Over the past year, America experienced unprecedented attacks against Democracy. Rightwing forces – including the previous president – repeatedly attempted to upend our democratic systems – and LGBTQ leaders repeatedly stood up and fought for them.
LGBTQ Nation nominates five such leaders who passionately spoke out in the name of voting rights, protected democratic institutions, and tried to include everyone in the process.
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From a teen activist to a Congressional representative, every one of the nominees is a force to be reckoned with. Each demonstrated determination and refused to be intimidated by adversaries. These extraordinary heroes earned their nominations by demanding power for both themselves and their communities.
This year’s nominees for “Hero Defending Democracy are: Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI), who led the second impeachment of Donald Trump in response to the Capitol Insurrection; Georgia Rep. Park Cannon (D), who was arrested for protesting a voter disenfranchisement law in her state; Helena Duke, a teen who was kicked out by her family and who then outed them as Capitol rioters; Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-NY), who stood up to racism on the House floor and represented incoming Congressmembers in the most LGBTQ Congress ever; and Hawaii Rep. Adrian Tam (D), who defeated a fascist hate group member to become Hawaii’s only LGBTQ state lawmaker.
Rep. David Cicilline was one of three Congressmembers who introduced the articles of impeachment against Trump, charging the former president with “Incitement of Insurrection” after he repeatedly said that last year’s elections were stolen by President Joe Biden, which wasn’t true. Trump led a rally on January 6 and again incited his supporters to attack Congress, which was ceremonially accepting the results of the election.
Cicilline also acted as an impeachment manager during Trump’s second Senate trial. While there were too many members of Trump’s party in the Senate to pass, Cicilline helped ensure that Trump would be the first president impeached twice after he undermined both the election and the safety of Congress.
“The president of the United States sided with the insurrectionists. He celebrated their cause. He validated their attack,” Cicilline told the Senate in his powerful opening argument at Trump’s impeachment trial.
In February, Cicilline formally introduced the Equality Act in the House of Representatives. The law would add sexual orientation and gender identity to federal civil rights legislation. The bill passed the House and is now stalled in the Senate.
Unyielding in his determination to gain sweeping federal anti-discrimination laws for LGBTQ people, the out Congressman has reintroduced the bill every session since 2015.
Georgia Rep. Park Cannon first made a name for herself in 2016, when she became the youngest elected official in the state legislature at 24-years-old. Currently serving her third term, she’s become known for passionately fighting for progressive change in Georgia.
In March, Cannon, who is Black, was arrested by a white state trooper for knocking on Gov. Brian Kemp’s (R) door as he was signing S.B. 202, which significantly rolled back voting rights in the state. He signed the bill – which advocates of voting rights said would disproportionately affect Black voters – in a closed-door ceremony in his office surrounded by white men.
The arrest affidavit claimed she stomped the officer’s foot three times and kicked him while she was being arrested. None of that is shown in multiple videos of the incident.
“Why are you arresting her?” This Facebook Live video from @TWareStevens shows the moment authorities detained state Rep. Park Cannon as @GovKemp was behind those doors signing elections restrictions into law. #gapol pic.twitter.com/U1xMJ6tZrY
— Greg Bluestein (@bluestein) March 25, 2021
Charges against Cannon were ultimately dropped. Though shaken by the incident, Cannon refused to be intimidated into ending her battle against the new law.
“We will not live in fear and we will not be controlled,” she wrote on Twitter after her arrest. “We have a right to our future and right to our freedom. We will come together and continue fighting white supremacy in all its forms.”
We will not live in fear and we will not be controlled. We have a right to our future and a right to our freedom. We will come together and continue fighting white supremacy in all its forms. https://t.co/kKsiPZBuqV
— Representative Park Cannon (@Cannonfor58) March 26, 2021
Eighteen-year-old Helena Duke is a lesbian teen who was kicked out of her home and then outed her parents as rioters at the Capitol Insurrection.
Duke saw video taken in D.C. around the time of the riots and she recognized her family of origin. This was in the wake of the riots, at the same time that law enforcement officers were trying to identify the rioters who broke into the Capitol, trashed the building, chanted for the death of Mike Pence, and left five dead, all in an attempt to overturn the 2020 election’s results.
“Hi this is the liberal lesbian of the family who has been kicked out multiple times for her views and for going to BLM protests to care what happens to me,” wrote Duke in a tweet. She then proceeded to list her family members’ names beside photos of them at the protest committing acts of violence.
Hi this is the liberal lesbian of the family who has been kicked out multiple times for her views and for going to BLM protests to care what happens to me so:
Mom: Therese Duke
Uncle: Richard Lorenz
Aunt: Annie Lorenz pic.twitter.com/cuBAPJ3GJA
— Helena Duke (@duke_helena) January 7, 2021
Despite pleas from her family to take down their names, Duke remained steadfast in holding them accountable for their actions.
“I always felt almost heartbroken over how they viewed the world and how skewed it was,” she told Buzzfeed News, “and how they wouldn’t allow me to express my views. But showing that they can act in such a horrible way is just really appalling to me.”
Rep. Mondaire Jones can’t seem to stop making history. After he became one of the first two gay, Black members of Congress, he landed the “most influential role available to a freshman member of Congress” when he was selected to be the Freshman Representative to Leadership.
Jones made headlines after delivering a scathing speech on the House floor, where he called out his Republican colleagues’ arguments against D.C. statehood – that is, their reasons as to why the federal district with a historically large Black population couldn’t handle equal representation in the federal government – as “racist trash”
“The truth is there is no good faith argument for disenfranchising 700,000 people, most of whom are people of color,” Jones said. He then said the GOP’s opposition to D.C. statehood comes from “fear that in D.C. their white supremacist politics will no longer play” and “fear that if they don’t rig our democracy, they won’t win.”
“I have had enough of my colleagues’ racist insinuations that somehow the people of Washington D.C. are incapable or even unworthy of our democracy.”
Republicans forced him to withdraw his words, but the truth remains: Race is a critical factor in the long-term denial of rights for DC residents. Enough. pic.twitter.com/bTJX3VyBSp
— The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) April 22, 2021
In November, Hawaii Rep. Adrian Tam defeated Nicholas Ochs, a white supremacist and anti-LGBTQ leader and founder of the fascist hate group Hawaii Proud Boys. And he didn’t just win. He absolutely pulverized Ochs with 63% of his district’s vote, compared to Ochs’s paltry 29.7%.
“I am happy and very hopeful that members of the community realized [The Proud Boys] didn’t represent the values of Hawaii,” Tam told the Daily Beast after his victory. “Groups like these will always exist, but it’s up to us to not only tune them out, but to get our message out there and change minds so more people don’t join them.”
Before beating Ochs, Tam won the Democratic primary against longtime incumbent and centrist state Rep. Tom Brower (D).
After he was elected, Tam was one of 15 lawmakers in Hawaii who signed a letter asking for the Capitol rioters to be put on the No Fly List. Ochs, the hate group founder who Tam beat in the election, has been arrested in connection to his alleged participation in the Capitol Insurrection.
“We watched in horror as our Nation’s Capitol was stormed by a group of individuals engaged in domestic terrorism,” the lawmakers wrote. “This event is a direct attack on our democracy.”
The challenges we face, though sometimes very difficult, are never insurmountable if we face them together. I will always work hard for you and with you. I will always fight hard for you and with you. I will always stand up for you and with you.
— Adrian Tam (@adrianktam) November 4, 2020
Every one of these defenders of Democracy is a hero. Vote now!