Five Openly Gay Lawmakers on Their Lives in Politics

Tammy Baldwin, Mark Takano, Mark Pocan, Jared Polis, and Sean Patrick Maloney share their experiences.

History in pictures: Mark Pocan (left to right), Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Takano, David Cicilline, Mike Michaud, Tammy Baldwin, Sean Patrick Maloney, and Jared Polis. 
©2014 Richard A. Bloom
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Jan. 23, 2014, 4 p.m.

Rep. Mark Po­can


For most of my adult life, I have been for­tu­nate enough to be ac­cep­ted for who I am by my fam­ily, my friends, and my com­munity. My home, Madis­on, Wis., is a di­verse and in­clus­ive city with a ro­bust his­tory of pro­gressiv­ism. I have en­joyed more than sev­en years of mar­riage to my hus­band, Phil. And while I worked in the state As­sembly for 14 years, my sexu­al ori­ent­a­tion was nev­er brought up as an is­sue. (Richard A. Bloom)

Yet while my ca­reer in pub­lic ser­vice has been marked by tol­er­ance and ac­cept­ance, my entry in­to the field came after a much dark­er mo­ment in my life. Shortly after I gradu­ated from col­lege, I was gay-bashed and beaten un­con­scious with a base­ball bat. It was a scary, dis­turb­ing, and life-chan­ging ex­per­i­ence — nev­er be­fore had I felt threatened simply for be­ing my­self. I faced a choice: Live in fear, or be­come a fight­er.

I chose the lat­ter, and de­cided to run for pub­lic of­fice. It has been a tre­mend­ous hon­or to work as a pub­lic of­fi­cial and serve as a voice for people who are too of­ten made to feel less than equal, merely be­cause of who they are and who they love. My fight­ing spir­it proved use­ful after Wis­con­sin amended the defin­i­tion of mar­riage and in­stilled hate in­to its con­sti­tu­tion. In­stead of hanging my head, I worked with equal­ity ad­voc­ates to pass a law in the Wis­con­sin state As­sembly that provided 43 leg­al pro­tec­tions to same-sex couples — the first set of such laws in a state with a con­sti­tu­tion­al amend­ment.

Now as a mem­ber of Con­gress and the co­chair of the LGBT Equal­ity Caucus, I have been giv­en the op­por­tun­ity to con­tin­ue the push to­ward full equal­ity at a time in his­tory when con­crete pro­gress is pos­sible. Hav­ing already wit­nessed the Su­preme Court send the De­fense of Mar­riage Act in­to the his­tory books, I look for­ward to work­ing with my col­leagues, from both sides of the aisle, on con­tinu­ing to move for­ward and pass le­gis­la­tion such as the Em­ploy­ment Non- Dis­crim­in­a­tion Act, and a bill I in­tro­duced with Rep. Charles Ran­gel, the Re­store Hon­or to Ser­vice Mem­bers Act, which will en­sure we hon­or LGBT vet­er­ans who have self­lessly served our coun­try. The same is true for my home state. I will not rest un­til Wis­con­sin also re­cog­nizes the rights of all of its cit­izens to be with the per­son they love.

Today, when people ask if we will have equal­ity in our life­time, I an­swer con­fid­ently that it is not a mat­ter of “if,” but “when.” And I hope to be a part of mak­ing it hap­pen as soon as pos­sible.

Rep. Mark Takano


As someone who is both an eth­nic minor­ity and openly gay, I of­ten talk about how simply be­ing who I am has giv­en me a double aware­ness of the vul­ner­ab­il­ity that some Amer­ic­ans may be fa­cing. (Richard A. Bloom) The ex­per­i­ences that I’ve had throughout my life have in­formed my polit­ics, and I’ve found that I’m drawn to people who are mar­gin­al­ized and likely to be for­got­ten. Those life ex­per­i­ences that helped shaped my polit­ic­al be­liefs are with me in every po­s­i­tion I take and every vote that I cast — wheth­er it be in fa­vor of com­pre­hens­ive im­mig­ra­tion re­form, strength­en­ing So­cial Se­cur­ity and Medi­care, or im­prov­ing our na­tion’s edu­ca­tion sys­tem.

Every mem­ber of Con­gress is sent to Wash­ing­ton to rep­res­ent all of their con­stitu­ents, re­gard­less of their age, race, so­cial stand­ing, or sexu­al ori­ent­a­tion, and I be­lieve that Amer­ica should be a place where every­body can dream and nobody is left out. With 2013 be­ing a mo­ment­ous year for the LGBT com­munity, I’m more hope­ful now than ever that that dream is be­com­ing a real­ity.

