Lesbian sheriffs and gays on the school board – the new face of American politics

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A US Congressman, the Oregon Secretary of State, the sheriff of Dallas County and two members of the Orleans Parish School Board are among more than 70 openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender candidates who won election to public office in the US yesterday.

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a group that financially support LGBT candidates of all parties, endorsed a record-breaking 111 candidates in 2008 and more than 70% of them have won their races.

“This was a watershed election,” said Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund.

He paid tribute to trailblazer Harvey Milk, probably the first out gay male politician in American history.

Known during his lifetime as “The Mayor of Castro Street,” he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

In his 11 months in office he sponsored a gay rights bill and helped to defeat a proposition that would have seen openly gay and lesbian teachers sacked.

He was gunned down at City Hall by Dan White, a disgruntled former Supervisor, on November 27th 1978.

A film of his life story, starring Sean Penn and called Milk, opens in the UK in January.

Yesterday Jared Polis of Colorado became the first openly gay man elected to the US Congress as a non-incumbent.

Kate Brown became the first openly LGBT Secretary of State in the US, and the second-highest ranking elected official in the state of Oregon. Brown is openly bisexual.

Sam Adams was elected mayor of Portland, Oregon earlier in the year. He will become the first openly gay mayor of one of the 30 largest US cities when he’s sworn in next year.

Jason Bartlett, who came out as gay in his current term, was re-elected to the Connecticut State House.

He is only the second openly gay African-American state legislator in the US.

Thomas Robichaux and Seth Bloom, both gay men, simultaneously became the first-ever openly LGBT elected officials in the state of Louisiana when they were elected to the Orleans Parish School Board in an October primary.

John Perez became the first openly gay person of colour elected to the California Assembly.

Lupe Valdez was reelected to a second term as sheriff of Dallas County, Texas.

First elected in 2004, Valdez was the first woman, the first Latina and the first out lesbian ever to win the post.

Kevin Beckner won a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission in Florida, unseating an anti-gay incumbent and becoming the first openly gay man elected in the county.

Rebecca Kaplan will be the first out lesbian to serve on the Oakland, Calif. City Council after winning her race Tuesday.

In Oklahoma, Corporation Commissioner Jim Roth was narrowly defeated in a statewide race after last-minute attack ads and mailers suggested he would push a “homosexual agenda” in his role as a regulator of the state’s energy industry.

Garnet Lewis, who was seeking a seat in the Michigan State House, was subject to an onslaught of anti-gay attacks in print and radio media outlets during the final week of her campaign. She lost her race.

“This election was an affirmation of the African-American civil rights movement that is more than a century old,” said Mr Wolfe.

“The LGBT movement is much younger, and it’s clear we still have much work to do to win true equality.

“The politics of fear and bigotry are not yet behind us, and we saw some heartbreaking examples of that in this election.

“On a day that demonstrated Americans’ commitment to inclusivity and equality, the sabotage of several openly LGBT candidates and the devastating outcomes of three statewide marriage bans were disappointingly inconsistent.

“I am confident that history will give us an opportunity to right those wrongs as we continue the journey toward full equality for all Americans,” Wolfe said.