7 Historic ‘Firsts’ That Prove Representation Matters in Politics
History was made throughout the United States on November 3 with a number of “firsts” in representation for American politics. Sarah McBride will be the first transgender state senator in United States history. Ritchie Torres will be the first openly gay Black member of Congress. Cori Bush will be Missouri’s first Black congresswoman. Soon, elected officials will more closely resemble the people they serve. Such representation in politics opens doors for more people from marginalized groups to succeed in future elections while giving their communities a bigger voice.
Jennifer Edwards, senior director of communications and digital engagement at Color Of Change PAC, an organization fighting to build political power for Black communities, says last night’s wins mean a lot to the Black and LGBTQ+ communities.
“We know that electing leaders who embody the diversity of Blackness is key to truly representing our communities in the halls of power,” says Edwards. “Color Of Change PAC congratulates Ritchie Torres, Mauree Turner, and Torrey Harris for opening the door for future LGBTQ leaders of color to win elected office. We also congratulate Sarah McBride and Taylor Small—who with their wins have made our government better reflect America. Now that they have built a strong presence, it’ll be up to us to hold these newly elected officials accountable to their promises and to the communities they serve, so they can build real power with their representation.”
Barbara Simon, head of news and campaigns at GLAAD, says that having LGBTQ+ representation in politics is critically important.
“It means our voices and experiences will be included in the decision-making process affecting every part of our lives, and will be considered equally among all citizens,” says Simon. “It also serves as a visible and very public sign of acceptance and of hope for all LGBTQ people young and old. That we matter and we can lead, succeed, contribute to and participate fully in all areas of society.”
7 firsts for representation in American politics
1. Sarah McBride
Sarah McBride will be the country’s highest-ranking transgender official. She will join the Delaware State Senate. She interned with the Obama administration during college, making her the first out transgender woman to work in the White House. And in 2016, she became the first trans person to speak at a major political convention at the Democratic National Convention.
“I hope tonight shows an LGBTQ kid that our democracy is big enough for them, too,” McBride tweeted Tuesday night after the election was called. “As Delaware continues to face the [COVID-19] crisis, it’s time to get to work to invest in the policies that will make a difference for working families.”
2. Ritchie Torres
Ritchie Torres is the first openly gay Black man elected to Congress. He is Afro-Latinx and will represent the South Bronx in the House of Representatives. He served in the Justice Department under the Obama administration and is a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School.
“We are going to have a United States Congress that is every bit as diverse and dynamic as America itself,” says Torres. “Sixty percent of the Democratic conference in the House of Representatives is women, people of color, and LGBTQ. I am proud that am going to contribute to the diversity of the world’s greatest legislature, the United States Congress.”
3. Cori Bush
Cori Bush will be the first Black Congresswoman in the history of Missouri. Brush, a registered nurse, became politically active in 2014 after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
“Six years ago St. Louis captured the eyes and the ears of the entire world during the Ferguson uprising,” said Bush on Tuesday after the results were in. “We could not stand the injustice any longer. So, in the tradition of every one of our ancestors who fought for a better world, we organized for Michael Brown Jr. We organize for more than 400 days side by side arm in arm—St. Louis strong. And now, in the face of a global pandemic and the relentless attacks on our right to vote, we organized all the way to the ballot box.”
4. Taylor Small
Taylor Small will be the first openly transgender member of the Vermont Legislature. She currently serves as director of the health and wellness program at Pride Center of Vermont, a nonprofit organization that helps LGBTQ Vermonters.
She tells the Vermont Free Press that she hopes her election shows young queer and trans people that they have opportunities to be leaders.
5. Mauree Turner
Mauree Turner made history as the county’s first non-binary state legislator and Oklahoma’s first Muslim lawmaker. They will join Oklahoma’s house of representatives.
“For me, this means a lot,” Turner said of their victory to The Oklahoman. “I have lived my whole life in the margins. As a child, I honestly remember having conversations with my mom where I thought that things would just be better if I was white, or if I was just different in some way, shape, or form. So, it means a lot to be able to provide that visibility for other folks.”
6. Stephanie Byers
Stephanie Byers is Kansas’ first transgender legislator as a member of the Kansas state house of representatives. She is a member of the Indigenous Chickasaw Nation and a retired teacher from Wichita.
“We’ve made history here,” says Byers. “We’ve done something in Kansas most people thought would never happen, and we did it with really no push-back, by just focusing on the issues.”
7. Torrey Harris
Torrey Harris will join Tennessee’s State house of representatives as the state’s first out LGBTQ+ member of the state legislature. He worked in human resources and serves as a board member for the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Friends for Life Corporation HIV/AIDS Care & Prevention Services, and other progressive groups. He lost his bid for this seat by a narrow margin in 2018.
“We have ran an amazing race as a team… We showed hard work and determination and consistency is what people want to see,” Harris said on Tuesday evening. “I hope to be someone they can look to as a real representative.”