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Five Trailblazing Queer Lawmakers of Color Win 2016 Elections

Georgia Rep. Park Cannon speaks at the International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in Washington, DC, in 2018.
Georgia Rep. Park Cannon speaks at the International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in Washington, DC, in 2018.

Five groundbreaking LGBTQ candidates of color won election to state legislatures in 2016, beginning an upward trend in the number of LGBTQ state legislative candidates of color who would run for office. 

Park Cannon and Sam Park elected to the Georgia House

In a special election for the Georgia state House, voters elected 24-year-old Park Cannon to replace Simone Bell, who was the first Black out lesbian elected to a state legislature. Cannon became the first person elected to Georgia’s House who identified as queer. Then in November, Sam Park unseated an entrenched anti-LGBTQ representative to become the first gay man and first Asian American elected to the Georgia state House. (Former State Rep. Rashad Taylor had come out in 2011 while in office). 

Carlos Guillermo Smith Wins Florida House Seat

Carlos Guillermo Smith won his election to the Florida state House less than five months after 49 people were massacred at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, where Smith lived. On that tragic morning on June 12, 2016, Smith – who was then the government affairs manager at Equality Florida – recalled waking up and making panicked phone calls to ensure friends and loved ones were safe. In the days that followed, he became one of the most outspoken local voices demanding tolerance and acceptance for people of color, LGBTQ people and the Muslim community.

Florida Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith speaks at the 2018 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in Washington, DC, as Arizona Rep. Daniel Hernandez looks on.

Two months after the shooting, he overwhelmingly won his primary and was unopposed in the general election, becoming Florida’s first out LGBTQ Latinx state lawmaker.

Leslie Herod Emerges Victorious in Colorado House Race

Also on that night in November 2016, Leslie Herod became the first Black out LGBTQ person elected to the Colorado state legislature. An alumna of Victory Institute’s Candidate & Campaign Training, she spent years in the state capitol working for high-level elected leaders with a focus on building bridges across the political spectrum. Those skills came in use shortly after the 2016 election when the vehicle of a transgender woman in her district was vandalized with vicious anti-trans and pro–Donald Trump messages. Although not yet in office, Herod quickly organized a town hall on “ensuring civil rights for all” to calm fears and start dialogue. She quickly became among the most influential representatives on civil rights issues, including police and criminal justice reform as well as LGBTQ equality. Known as one of Colorado’s most prolific and successful lawmakers, Herod was elected chair of the powerful appropriations committee in 2021. 

America Elects First Out LGBTQ Governor: Oregon’s Kate Brown

Kate Brown speaks on the campaign trail while running for her first election as Oregon governor.
Kate Brown speaks on the campaign trail while running for her first election as Oregon governor.

Despite surveys consistently showing bisexual people outnumbering gay and lesbian people in the general population, bisexual people were severely underrepresented among LGBTQ elected officials and few bisexual people had ever held high-level office. Kate Brown was going to help change the latter. 

She had a long history of shattering lavender ceilings. Appointed to fill a vacancy in the Oregon House of Representatives in 1991, she went from the House to the state Senate in 1996. In 2004, she became the first woman elected to serve as Senate majority leader. In 2008, she was elected Oregon’s secretary of state, becoming the first out bisexual elected statewide official in the United States. 

Oregon Governor Kate Brown

While serving, she was elevated to governor in 2015, after her predecessor was forced to resign. She became the second out LGBTQ person to serve as governor – the first being former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, who came out in 2004 while in office and resigned a few months later.

Running in her first election for governor in 2016, Brown revealed the fear she felt as a new lawyer at the prospect of losing her job in the 1980s because she was dating a woman. Since then, she has worked hard to secure LGBT rights, including signing a bill banning so-called “conversion therapy” on minors.

“There are many things that young people need, but breaking them down based on their sexual or gender identity is not one of them—and in fact, it’s inexcusable,” Brown said during the emotional signing ceremony, The Advocate reported May 22, 2015. “Our young people deserve acceptance, support, and love. To the young people who question their identities, suffer from bullying, or struggle with what it means to come out, today is your day . . . Your voices have been heard.”

On November 8, 2016, Brown won her election with 51 percent of the vote, making history as the first out LGBTQ person ever elected governor in the United States. After completing the rest of her predecessor’s term, she ran for reelection in 2018, beating her Republican opponent by more than six points. 

From ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ to a Gay Army Secretary

Former Army Secretary Eric Fanning with former Defense Department official Amanda Simpson at the International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in 2017.
Former Army Secretary Eric Fanning with former Defense Department official Amanda Simpson at the International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in 2017.

Eric Fanning describes his historic Senate confirmation to be Secretary of the Army as “bizarre.” Eminently qualified—a foreign policy and national security expert who had been confirmed as undersecretary of the Air Force in 2013—Fanning’s confirmation was put on hold for eight months while Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts tried to leverage the Obama administration on an entirely different issue.

Ironically, Fanning’s strongest champion was Arizona Republican Senator John McCain, who just five years earlier had been one of the strongest opponents of repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT),” the policy that allowed military service for lesbians and gays, but only if their sexual orientation was not revealed. 

Fanning was in the Pentagon at the time, working for Secretary of Defense Les Aspen. He was fresh out of Dartmouth College when he started working for Aspen, then the Wisconsin representative who chaired the House Armed Services Committee.

“There were no openly gay people — I wasn’t even out yet — that were part of the conversation” about DADT, he says. “It impressed upon me, in a very stark way, the importance of having a voice at the table.”

Fanning became involved in Victory Fund shortly after it was formed—joining the board during the Bush administration and becoming vice-chair before leaving for a federal government position. “The first thing that struck me about the Victory Fund is it has such a focused mission,” Fanning says, which was “particularly important because I had seen first-hand how that makes a difference.”

Later he became involved with Victory Institute as well. “I am a product of the [Presidential] Appointments Project,” Fanning says of the Victory Institute initiative and his confirmation. “Putting me on the list brought my name to the attention of people who didn’t know I was gay,” but knew him from different capacities.

Fanning was finally confirmed by McCain and Roberts on May 17, 2016. “Two Republicans extolling my qualifications!” Fanning says. “It was just a bizarre thing to watch. But that was the silver lining of having that hold. It got attention, members started talking about it—and it was bizarre. But it was certainly a nice feeling” getting confirmed.

With his confirmation, Fanning became one of the highest-ranking openly LGBT officials in U.S. history and the first out person to head any branch of the military. He would serve until the end of the Obama administration. 

National Monument Dedicated at the Stonewall Inn

In the days after the tragedy, the Stonewall Inn transformed into a memorial to those lost in the Pulse shooting in Orlando. Courtesy of National Park Foundation.
In the days after the tragedy, the Stonewall Inn transformed into a memorial to those lost in the Pulse shooting in Orlando. Courtesy of National Park Foundation.

On June 24, 2016 – 47 years after the Stonewall Rebellion helped spark the modern LGBTQ rights movement – the Stonewall Inn was designated a U.S. national monument by the National Park Service. It is the first national monument dedicated to a site related to LGBTQ history. The designation was especially powerful given the tragic mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub just weeks before, where 49 LGBTQ people and allies – the majority people of color – were killed. The Stonewall Rebellion of 1969 is widely seen as a pivotal moment in history, one when LGBTQ people began to demand not just social justice, but also political power, and became an influential moment for many who ran in the decades to follow. 

LGBTQ Victory Fund Endorsed Candidates in 2016

Wins

Nickie Antonio (D), Ohio State House, District 13

Nelson Araujo (D), Nevada State Senate, District 3

Toni Atkins (D), California State Senate, District 39

Kelvin Atkinson (D), Nevada State Senate, District 4

John Bauters (D), Emeryville City Council, California

Johanna Bender (NP), King County Superior Court, Washington

Bryce Bennett (D), Montana State House, District 91

Liz Bennett (D), Iowa State House, District 65

Joshua Boschee (D), North Dakota State House, District 44

Kate Brown (D), Governor of Oregon

Terry Brown (D), Franklin County Recorder, Ohio

Ed Butler (D), New Hampshire State House, Carroll 7

Jacob Candelaria (D), New Mexico State Senate, District 26

Park Cannon (D), Georgia State House, District 58

Kelly Cassidy (D), Illinois State House, District 14

Sabrina Cervantes (D), California State Assembly, District 69

Justin Chenette (D), Maine State Senate, District 31

David Cicilline (D), US House, Rhode Island District 1

Chris Clark (D), City Council, Mountain View, California

Cathy Connolly (D), Wyoming State House, District 13

Julian Cyr (D), Massachusetts State Senate, Cape& Islands District

Scott Dibble (DFL), Minnesota State Senate, District 61

Karla Drenner (D), Georgia State House, District 85

Eileen Duff (D), Massachusetts Governor's Council, District 5

Randy Dunn (D), Missouri State House, District 23

Susan Eggman (D), California State Assembly, District 13

Ryan Fecteau (D), Maine State House, District 11

Jimmy Flannigan (D), City Council, Austin, Texas

Greg Ford (D), County Commission, Wake County, North Carolina

Steve Gallardo (D), Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, District 5

