Celebrating Mark Takano’s Win as First Openly Gay Person of Color in Congress
In the recent national elections, among several triumphs that bode well for the ongoing crusade to secure supportive voices in U.S. government for LGBT citizens and other minorities was the election of veteran California public school teacher Mark Takano, a Democrat, to the House of Representatives. Takano's victory over Republican candidate John Travaglione, Riverside County Supervisor, marked the first time an openly gay person of color has been elected into Congress.
"Mark joins a small but growing caucus of openly LGBT lawmakers in Washington who are challenging their colleagues to stand on the right side of history," said Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund CEO Chuck Wolfe in a recent Washington Blade article.
Expressing similar views to EDGE were National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Director of Public Policy & Government Affairs Stacey Long, and LAMBDA Legal Director of Law & Public Policy Project Jennifer Pizer, who clarified that the work of her 501c3 organization is not about candidates and political parties.
"This was definitely a watershed election on so many levels," Long told EDGE. "We're going into the 113th Congress with extreme enthusiasm as additional members join the LGBT equality caucus. We've worked very hard to create opportunities to talk about issues concerning LGBT individuals and our families but also to talk about where there is a nexus between these issues and those that impact communities of color."
Pizer also pointed out that Takano's presence in Congress might help dispel the common stereotype that all gay people are white, male and wealthy.
"What Mark represents as an openly gay person of color relates to a number of issues that Congress might be taking up that affect the LGBT community, such as immigration, and the particular ways that it affects LGBT people," said Pizer. "For example, we hope that comprehensive discussions about immigration reform will include an awareness of the needs of bi-national couples, and transgender people who might be in immigration detention facilities."
Scoring a victory of 57.8 percent of the vote over Travaglione's 42.14 percent in the newly-created 41st Congressional District, Takano is also the first out gay person to represent California as a federal lawmaker. His victory follows a long and distinguished history, both as an educator and an advocate for the rights of LGBT citizens.
An educator for 23 years, specializing in British literature, Takano was elected to the Riverside Community College District's Board of Trustees in 1990. In 2001, he was instrumental in pushing a measure through the Board that enables Riverside Community College employees to have domestic partner benefits.
He previously ran for Congress in 1992 and 1994, but lost both times. In 1994, political opponents accused Takano of having a "homosexual agenda." According to The Advocate, Takano was outed during the 1994 campaign, as pink mailers from an undisclosed source were sent out, questioning whether this candidate could represent the people of Riverside, and suggesting that his true representation would be "for San Francisco."
"Times certainly have changed. In my current race not a single voter asked me about being gay," Takano recently told The Advocate. Rather than emphasizing his sexual orientation in his campaign, Takano reportedly built his candidacy on issues vitally important to most U.S. citizens, such as improvements in employment and support of medical programs like Medicare.
Long pointed out a difference between making LGBT issues a campaign centerpiece and keeping them completely out.
"To have candidates running openly, as the full brunt of who they are, is important," said Long. "Being able to answer questions plainly and honestly but then get back to the issue of lawmaking is also important. We have youths watching. It's important for them to be able to see the normalcy of who we are and see us occupying different roles in society. I hope young people watch and pay attention to elections, and that they will be taking a part in them, particularly youths of color."
Pizer noted the importance of having diverse cultures serving within our governing bodies. She believes that Takano's presence might prompt his colleagues to notice issues being flagged for them about specific needs of minorities.
"Takano's presence in the room can prompt Congressmen to be aware of the stereotypes. This can come up in a range of contexts, for example in implementation of the Affordable Care Act," she said.
There will be further discussion about the ACA and how it should operate, said Pizer, noting that how people should be served, the range of communities and how they are affected need to be considered.
"Some of that work is going on now actually and doesn't require further Congressional action, but I think, there will continue to be health care reform issues that Congress is wrestling with," said Pizer. "For example, the needs of LGBT people as a minority population that experiences health disparities and might have particular needs of health-care delivery, public health research, or data collection about public health concerns. Policy makers can't think in terms of separate groups -- the gay people over here and they're all white, and the immigrants are over here, and they're all brown -- not recognizing the intersections."
Long also brought up a particular advantage that Takano might bring to the table: education.
"There has been and must continue to be a focus on ensuring safety for kids in school, being clear about the need to stop bullying and all those issues," said Long. "Mark might have a particularly informed and authoritative voice on dealing with this need, along with the values he might bring based on his own identity."