Court, Florida

Kevin McCarthy (D), San Francisco Superior Court, California

Scott McCormick (D), Dane County Board, Wisconsin

Larry McKeon (D), State House, Illinois

Carole Migden (D), State Assembly, California

Carole Migden (D), State Assembly, California

Gary Miller (D), Robla School Board, California

Ed Murray (D), State House, Washington

Juanita Owens (D), San Francisco School Board, California

David Parks (D), State House, Nevada

Sebastian Patti (D), Cook County Court, Illinois

Gregory Pettis (D), Cathedral City Council, California

Mike Pisaturo (D), State House, Rhode Island

Eileen Rakower (D), New York Civil Court, New York

Diane Sands (D), State House, Montana

Sabrina Sojourner (D), U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC (at-large)


Jeffrey Ayres (D), Franklin County Court, Ohio

Karen Burstein (D), New York Surrogate Court, New York

David Curtis (D), State Senate, Vermont

Frank Dixon (D), State Senate, Oregon

Bob Duehmig (D), State House, Oregon

Alan Furnas (D), Dane County Board, Wisconsin

Karen Gotzler (D), Milwaukee City Council, Wisconsin

Maddy Hirshfield (D), Sonoma County Board, California

Christopher Kolb (D), Ann Arbor Mayor, Michigan

Randy Kottwitz (D), State House, New Hampshire

Greg Lemke (D), State House, North Dakota

John Lira (D), San Francisco College Board, California

Steve May (R), State Senate, Arizona

Dale McCormick (D), U.S. House of Representatives, Maine

Gerrie Schipske (D), State Assembly, California

Patty Sheehan (D), Orlando City Council, Florida

Gale Shibley (D), Portland City Council, Oregon

Liz Stefanics (D), State Senate, New Mexico

Ken Yeager (D), State Assembly, California

Rick Zbur (D), U.S. House of Representatives, California


Steve Gunderson (R), U.S. House of Representatives, Wisconsin

Ron St. John (R), State House, Arizona

Keep in Touch

Stay up-to-date on the latest in LGBTQ+ representation and
LGBTQ+ Victory Institute's work increase the number of LGBTQ+ public leaders.
join our movement