Joan Garner (D), Fulton County Commission, Georgia

Robert Gelder (D), County Commissioner, Kitsap County, Washington

Georgette Gomez (D), City Council, San Diego, California

Mary Gonzalez (D), Texas State House, District 75

Steven Hansen (D), City Council, Sacramento, California

Greg Harris (D), Illinois State House, District 13

Daniel Hernandez (D), Arizona State House, District 2

Leslie Herod (D), Colorado State House, District 8

Jon Hoadley (D), Michigan State House, District 60

Debbie Ingram (D), Vermont State Senate, Chittenden District

Celia Israel (D), Texas State House, District 50

Jack Jacobson (D), District of Columbia State Board of Education, Ward 2

Laurie Jinkins (D), Washington State House, District 27

Jack Lewis (D), Massachusetts State House, District 7

Christine Kilduff (D), Washington State House, District 28

Steven Kirkland (D), Judge, 334th Judicial District, Texas

Sandra Kurt (D) Summit County Clerk of Courts, Ohio

Evan Low (D), California State Assembly, District 28

Sean Patrick Maloney (D), US House, New York, District 18

Nicole Macri (D), Washington State House, District 43

John McCrostie (D), Idaho State House, District 16

Brian McGrain (D), County Commission, Ingham County, Michigan

Andrew McLean (D), Maine State House, District 27

Gary Miller (D), Roseville City School Board, California

Darryl Moore (D), City council, Berkeley, California

Jason Morgan (D) County Commission, Washtenaw County, Michigan

Jeremy Moss (D), Michigan State House, District 35

Kim Ogg (D), District Attorney, Harris County, Texas

Chris Pappas (D), New Hampshire Executive Council, District 4

Samuel Park (D), Georgia State House, District 101

David Parks (D) Nevada State Senate, District 7

Greg Pettis (D), City Council, Cathedral City, California

Mark Pocan (D), US House, Wisconsin District 2

Jared Polis (D), US House, Colorado District 2

Erin Maye Quade (DFL), Minnesota State House, District 57A

Alex Randolph (D), San Francisco Community College Board, California

Greg Razer (D), Missouri House of Representatives, District 25

Richard Renner (D), Pioneer Township Supervisor, Michigan

David Richardson (D), Florida State House, District 113

Dave Roberts (D), San Diego County Board of Supervisors, District 3

Lawrence Robinson (D), Roosevelt Elementary School Governing Board, District 66

Stan Rosenberg (D), Massachusetts State Senate, Hampshire/Franklin/Worcester District

