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Newly elected out U.S. House members talk LGBT issues

CHRIS JOHNSON | Washington Blade
Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The Nov. 6 election resulted in four new lesbian, gay and bisexual candidates winning seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and all eyes are now on them to see what they’ll do on LGBT issues upon taking office.

A number of new faces will join the LGBT representation in Congress: Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who’ll be the first openly bisexual member of Congress; Sean Patrick Maloney, who’ll be the first out congressman from New York; Mark Takano of California, who’ll be the first openly gay Asian-American in Congress; and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, who’ll take lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s seat in the U.S. House.

The new LGB members of the U.S. House. Clockwise, from upper left clockwise: Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Takano, Sean Patrick Maloney and Mark Pocan.
Photos: Sinema, Takano, courtesy photos; Maloney, Pocan by Michael Key, Washington Blade.

Upon taking their seats, a total of seven LGB members will serve in Congress. The four new members will join Baldwin, who’s moving from the House to the Senate, as well as Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who last week told the Washington Blade he plans on taking the lead on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the next Congress.

While participating in training and orientation programs on Capitol Hill, each of the four of the new congresspersons-elect communicated with the Blade about initial plans they have for LGBT issues after being sworn in on Jan. 3 — despite the difficulty of moving any legislation forward in the Republican-controlled House.

Takano said he’s vying for a position of the Committee on Education and the Workforce because the panel has jurisdiction over ENDA and anti-bullying legislation for LGBT students.

“I know ENDA is reintroduced almost every session, and those are two parts of an equality agenda that I’d like to be able to work on,” Takano said. “I’m mindful that we have a Republican majority in the House … I want to spend time building relations with Republicans who might want to join in some aspects of an equality agenda.”

A public school teacher for 23 years specializing in British literature and member of Riverside Community College District’s Board of Trustees, Takano may have the experience that would land him a seat on the committee.

Takano also said he wants President Obama to revisit the idea of an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers, which the White House said in April Obama wouldn’t issue at this time.

“President Truman was right to stand on the right side of history when he used his executive powers to integrate the armed forces,” Takano said. “So will President Obama be when he uses his executive authority to bar discrimination in federal contracting against LGBT workers.”

Takano joins Maloney in saying the White House should rethink its position on the issue. The congressman-elect from New York told the Blade over the course of his campaign that he still wants Obama to issue the directive. Pocan said last year — before the White House said “no” — he backs the idea of an executive order.

For his part, Pocan said he’s more focused on getting his office and staff set up as he prepares to take his seat, but said he spoke with Polis about a possible new direction for the LGBT Equality Caucus — a group of House members committed to the advancement of LGBT issues.

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