50 years after the US’s first gay politician, lesbians and trans people smashed barriers

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50 years ago, Dan Johnston took his place in the Iowa House of Representatives, becoming the first gay person to hold such a high office.

But as he took his seat on that freezing Monday in Des Moines, two-and-a-half years before the Stonewall Riots, the 28-year-old Democrat was very much in the closet.

He remained there until after he and fellow gay representative Norman Jesse – who joined Johnston in the legislature two years later – retired and revealed they were in a relationship.

Dan Johnston (YouTube/kcci)

Half a century and two dozen elections later, openly transgender and lesbian politicians across the US have smashed through barriers.

Danica Roem became the first out trans person to be elected to a state legislature – by beating a virulent anti-LGBT politician.

50 years after the US’s first gay politician, lesbians and trans people smashed barriers
Danica Roem (Facebook/danica roem)

The Virginian journalist and heavy metal vocalist won against Bob Marshall, a 26-year incumbent who proposed a bill that would’ve restricted which bathrooms trans people could use.

Marshall, who lost by 46% to 54% yesterday, also co-authored the state’s now-defunct constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and refused to debate Roem or refer to her as a woman during the campaign.

Andrea Jenkins became the first trans woman of colour elected in the nation after winning a 73% landslide in Minneapolis’s Eighth Ward to give her a place on the City Council.

(YouTube/Victory Fund)
(YouTube/Victory Fund)

In Seattle, Jenny Durkan won 61% of the vote to become the first out lesbian mayor in the city’s history.

The former federal prosecutor joined Jackie Biskupski, who holds office in Utah’s Salt Lake City, as the only out lesbian mayors of major US cities.

50 years after the US’s first gay politician, lesbians and trans people smashed barriers
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan (Twitter/jennydurkan)

California, the state where Harvey Milk made history in 1978 by becoming the state’s first openly gay elected official, broke another barrier last night.

Nearly 40 years after Milk took office, Lisa Middleton became the first openly transgender person elected to political office in the state.

After Palm Springs voted her onto its City Council, Middleton said: “Another glass ceiling has been broken.

50 years after the US’s first gay politician, lesbians and trans people smashed barriers
Lisa Middleton (KMIR)

“For young people who are transgender all over the United States, they are going to have examples for what they can do,” she told local outlet KMIR.

“It says Palm Springs is going to judge you by the content of your character and by the work you’re able to accomplish,” Middleton added.

Pennsylvania also broke its trans barrier, as Tyler Titus became the first openly trans person to be elected in the state.

Tyler Titus (Facebook/tyler titus)
Tyler Titus (Facebook/tyler titus)

The 33-year-old professional counsellor, who is a father of two boys, was elected to the Erie School Board.

Aisha C. Moodie-Mills, president of the Victory Fund, which is dedicated to increasing the number of openly LGBT public officials, paid tribute to Titus and all the other trans winners.

She said: “Tyler Titus shattered a lavender ceiling in Pennsylvania today – and his victory will resonate well-beyond state boundaries.

Tyler Titus (Facebook/tyler titus)
Tyler Titus (Facebook/tyler titus)

“Trans people remain severely underrepresented in our politics and government, and now more than ever we need trans voices like Tyler’s in the halls of power.

“This is a historic night for trans candidates across the country – and Tyler is part of a vanguard of leaders who are determined to be part of the conversation on issues that affect their lives.”