Oregon state Rep. Tina Kotek was sworn in on Monday as her state’s Speaker of the House, becoming the first open lesbian to lead a legislative chamber in the United States.
Kotek, a third term lawmaker from North Portland who took the oath of office with her partner, Aimee Wilson, by her side, called the historic occasion “humbling.”
“I think anytime you have a first for a community that’s looking for role models it’s really important,” Kotek said, following her re-election in November. “So I know folks in the LGBT community are very excited. I think it says a lot about Oregon that we appreciate and respect diversity.”
During her first address to the House chamber, Kotek emphasized the importance of inclusion and dialogue.
“As our state continues to tackle the task of economic recovery, our focus must be on the priorities that matter most to Oregonians. Oregonians are expecting us to listen well, listen to everyone, and find solutions through challenging, but productive discussions.”
One issue that’s not on Kotek’s agenda is same-sex marriage — she said Oregonians should not look to the state Legislature to lead the charge on legalizing same-sex marriage.
“In Oregon, we’re a little different because we’d have to amend our Constitution to allow same-sex couples to marry,” Kotek said. “I think we’re on track to do that and that could potentially be on the ballot in 2014.”
Chuck Wolfe, president and CEO of the Victory Fund, called Kotek’s ascension to Speaker an important milestone for the LGBT community.
“This is a fantastic moment. We need more out women leaders to consider public service and add their voices to the public debate. Outstanding leaders like Speaker Kotek can inspire women and girls to believe they too can serve in elective office, represent their communities, lead their colleagues and live authentic lives,” said Wolfe.
Kotek joins Senate leader Ed Murray in Washington state, Assembly Speaker John Perez in California, House Speaker Gordon D. Fox in Rhode Island, and House Speaker Mark Ferrandino in Colorado as the only currently serving openly gay legislators to land their chambers’ top jobs.