Rep. Jared Pol­is


When I was elec­ted to serve the people of Col­or­ado’s 2nd Con­gres­sion­al Dis­trict in 2008, I was the first openly gay man in the his­tory of the House to win as a nonin­cum­bent. While be­ing gay has provided a some­what unique per­spect­ive nav­ig­at­ing Cap­it­ol Hill, it has in no way defined me as a mem­ber of Con­gress. My ex­per­i­ence has been equally shaped by my iden­tity as a Col­or­adoan, a Jew, a fath­er, son, and en­tre­pren­eur.

While hav­ing openly gay mem­bers of Con­gress is ex­tremely im­port­ant in ad­van­cing the cause of free­dom for les­bi­an, gay, bi­sexu­al, and trans­gender people and their fam­il­ies, and provid­ing role mod­els, my open­ness has re­l­at­ively little im­pact on my day-to-day re­la­tion­ships with oth­er elec­ted mem­bers of the House. It does, however, help raise aware­ness and in­form oth­er mem­bers that LGBT in­di­vidu­als re­main un­equal in the eyes of the law and are of­ten denied the chance for a fair shot simply be­cause of who they are or who they love.

Since I have been elec­ted to Con­gress, the num­ber of out mem­bers of Con­gress has doubled, and the LGBT Equal­ity Caucus, which I co­chair, has grown to more than 100 mem­bers of Con­gress. With the ex­cep­tion of the eight out LGBT mem­bers of Con­gress, these are al­lied elec­ted of­fi­cials com­mit­ted to free­dom and equal­ity for LGBT people and fam­il­ies. Dur­ing my ten­ure in Con­gress, we have re­pealed the dis­crim­in­at­ory “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on gay, les­bi­an, and bi­sexu­al ser­vice mem­bers, passed an LGBT-in­clus­ive hate-crimes bill and a Vi­ol­ence Against Wo­men bill, and watched the most per­ni­cious ele­ment of the so-called De­fense of Mar­riage Act fall un­der Su­preme Court re­view.

But the fight for equal rights for LGBT in­di­vidu­als un­der the law re­mains far from over. I am hope­ful that Con­gress will soon ap­prove two bills I am honored to cham­pi­on: The Em­ploy­ment Non-Dis­crim­in­a­tion Act, which passed the Sen­ate last year and has 200 bi­par­tis­an spon­sors in the House, would provide ba­sic pro­tec­tions against work­place dis­crim­in­a­tion on the basis of sexu­al ori­ent­a­tion and gender iden­tity, and the Stu­dent Non-Dis­crim­in­a­tion Act, which pro­hib­its any school pro­gram or activ­ity that con­dones dis­crim­in­a­tion based on ac­tu­al or per­ceived sexu­al ori­ent­a­tion or gender iden­tity from re­ceiv­ing fed­er­al as­sist­ance. I am also op­tim­ist­ic that Con­gress will pass the Re­spect for Mar­riage Act cham­pioned by Rep. Jerry Nadler, le­gis­la­tion that would fully re­peal the De­fense of Mar­riage Act and en­sure that leg­ally mar­ried same-sex couples are guar­an­teed their rights and pro­tec­tions re­gard­less of where they live.

As mem­bers of Con­gress — re­gard­less of their sexu­al ori­ent­a­tion or gender iden­tity — in­creas­ingly re­cog­nize the need to en­sure LGBT Amer­ic­ans en­joy full fed­er­al rights and pro­tec­tions, these im­port­ant pieces of le­gis­la­tion will fi­nally pass. It is per­son­ally ex­cit­ing for me to be here at this point in our his­tory when we are on the threshold of leg­al equal­ity.


Rep. Sean Patrick Malo­ney

New York

In 2012, I de­feated an in­cum­bent in one of the coun­try’s most com­pet­it­ive dis­tricts to be­come the first openly gay mem­ber of Con­gress from New York. The val­ues I share with my neigh­bors in the Hud­son Val­ley are much great­er than our dif­fer­ences. I get my kids ready for school just like every oth­er par­ent in the Hud­son Val­ley, drag­ging them out of bed, mak­ing them break­fast, and double-check­ing to en­sure that left shoes end up on left feet. At night, I pick them up at soc­cer prac­tice and bas­ket­ball games. Trust me: No mat­ter the fam­ily, morn­ing tan­trums are all the same. (Richard A. Bloom)

The 18th Dis­trict could be just about any dis­trict in the coun­try. Folks care about Medi­care, taxes, and jobs. They care much more about their com­munity than the polit­ic­al games go­ing on in Wash­ing­ton. Folks care much more about pro­tect­ing Medi­care and mak­ing sure their neigh­bors can put food on the table than fight­ing over gay mar­riage. They took a chance on me be­cause they were fed up with tea-party ex­trem­ists in Con­gress, and they wanted someone who shares their val­ues. They wanted someone who would fight to get res­ults that would make things bet­ter for their small busi­nesses, fam­il­ies, and com­munit­ies.