Paul Rosenthal (D), Colorado State House, District 9

Deb Ruggiero (D), Rhode Island State House, District 74

Catherine Schneider (D), Circuit Court Judge, Cook County,Illinois

Brian Sims (D), Pennsylvania State House, District 183

Kyrsten Sinema (D), US House, Arizona District 9

Carlos Guillermo Smith (D), Florida House of Representatives, District 49

Pat Spearman (D), Nevada State Senate, District 1

Mark Spreitzer (D), Wisconsin State Assembly, District 45

Rene Spring (D), City Council, Morgan Hill, California

Liz Stefanics (D), New Mexico State Senate, District 39

Mark Takano (D), US House, California District 41

Matthew Titone (D), New York State Assembly, District 61

Christopher Ward (D), City Council, San Diego, California

Scott Wiener (D), California State Senate, District 11

Mary Yu (D), Wahsington State Supreme Court

JoCasta Zamarripa (D), Wisconsin State Assembly, District 8

Losses

Gary Alembik (D), Fulton County Superior Court, Georgia

Kimberly Alvarenga (D), San Francisco Board of Supervisors

Henry Beck (D), Maine State Senate, District 16

Kevin Beckner (D), Hillsborough Clerk of the Circuit Court

Pablo Benavente (D), City Council, Concord, California

Erin Bennett (D), Colorado State Senate, District 31

Dana Black (D), Indiana State House, District 88

Rachael Booth (D), New Hampshire State House

Julia Boseman (D), County Commissioner, New Hanover County, North Carolina

Jane Campbell (D), North Carolina House, District 98

Dakota Carter (D), Texas State Board of Education, District 6

Alan Clendenin (D), Hillsborough County School Board, District 7

Angie Craig (DFL), US House, Minnesota, District 2

Kelly Cross (D), City Council, Baltimore, Maryland

Linda Curtis (I), Sheriff, Towns County, Georgia

John DeVito (D) New York State Senate, District 3

Huey Rey Fischer (D), Texas State House, District 49

Sue Fulton (D), County Board of Freeholders, Monmouth County, New Jersey

Aaron Gill (D), New Hampshire State House

Kathy Gillespie (D), Washington State House, District 18

Anthony Gipe (D), King County Superior Court, Position 52, Washington

Michael Gongora (D), Florida State Senate District 38

Eric Gray (D), City Council, Long Beach, California

Jim Gray (D), US Senate, Kentucky

Tommy Greene (D), Ohio State House, District 18

John Gustafson (D), City Council, Lake Oswego, Oregon

Grace Hanlon (D), New York State Supreme Court

Nora  Harrington (D), Massachusetts State Senate

Matt Heinz (D), US House, Arizona District 2

Paul Henderson (D), Superior Court, San Francisco, California

Joe  Huftel, Wisconsin State Assembly, District 75

Matt Hughes (D), County Commissioner, Orange County, North Carolina

Kim Coco Iwamoto (D), Hawaii State Senate, District 13

Rafer Johnson (D), Georgia State House, District 62

Denise Juneau (D), US House, Montana At-large

Ken Keechl (D), Florida State House, District 93

Lea Krauss (D), Broward County Circuit Court, Circuit 17, Gr.9

Marko Liias (D), Washington State Treasurer

Thomas Lister-Looker (D), Palm Springs Unified School District, California

Billy Maddalon (I), North Carolina State House, District 100

Brady McCarron (D), City Council, Perris, California

Justin Murdock (D), West Virginia State House District 16

Bao Nguyen (D), US House of Representatives, CA-46

Joshua Noblitt (D), Georgia State House, District 58

Tina Podlodowski (D), Washington Secretary of State

Bob Poe (D), US House, Florida District 10

Devon Reese (D) Nevada State Senate, District 15

Greg Rodriguez (D), California State Assembly, District 42

Darlene Rogers (I), Court of Common Pleas, Hamilton County, Ohio

John Scott (R), Connecticut State House, District 40

Mark Siedlecki (D), Hamilton County Assessor of Property, Tennessee

John Sisson (D), Travis County Sheriff, Texas

Stephen Skinner (D), West Virginia State Senate, District 16

Bryce Smith (D), Iowa State House, District 19

Marti Smith (D), County Commissioner, Jefferson County, Colorado

Steve Smith (D), Florida Keys Mosquito Control Commission

Rod Snyder (D), West Virginia State House, District 67

Paul Southwick (D/WF), Oregon State House, District 37

Linda Stephens (D), North Carolina Court of Appeals

John Stevens (D), City Council, Martinez, California

Brian Stone (D), Michigan State House, District 15

Kyle Thorson (D), North Dakota house of Representatives, District 18

Beth Tuura (D), Florida House of Representatives, District 47

Ed Underhill (D), Circuit Court Judge, Cook County, Illinois

Dave Upthegrove (D), Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands

Bryan Urias (D), California State Assembly, District 48

Valerie Vie (D), Georgia State House, District 62

Brady Walkinshaw (D), US House, Washington District 7

Jennifer Webb (D), Florida House of Representatives, District 69

Billie Joe Wright (D), Anaheim Elementary School District Board of Trustees, California

Lesley Zendle (D), Desert Healthcare District Director, California

Cesar Zepada (D), City Council, Richmond, California


Withdrew

John Arrowood (D), North Carolina Court of Appeals

Seth Bloom (R), Orleans Parish School Board, Louisiana

Tim Brown (R), Ohio State House, District 3

Susan Jerich (D), Los Angeles Superior Court, California

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