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Number of LGBT Elected Officials Reaches Historic Levels

Americans elected more gay and lesbian lawmakers during the November 6th election. And in states like Wisconsin, Oregon and Colorado, gay and lesbian officials will hold some of the highest positions of power.

The number of openly gay state lawmakers doubled from 4 to 8 after the November election.

“I think maybe the most historic thing about my election, as an openly LGBT person is that it’s not historic,” says newly elected Democratic senator Jesse Ulibarri.

“There are already openly LGBT candidates serving in the Colorado legislature and they have opened up the path for so many others folks to come behind them.”

Ulibarri and his partner have two children – and he says it’s important for his constituents to get to know him beyond his sexual orientation. Ulibarri says he cares about the same issues as everyone else, a strong economy, safe schools, and equal opportunities for all families.

“I’ve also seen the impact that openly LGBT elected have had on their colleagues, just by their presence in the legislature, having people to see what it really means to have protections for people that you love.”

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender advocates in Colorado see the gains as a way to secure those protections that Ulibarri spoke of. With Democrats regaining control of both chambers at the state capitol the likelihood of civil unions legislation passing is all but certain during the upcoming session.

Mark Ferrandino (D-Denver), who is openly gay, sponsored a civil unions bill last session that narrowly failed when Republican leaders filibustered it. Ferrandino is now the incoming speaker of the house.

“Colorado last session showed that the leadership of the House behind the times. The majority of the House was with the times and this coming session we’ll be able to show that Colorado is the state that’s about equality, not the hate state.”

That reputation of being a hate state started twenty years ago when voters passed a ballot initiative that excluded LGBT people from anti- discrimination laws. The U.S. Supreme Court later over turned the Colorado initiative calling it unconstitutional.

“I think what you see happening in Colorado and across the country, is that, when there is prejudice and discrimination it eventually falls on its own weight. Because it’s based on some kind of fear or the unknown as opposed to any real facts,” says Chuck Wolfe, president of the Washington DC-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

Wolf’s non-profit pumped millions of dollars into local and national races across the country to elect LGBT candidates during this election. He says 2012 was a watershed year with a historic number of candidates not only running for office but also winning their races.

“For a long time public service, including the military was not open to members of the LGBT community. In fact there were certain political parties running opposing the idea.  With that shifting, and attitudes shifting around the country you see more and more people will to step into public service.”

And after November 6th, Wolfe says the majority of state legislatures now have at least one openly gay lawmaker, and five states - including Colorado - have a gay statehouse leader. Still, he says he thinks it’ll take another twenty years before being a gay politician becomes so normal that it’s no longer news worthy.

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.
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