Still, in re­cent years, our coun­try has made his­tor­ic pro­gress to­ward equal­ity — a fight for which many of us have been on the front lines for dec­ades. Just last year, we achieved mar­riage equal­ity in eight states, won two Su­preme Court cases, and passed the Em­ploy­ment Non-Dis­crim­in­a­tion Act in the U.S. Sen­ate. 

LGBT folks are mak­ing pro­gress in mod­er­ate dis­tricts all across the coun­try — in our city coun­cils, state le­gis­latures, and right here in Con­gress. I am proud to be the first openly gay mem­ber of Con­gress from New York, but I can’t wait for the day when we run out of firsts. I can’t wait for the day when stu­dents are no longer bul­lied in school, em­ploy­ees are judged by the qual­ity of their work in­stead of who they are or who they love, and every state stands be­hind lov­ing couples who want to spend their lives to­geth­er.

We have a long way to go. But if a gay man can proudly stand with his lov­ing part­ner and three chil­dren to take on an in­cum­bent and win, then we’re cer­tainly on our way.


Sen. Tammy Bald­win


After a hard-fought 2012 race for the Sen­ate, the people of Wis­con­sin made his­tory. On Jan. 3, 2013, I was of­fi­cially sworn in to the United States Sen­ate. I am proud to have the hon­or to be the first wo­man sen­at­or from Wis­con­sin and the first openly gay mem­ber of the United States Sen­ate. But I didn’t run to make his­tory; I ran to make a dif­fer­ence. (Richard A. Bloom)

Over the past year, dur­ing my first year in the Sen­ate, we have seen our coun­try take strong steps for­ward on the is­sues of equal op­por­tun­ity and fair­ness for all Amer­ic­ans. One thing is clear: People’s views on equal­ity are chan­ging be­cause they be­lieve LGBT fam­ily mem­bers, friends, and neigh­bors de­serve to be treated like every­one else in the United States.

The de­bate over mar­riage equal­ity is about fair­ness: about wheth­er gay and les­bi­an Amer­ic­ans de­serve to be treated just like their fam­ily mem­bers, their friends, and their neigh­bors. It’s about op­por­tun­ity: about wheth­er every Amer­ic­an gets to dream the same dreams, chase the same am­bi­tions, and have the same shot at suc­cess. And it’s about free­dom: the free­dom to love, the free­dom to com­mit, the free­dom to build a fam­ily. Most of all, it’s about wheth­er the pro­gress our coun­try has made will be re­flec­ted in our laws.

The U.S. Su­preme Court is­sued de­cisions in June that re­flec­ted the pro­gress we have wit­nessed across our coun­try, but there is still more work to do to make our coun­try more equal. And fur­ther pro­gress is with­in our reach. Think of the Em­ploy­ment Non-Dis­crim­in­a­tion Act, which passed the Sen­ate re­cently with over­whelm­ing bi­par­tis­an sup­port. Now, ENDA de­serves an up-or-down vote in the House so that we have the op­por­tun­ity to rise above the ugly real­ity that, in more than two dozen states, it’s leg­al to dis­crim­in­ate against LGBT em­ploy­ees. Think of the Stu­dent Non-Dis­crim­in­a­tion Act and the Safe Schools Im­prove­ment Act, which would al­low LGBT chil­dren to go to school wor­ried about math tests and swim meets, not bul­ly­ing and har­ass­ment. Think of the Do­mest­ic Part­ner­ship Be­ne­fits and Ob­lig­a­tions Act, so that LGBT Amer­ic­ans who work to sup­port their fam­il­ies in the civil ser­vice can rest as­sured that their part­ners will en­joy be­ne­fits like health in­sur­ance and re­tire­ment plans.

And we don’t just want to live in a coun­try where our rights are re­spec­ted un­der the law. We want to live in a coun­try where we are re­spec­ted for who we are, where we en­joy free­dom and op­por­tun­ity not be­cause the Su­preme Court gave us per­mis­sion but be­cause we’re Amer­ic­ans, and that’s all there is to it.


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