Number of LGBT Members of Congress Nearly Double

Posted by Justin Snow
November 7, 2012 11:26 AM |

Tammy Baldwin Campaign Headshot.jpg.jpg

The number of out members of Congress is set to increase to historic levels following a series of wins during the Nov. 6 election.

When the 113th Congress convenes in January 2013, Democrats Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Sean Patrick Maloney of New York will become the latest LGBT Americans to serve in Congress. California Democrat Mark Takano, who would become the first out person of color elected to Congress, is also expected to win his House race. Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.) both won re-election Tuesday, bringing the number of LGBT people in the House to at least four.

A winner has yet to be called in the House race for Arizona Democrat Krysten Sinema, who would become the first out bisexual person elected to Congress. Latest results show her with a slight lead.

Perhaps most historic of all, Tammy Baldwin, who is vacating the House seat that will be occupied by Pocan, will become the first out person to ever serve in the Senate and Wisconsin's first woman senator.

Baldwin faced a tough battle against Republican Tommy Thompson, a former governor of Wisconsin and member of President George W. Bush's administration.

Thumbnail image for lgbt_candidates.jpgHowever, after polling slightly ahead of Thompson throughout the final weeks of the campaign, Baldwin secured her Senate seat, breaking one of the final barriers for LGBT politicians.

"I am well aware that I will be the first openly gay member of the U.S. Senate," Baldwin said to a roar of cheers from supporters at her victory party Tuesday night. "But I didn't run to make history. I ran to make a difference."

It was a theme echoed throughout the campaign, which saw little emphasis from either side on Baldwin's sexual orientation.

For Pocan, who also replaced Baldwin in the Wisconsin State Legislature after her departure in 1998, replacing Baldwin in the House will mark the first time two out members of Congress have consecutively occupied the same seat.

Baldwin's election was also a major win for the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, which endorsed her candidacy after first helping her become the first lesbian elected to the House of Representatives in 1999.

In a statement released by Victory Fund president and CEO Chuck Wolfe, Baldwin's win "will go down in history."

"This is a historic victory not only for the people of Wisconsin, but for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans across the country who have finally gained an authentic and powerful voice in Congress' upper chamber," Wolfe said. "Tonight Tammy shattered a glass ceiling that has existed for more than two centuries, and we could not be more thrilled."

Baldwin's decisive victory also received praise from Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, who noted she ran a campaign focused on the issues that matter most to Wisconsin voters.

"As the first openly gay person elected to the United States Senate, she is a role model for LGBT youth and all young women across the country," Griffin said in a statement.

The number of out members of Congress stood at an all-time high of four this past session. Following the announcement by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) that he would retire at the end of his term and Baldwin's decision to run for Senate, some feared that number would dwindle. However, if Sinema wins her House race, that number will increase to seven.

Out Massachusetts Republican Richard Tisei was the only gay congressional candidate to lose his election in one of the country's most expensive congressional races. In a tight race against pro-gay Democratic Rep. John Tierney, Tisei was defeated 48.25 to 47.25 percent, despite securing support from many in the Republican establishment.

According to Denis Dison, vice president of communications for Victory Fund, which endorsed Tisei, it appears strong turnout from supporters of Democrat Elizabeth Warren may have swamped Tisei in the traditionally Democratic state. Warren, who supports marriage equality, defeated Republican Sen. Scott Brown and reclaimed the seat once held by Ted Kennedy for the Democrats.

Warren was part of a series of pro-LGBT candidates to win election on Tuesday night, helping to maintain and increase by one a Democratic majority in the Senate. Although Republicans maintained control of the House, they lost two seats.

[Photo: Tammy Baldwin (Courtesy of Tammy Baldwin for Senate).]

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