The Queerties 2015

Which Politico Is The Equality Champion Of The Year? You Decide!

This is the fourth category in the 2015 Queerties Awards, political champions. Vote for your choice in the poll.

Politics is not beanball, so if you’re going to play in the field, you better be prepared to go all out. Being squishy makes you a politician; being fierce makes you a champion. Fortunately for us, there are no shortage of champions willing to fight for the cause.

In the 2015 Queerties Awards, here are seven who are making a difference.

Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski

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As this post goes live, the final tally of the Salt Lake City Mayor’s race isn’t yet available–Jackie Biskupski has a small but significant lead. The apparent victory of an openly lesbian mayor anywhere in Utah would have been unthinkable not so long ago. So this week’s achievement can’t be underestimated in a conservative state with a history of hostility toward gays and lesbians. After all, it was just two years ago that a federal judge overturned the state’s same-sex marriage ban. Biskupski was baptized in tough political challenges, so its not surprising she is one of our fiercest champions today. In 1995, a firestorm erupted at East High School, when the Salt Lake City School District and the Utah State Legislature tried to eliminate a gay/straight student alliance. The dust up inspired her to become the state’s first out state representative, where she served for more than a decade, before going to work at the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s office, and now, apparently, the liberal bastion’s top office.

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia

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Garcia made history more than a year ago when he became the first openly gay mayor of Long Beach, a more manageable version of neighboring Los Angeles. (At 36, he was also the youngest.) Since then, Garcia has gotten down to the hard work of managing the city of 500,000 and has been doing a good job of it, promoting clean energy initiatives and working to turn the city into a high-tech hub. 

At the same time, Garcia, who was born in Peru, has stayed true to his roots in the LGBT community. He served as a marshall in the city’s gay pride parade and raised a rainbow flag over Civic Plaza to celebrate the legalization of marriage equality. He traveled to Honduras as a special U.S. envoy to promote LGBT rights in that country, where antigay violence is common place.  By doing a solid job as a city administrator and promoting the rights of his community at home and abroad, Garcia is practical and principled, a rare combination in politics

Acting Deputy Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning

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A decade ago, it would have been impossible to imagine an openly gay man serving as the Army’s top civilian official. Now it’s a reality. Eric Fanning was nominated by President Obama to the position in September, based on Fanning’s impressive credentials as a military expert. Fanning began his career on the House Armed Services Committee and worked at a variety of Pentagon positions, including Acting Secretary of the Air Force. He also served on the board of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, not the likeliest route to a top military job.

Fanning has said that I don’t think there’s anything as important as just living an open life of integrity and productivity.” He’s been doing both, while earning the respect of the military. He hasn’t relied just on his smarts to do so: in August, Fanning jumped from the top of a 34 foot tower at Fort Bragg, providing that he doesn’t just talk the talk. He jumps it.

Senator Tammy Baldwin

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The bar for being a class act in the current Congress isn’t very high, but even if it was set much higher, Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin would easily clear it. Baldwin conducts herself with the dignity befitting her office, a concept that seems quaint in era when Republicans are encouraging voters to descend upon D.C. with pitchforks and torches. She’s helped by standing in sharp contrast to the other senator from the state, Ron Johnson, a Tea Partier who holds a perfect voting score from the Human Rights Campaign: zero. 

As the junior senator (if senior intellect), Baldwin has been heads-down on the business of governing, eschewing the grandstanding that characterizes many of her colleagues. As she was during her tenure in the House, Baldwin is an outspoken champion of equality. She’s introduced a bill to help LGBT seniors and pushed the FDA to lift its ban on gay blood donors. Her advocacy doesn’t stop with the present. She’s also pushed for the Justice Department to investigate a claim that a Sen. Lester Hunt committed suicide in 1954 after being blackmailed to resign from office when McCarthy supporters discovered his son was gay. For trying to improve the future and right past wrongs, Baldwin deserves to take a bow.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy Amanda Simpson

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Simpson holds one of those only-in-D.C. titles, but don’t let that throw you. She wields considerable power in the Obama administration. Just as important, she’s a pioneer. Simpson is the first openly transgender official in a White House administration. President Obama appointed her to a civilian Army position in 2010 and then promoted her to her new position in September. 

Simpson is a pilot and was a defense contractor before moving over to the Pentagon. She’s been frank about the challenges of growing up trans, including having a stepfather who beat her. But Simpson shows that it does get better and that being transgender should never be a barrier to success.

“I didn’t get here because I’m trans,” Simpson told Refinery29. “I got here because I am an expert in my field. But, I wasn’t prevented from getting here because I’m trans.”

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener

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Wiener represents the Castro, the same district that Harvey Milk once did. Like Milk, Wiener is taking on the hot issues in the community, in particular pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the medication regimen to prevent HIV infection. Wiener was bold enough to make the issue a personal one by announcing that he takes Truvada, the PrEP pill.

“A much larger segment of gay men should be taking a close look at PrEP,” Wiener said. “I hope that my being public about my use of PrEP can help people take a second look at it.” The announcement made Wiener the first elected official in the U.S. to come out of the Truvada closet.

There’s plenty of reason to follow Wiener’s example. Studies have shown that Truvada dramatically cuts the risk of infection from HIV  at a time when infection rates among young gay men, particularly men of color, are on the rise. By personalizing the issue, Wiener helped make the case  for PrEP much more real, preventing infections in the process.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker

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It can’t be easy governing a population fixated on whom they pee with.  It’s especially difficult if you’re a lesbian and you are in Texas. Yet Annise Parker has shown the political savvy to weave her way through political landmines while serving as the mayor of the fourth largest city in the nation, winning three consecutive elections. She’s done so while being out-in-front on LGBT issues, much to the consternation of the sizeable religious right population in the city. Parker’s skills will be put the test in the coming months, as her city faces the fallout from the vote against a nondiscrimination measure. “I absolutely fear that there will be a direct economic backlash,” Parker says.

President Barack Obama

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Okay, okay, there’s no denying that he was late to the party, particularly with that patently fake “evolution” on gay marriage as a cover. But since then Obama has made up for his heel-dragging with a vengeance. He has aggressively supported marriage equality, ensuring that marriage rights seep into every corner of the federal bureaucracy, from the IRS for immigration. He issued an executive order banning LGBT workplace discrimination by federal contractors. He navigated the rocky waters of the Pentagon to ensure the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and told military leaders who didn’t like it that they could take a hike. 

The accomplishments themselves are impressive, but what matters just as much is the expectation that Obama set for his successor. Hillary has been trying to out-gay Obama, featuring a same-sex couple in her campaign announcement video and sending a heartwarming letter of support to couples working with LGBT youth.

When the mud settles on the GOP side, the nominee (or more accurately, survivor) is going to have to answer questions about whether he would repeal the executive order or roll back some of the marriage gains. Any willingness to regress will harm the GOP with younger voters. The political benefits are just a side feature of Obama’s action. He’s has made it clear that on LGBT issues there’s only one direction: forward.

Photo credits: Simpson via U.S. Army

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