We’d be remiss to wish our readers a happy Pride Month without acknowledging the very real and ongoing fight for LGBTQ+ rights that is being waged in states across the country, from “Don’t Say Gay” bills to anti-trans legislation. And with the Supreme Court poised to overturn decades of precedent on human rights, many are worried about the future of marriage equality in the 32 states that still have bans on the books.
Pride is a celebration borne out of resistance, in which LGBTQ+ communities highlight the unfinished work of advancing human rights and Democrats are proud to be the party prioritizing equal rights. As of this year, all 17 states with Democratic legislative majorities have passed nondiscrimination protections for sexual orientation and gender identity. And it was Democratic state legislatures who led the way on marriage equality, legalizing same-sex marriage before the Obergefell decision, and working to ensure it stays legal, no matter what the Supreme Court may decide.
Taking a look at how state Democrats represent the diversity of the country sheds light on why: Almost 90% of the more than 180 openly LGBTQ+ state legislators are Democrats. This Pride Month, we’re highlighting some of the LGBTQ+ state legislators who fight daily for their communities.
Shevrin “Shev” Jones became the first openly LGBTQ+ Senator in Florida when he won his election in 2020 following several terms of service in the state House. For the past 10 years, he has proudly shown up for his state’s most marginalized communities by fighting for bills to expand civil rights, invest in public education, and reduce gun violence.
Shev is a fierce and outspoken opponent of the vile Republican-led “Don’t Say Gay” bill that was introduced in Florida this year. Ahead of the bill’s passage by the legislature, Shev gained national attention for his impassioned efforts to lobby his colleagues to vote against it.
Even after the bill passed, Shev continued to forcefully speak out saying, “Discriminatory pieces of legislation like this fail to solve the critical issues impacting Floridians’ everyday lives… Instead, the Governor and his Republican allies in the legislature have shamefully attacked and endangered LGBTQ+ students who are just trying to get a quality education. The state has an obligation and responsibility to protect and ensure every Floridian, regardless of identity, can live and thrive with dignity and respect.”
For Representative Taylor Small, winning a seat in the Vermont House of Representatives seemed like a distant dream. This changed in 2020 when the incumbent representative recognized the value of Taylor’s LGBTQ+ activism and encouraged her to run for her seat.
Taylor made history by becoming the first openly transgender representative in the Vermont House, bringing with her an abundance of grassroots experience from her work with the Vermont Pride Center. She is the proud sponsor of a bill that would make it easier for Vermont residents to amend their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity, and she continues to fight tirelessly for Vermont’s most vulnerable, prioritizing health care reform, affordable housing, and a guaranteed living wage.
Assemblymember Alex Lee broke two barriers when he was elected in 2020, becoming the youngest Asian American legislator ever elected and the first openly bisexual California state legislator.
Alex – a lifelong California resident – has fought tirelessly to address the soaring cost of living in the state by advocating for social housing programs, which would develop mixed-income housing in locations close to transit, parks, and recreation. This work, partnered with his efforts at legal system reform, has earned him statewide praise, including being named Legislator of the Year by two advocacy organizations.
And while states like Texas and Florida have made aggressive efforts to deny LGBTQ+ communities basic rights including safe learning environments, gender-responsive health care, and access to school activities including sports, Alex has stood in firm solidarity with marginalized members of the community. Along with a handful of California Democrats, Alex co-authored the Transgender Inclusive Care Act which aims to improve access to gender-affirming health care across the state.
David Ortiz flipped a red seat blue in 2020 and became the first openly bisexual person to serve in the Colorado legislature. Since his historic victory, David has been a tireless advocate for equality for all Coloradans.
As a former Army aviator who became paralyzed from the waist down following a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, David sponsored legislation to aid veterans transitioning from military service to civilian life. His unique experiences as an LGBTQ+ veteran informed his work to pass legislation that overturned the injustice of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” by reinstating benefits to veterans wrongfully discharged under the discriminatory policy.
Melanie Scheible, one of a number of openly-LGBTQ+ Nevadan legislators, was elected to the Senate in 2018. Since then, she has been a powerful advocate for women, the LGBTQ+ community, and students.
Melanie, a former prosecutor, understands firsthand the importance of prioritizing justice and public safety. During her time in the Senate, she has pushed for increased accountability and worked to ban ghost guns, bump stocks, and implement other life-saving gun safety reform measures.
She has also been a leader on the push for more inclusive health care and has helped introduce legislation to better serve the transgender and gender-nonconforming communities.
Melanie has been a fierce fighter for students and families, helping to pass the largest significant increase in education funding in Nevada state history.
Kim Jackson became the first openly LGBTQ+ Senator in Georgia’s history when she won her seat two years ago.
Kim, an Episcopal priest, has brought a commitment to justice to the Georgia Senate in the form of tireless advocacy on behalf of those who are currently and formerly imprisoned. She also co-sponsored numerous pieces of legislation aimed at increasing police accountability and reforming our broken legal system.
In addition, Kim recognizes that a democracy in which not all can participate is a farce. She has spoken out against Georgia Republicans’ vicious attacks on voting rights and helped sponsor legislation to ensure all Georgians can participate in our democracy.
Keturah Herron won her special election in Kentucky this year, becoming the first openly-LGBTQ+ person ever elected to the state House. Keturah has over 15 years of experience fighting for juvenile justice. As a policy strategist for the ACLU of Kentucky, she was instrumental in passing Breonna’s Law in Louisville and fighting for greater accountability statewide. In the legislature, she’s fighting to raise the minimum wage and restore voting rights to formerly incarcerated people, because every Kentuckian should have access to the ballot.
Immediately after being sworn into office, Keturah filed legislation to create the Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the state’s Department of Public Health and recommitted to the legislation this summer, saying, “if we’re ever going to slow this carnage down, we have to have facts in hand and a willingness to take steps that make a difference.”
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 last 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. Last 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. Last 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.
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. Last 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.