111th United States Congress convenes with new gay member

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The first openly gay man to be elected to the United States House of Representatives as a non-incumbent will be sworn in today in Washington DC.

Jared Polis, who represents Colorado’s second district, will become the sixth openly gay person to serve in the House.

Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat elected from Wisconsin in 1998, was the first out gay person to be elected to the House as a non-incumbent.

Fellow Democrat Barney Frank of Massachusetts announced he was gay in 1987 after having served several terms in the House.

Three other Representatives came out after election; the late Gerry Studds, a Democrat of Massachusetts, former Congressman Steve Gunderson, a Republican from Wisconsin, and former Congressman Jim Kolbe, a Republican from Arizona.

No openly gay or lesbian person has yet been elected to the US Senate.

The 111th Congress convenes today and later this week it will formally count the electoral college votes in the Presidential election.

Barack Obama will take the Presidential oath of office in a lavish inauguration ceremony in DC on January 20th.

The House and Senate have increased Democratic majorities, and major gay rights legislation such as a new federal hate crimes act encompassing sexual orientation and gender identity-related crimes may be passed in the coming session.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act is also before Congress.

Both chambers have much work to do to convince the voters they are effective.

A Gallup poll based on interviewing in December, the final month of the previous Congress, found just 20% of Americans approved of the way Congress is handling its job.

For all of 2008, Congressional approval averaged 19%.

There are 435 Representatives in the House and five non-voting members from US possessions such as Puerto Rico.