This month, as we celebrate LGBTQ pride, Democrats nationwide are proud to be the party of equality, inclusivity, and true representation. There are thousands of role models, trailblazers, and icons within our party. Today, we’re highlighting 10 LGBTQ state legislators who are working hard and inspiring the next generation of leaders.
The day Toni Atkins was elected as president of the Senate in 2018, the California Capitol was draped with a Pride flag. From that historic moment onward, Toni has been proudly representing the LGBTQ community and her constituents.
Toni is a clear example of what it means to be a trailblazer. She’s the first woman and first openly LGBTQ person to lead the California Senate. She played a role in passing legislation that ensures trans people’s gender is properly recognized and expanded mental health resources for LGBTQ youth.
Toni also helped pass a massive COVID-19 relief package that included increased protective equipment for schools and funding to prevent the spread to those experiencing homelessness, all without raising taxes on working-class Californians. In addition, she supported legislation expanding health care coverage for cancer patients, providing financial assistance to domestic abuse survivors, and protecting the environment.
In 2020, Stephanie Byers became the first trans lawmaker in Kansas and the first trans indigenous lawmaker in the nation. Her advocacy was jump-started after she protested outside of the Supreme Court during Bostock v. Clayton County, where she gave a speech about the importance of laws protecting people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
Her three decades of experience as an educator motivated her to run for office. Stephanie knew first-hand the financial struggles many teachers face, which is why she advocates for increasing teacher wages. She’s also helped improve funding for public education, a core issue she highlighted during her campaign.
Since Stephanie’s historic victory, she’s helped block a ban on transgender girls participating in sports and has advocated for banning conversion therapy statewide.
Park Cannon is a standout leader among the Georgia state legislature. As a queer Black woman, Park courageously spoke out against a “religious freedom” bill that would allow medical professionals to deny health care to LGBTQ people, which led to the bill ultimately being vetoed before it could spread more harm.
She has also fought back against Republican-led efforts to suppress Black voters in Georgia. Park was wrongfully arrested for knocking on the governor’s office door as he signed a racist voter suppression bill into law. This event showed the nation first-hand how Republicans treat Black voters, activists, and even lawmakers as threats. Since then, Park has continued fiercely defending and fighting for her community.
Cesar Chavez is a dedicated representative, a major voice for the immigrant community, and a founding member of the Arizona LGBTQ Caucus.
In 2019, he spoke on the Arizona House floor in defense of DACA recipients, as he personally grew up in the US with undocumented status. In addition to fighting for immigrants, Cesar also works to promote job growth and help workers lead successful lives. He’s helped create over 1,000 jobs in his district and sponsored legislation creating paid family leave and supporting small businesses.
Ryan Fecteau broke barriers this year, becoming both the youngest and first gay person to serve as Speaker of the Maine House. When he was elected to the chamber at age 21, he became the youngest openly gay person in the nation to serve in a state legislature. This year, he also joined the board of the DLCC. His experiences both as a young adult and a member of the LGBTQ community have given him the opportunity to serve as a voice for two often underrepresented parts of our country’s population.
Ryan sponsored the legislation that banned conversion therapy statewide, a major win to protect LGBTQ youth for generations to come. He also recently spoke alongside students at his former college, Catholic University, to urge the school board to allow an LGBTQ club to exist on campus. As speaker, he’s helped spearhead legislation to distribute pandemic aid, reward frontline workers, and fund rural health care.
Mary Gonzalez is proud to serve as the first openly pansexual elected official in the nation. Her dedication to her community is seen clearly with her leadership. She and a coalition of Democrats fought to prevent Republican anti-LGBTQ bills from becoming law in Texas. She is not afraid to get vulnerable to show the humanity behind members of the LGBTQ community. During a hearing for a Republican bill to prevent LGBTQ people from adopting children, Mary stood and read a powerful letter from her own Republican father, who wrote about wishing to be a grandfather someday.
Mary continues to fight for gun safety legislation, which is incredibly impactful to her constituency in the El Paso area, where a tragic racially-motivated mass shooting killed 23 people in 2019. This year, her bill addressing digital misinformation and hate mongering passed out of the House, a step forward in educating the community on how to recognize unhealthy behavior on the Internet. She also serves in powerful positions in caucuses and committees focused on budgeting and public education. In these roles, she’s helped advocate for improved funding for education and increased teacher pay.
In 2011, Laurie Jinkins became the first lesbian member of Washington’s state legislature. She went on to become the first woman and first openly LGBTQ person to serve as Speaker of the Washington House.
Laurie has spent her career fighting for the rights of the LGBTQ community. The first piece of legislation Laurie crafted addressed issues with Washington state’s recognition of same-sex marriages. She also played a major role in legalizing same-sex marriage statewide.
Other focuses of her work involve advocacy for expanding health care and ensuring women and LGBTQ people receive the services they need. Laurie is also working alongside the Black Members Caucus to implement police accountability measures and further support equity for all marginalized communities.
Tina Kotek shattered a glass ceiling when she became the first lesbian legislator to lead a state chamber in 2013. At the time, she hoped her place in government would inspire other LGBTQ people across the country to run for office — and she was absolutely right.
During her first term in the House, Tina acted to end discrimination based on sexual orientation and helped create domestic partnerships for same-sex couples. As speaker, Tina has improved the lives of Oregon residents, including banning racial profiling statewide, passing earned sick leave, and increasing the minimum wage.
Danica Roem made history in 2018 when she became the first openly transgender person to serve in any U.S. state legislature. She defeated an anti-health care Republican incumbent who called himself Virginia’s chief homophobe. She now leads with pride and has broken ground for many.
Danica was a leading advocate for Virginia to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which would ban discrimination based on sex in the U.S. Constitution. This year, she passed a bill banning the gay and trans “panic” defense, doing away with a bigoted excuse used to commit violent crimes against the LGBTQ community.
Danica ran on a platform focusing on hyper-local community issues, especially around infrastructure and traffic. During her 2017 campaign, her yard signs read “Fix Route 28 Now!” In 2018, she met her campaign promise by securing funding to upgrade that very road. She also worked closely with the Virginia Department of Transportation to improve road safety and design alternative roadways based on the concerns of the community. Throughout her service, she’s been committed to listening to her constituents and increasing their access to information.
Mauree Turner needs no introduction, making national headlines as our nation’s first non-binary state legislator. Their victory marks a milestone for our country and serves as an inspiration to all non-binary people nationwide. As a child, both their mother and grandmother took them to HIV awareness and LGBTQ community events.
Mauree has introduced multiple pieces of legislation aimed at creating a more inclusive environment, including establishing gender-neutral terms in the Oklahoma legislature, adding a non-binary option to government documents, and making it easier to update one’s gender identification on government documents.
Criminal justice reform in particular is an issue of personal importance to Mauree, as both their father and grandfather have been incarcerated. Oklahoma has one of the worst incarceration rates in the country, and systemic racism and a punishment-based industrial prison complex contribute to that. To help combat this, Mauree has introduced a handful of bills targeting the unethical and unfair practices Oklahoma’s prison system is currently enforcing, including preventing arrest warrants from being issued for already-incarcerated people who miss court dates and requiring juries to be informed about the range of possible penalties for the cases they judge.