The Nov. 6 election saw several firsts for LGBTQ parents and our children, along with many other wins that may not have made national headlines. Here’s a broad look at the winners from the more than three dozen queer parents — and one of our kids — who ran.
Jared Polis, who in 2011 became the first openly LGBTQ parent in Congress, was elected governor of Colorado, making him the first openly gay — and gay parent — governor. He and his partner Marlon —whom he introduced after the election as Colorado’s first “First Man”— are raising two kids, ages six and four. His website notes that he had wanted to name one son Helton, after Todd Helton, the Colorado Rockies’ former star first-base player, “but Marlon said no.”
Polis was not the first LGBTQ governor, however. That honor belongs to Kate Brown of Oregon. Brown, who is bisexual, came to office in a special election in 2016 and was reelected this Nov. 6 for a full term. She is stepmother to her husband Dan’s now-grown son and daughter, whom she helped raise.
Angie Craig, formerly head of global human resources for a major state manufacturer, won election to the U.S. House of Representatives from Minnesota, making her the first lesbian mom elected to Congress and the second LGBTQ parent after Polis. She and her wife Cheryl have three boys in college and one in high school. Like many LGBTQ parents, she had to fight to become one. In 1997, Craig and her then-partner Debra Langston tried to adopt when they were living in Tennessee. Although the birth mother of the child they hoped to adopt wanted them to do so, the birth mother’s own parents tried to claim custody, not wanting him to be raised by a same-sex couple. A court battle ensued, which Craig and Langston ultimately won.
Kevin Lembo, elected Connecticut state comptroller, also had a personal legal struggle to create his family. A New York judge stopped him and his partner from adopting two children because of the men’s marital status and sexual orientation. They successfully appealed up to the New York State Supreme Court, and later adopted a third child.
In Michigan, Dana Nessel was elected attorney general. Nessel, who is raising twins with her wife, has long fought for queer families. She brought the 2010 case in which a Michigan court first held that a non-biological parent in a same-sex couple could gain custody rights to their children. She petitioned for the first second-parent adoptions in two counties. Most notably, in 2012, she led the case challenging the state’s bans on adoption and marriage for same-sex couples, a case later consolidated into Obergefell v. Hodges, which won federal marriage equality at the U.S. Supreme Court.
In state legislatures, Laurie Jinkins and Christine Kilduff will join the Washington state House, while Jamie Pedersen and Claire Wilson will be in that state’s senate. Other state winners were Lisa Bunker (New Hampshire), the only transgender parent to win this year; Jack Lewis (Massachusetts); Sean Patrick Maloney (New York); Rebecca Kislak (Rhode Island); Julie Johnson (Texas), and Todd Novak (Wisconsin) in their state’s lower chambers, along with Nickie Antonio in the Ohio state Senate. Novak was the only Republican LGBTQ parent running this year.
And Zach Wahls became the first state or federal elected official with openly LGBTQ parents, winning a seat in the Iowa Senate. Wahls, a former Eagle Scout and state debate champion, rose to national recognition with his 2011 speech to the Iowa legislature about marriage equality and his two moms — the video of which went viral.
Wahls, speaking to Family Equality Council on election night, said he was honored to be supported by voters from all kinds of families and added, “At this fragile moment, it’s critical for families with one or more LGBTQ parents to have strong advocates for our families in elected office. I’m proud to be one of those advocates, and I always will be.”
There was disappointment for many of us LGBTQ parents, too, with close losses for LGBTQ and LGBTQ-friendly candidates in several key states. And while Democrats gained a majority in the U.S. House, Republicans retained the Senate — and of course, the White House. It’s still going to be a contentious few years of political battles not only for legislation, but for what seems like the heart and soul of our nation.
This election saw new ground broken in many ways, though, for LGBTQ candidates who are and aren’t parents, for Native-American women, Muslim women and many others, particularly women of color. And Massachusetts voters resoundingly defeated a referendum measure that sought to roll back protections for transgender people. By focusing here on parents, though, I hope to offer useful examples of combining family and service and how sometimes our personal struggles lead to public dedication.
Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.