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EDGE 10.0: The Decade in Women Politics

by Steve Weinstein
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jul 17, 2014

In celebration of our tenth anniversary, EDGE is proud to launch "EDGE 10.0: The Decade in," a retrospective series of features looking back on the past ten years of headlines, politics, personalities, trends, music, film, parties, etc... written by Editor in Chief Emeritus Steve Weinstein, and the current editorial staff at EDGE.

Women have always been an important part of EDGE's news coverage. Previous articles in this look back at EDGE's first 10 years examined women in the news and women's parties. But now it's time to take a look at one of the most momentous changes of all: the emergence of out lesbians as political leaders.

In fact, the ladies have been outpacing the men. The nation's first out-gay senator, for example, was Tammy Baldwin, who, as EDGE noted two years ago during the campaign, was running against a popular former governor and U.S. cabinet member. What may be most memorable about the race, however, is that the GOP's Tommy Thompson not only never once brought up Baldwin's sexual orientation, he wouldn't allow it into the political conversation. GOProud supported him, but every other gay organization was delighted Baldwin, a U.S. representative at the time, was going to make history. And she did.

The female firsts don't stop there. In 2012, Oregon became the first state with an out-lesbian head of one of its legislative chambers. More remarkably, Ohio's governor named a Columbus city council member as the state's insurance director, a move that, EDGE noted at the time, "has advocates in the Midwest cheering."

You may have missed those, but the whole world took notice in 2009 when Iceland became the first nation to elevate a woman to the head of government.

Johanna Sigurdardottir's sexuality, EDGE noted , was, however, "bigger news to the rest of the world than it is to the tiny nation of less than 350,000 citizens." The Scandinavian island, which straddles the techtonic divide between the Americas and the Old World, may be isolated in the North Atlantic, but it is no backwater when it comes to progressive LGBT issues. Sigurdardottir herself got married in 2002; civil partnerships were in place since 1996.

As the head of New York's city council, out-lesbian Christine Quinn was the second-most powerful politician in the nation's largest city. Quinn came to the City Council after serving as head of the Anti-Violence Program and championed gay causes while in office. Even though she was the dominant face of LGBT New Yorkers in City Hall, she didn't fare well in her 2013 bid to become mayor of the nation's largest city.

As I wrote in an opinion piece, while some blamed Quinn's disappointing third-place showing in the Democratic primary on her sexual identity, many other attributed it to her policies. They actually saw Quinn's closet as a net gain for our side: LGBT voters deserting her actually demonstrated, they said, that LGBT voters had graduated from identity politics - at least in relatively liberal strongholds like New York.

By then, the nation's fourth-largest city had already had an out-lesbian mayor in place for quite a while. The election of Annise Parker as mayor of Houston showed that in the heart of bayou country, deep into Dixie, in one of the nation's reddest states, voters could look beyond side issues. But Parker never tried to hide who she was. When she was sworn into office, she herself took note of its historic importance.

"My election made news all around the world," she said . "Houstonians," she graciously added, "weren't very surprised they elected a gay woman. We have a tradition of electing mayors not for who they are but for what they believe we can do as a city."

What voters did like was Parker's solid fiscal record. She vowed to clean house in the city's government, and she did such a good job that, in her race for re-election, she was endorsed by several conservative organizations. ""She had to make some very tough decisions to balance two budgets without a tax hike or an increase in debt and without laying off a single police officer or firefighter," her spokesperson told EDGE.

On the other side of the aisle, it's only fitting to note how some lesbian relatives of prominent figures ended up in the news for their willingness not to keep anti-LGBT views all in the family.

When the U.S. Supreme Court was considering the two key decisions that are still making history, Chief Justice John Roberts' own cousin had her 15 minutes of fame after it was revealed that she was a lesbian. She showed up at the court and didn't make a secret of where she stood on California's Proposition 8 and Edie Windsor's fight to get back the extra taxes she had to pay on her deceased partner's estate.

Even more delicious was the stepsister of ultra-right U.S. Rep. Michele Bachman, who is widely considered one of the most odious politicians of recent times in LGBT circles, writing a no-holds-barred op-ed in the New York Times. She described the tension built up over the years because of Bachmann's extreme views on homosexuality and gay rights.

By far, the most widely covered and delicious family feud on the Right, however, involved one of the GOP's political dynasties.

Mary Cheney's sexuality became a campaign non-issue in 2004, when her father was running for re-election as vice-president under George W. Bush. Asked to respond to his opponent's mentioning his younger daughter, Dick Cheney briefly thanked him. But when Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry brought her up in a debate, Cheney accused him of grandstanding.

Throughout her father's turbulent rise to power, Mary Cheney seemed to be straddling the dual roles of dutiful daughter to an icon of GOP conservatives and her private life. She married Heather Poe, and the couple had two children. After the birth of the second, her parents circulated a photo of the happy grandparents with the new arrival.

Dad was not so happy, however, when Mary made a very public break with her sister in 2013. Liz Cheney was mounting a primary challenge to a GOP senator in Wyoming and was already having trouble jumpstarting a campaign criticized in GOP circles as useless and an electorate that widely saw her as a newcomer from Washington.

When Liz stated her support for a "traditional definition" of marriage, Mary posted "You're just wrong" - three words that had political pundits racing to their computers. Once her parents got involved, the fight opened up a national discussion on how much same-sex marriage could intrude into every family.

"In Wyoming," EDGE noted , "scene of the murder of gay university student Matthew Shepard 15 years ago that remains a watershed moment for gay rights, Liz Cheney's stance mirrors the Equality State's own soul-searching on gay marriage."

Finally, it was a sign of how much things have changed over the years, when in 2012, the lieutenant governor of Florida finally gave in to mounting criticism and issued a written apology after an incident that also showed how far we still have to go.

As reported on EDGE , GOP Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll was allegedly discovered by an aide in her office with another aide who was, as they say, in a "compromising position" between the politician's legs. Carroll defended herself thusly: "Black women that look like me don't engage in relationships like that."

Most EDGE readers probably mentally responded, "Oh yes they do. Some day, Jennifer, you'll regret that remark. But you'll be a lot happier being open with yourself, the state's voters and the wider world."

If Carroll does come clean, she will probably do what lesbians tend to do and find a true life partner. After all, having to stoop to the sexual harassment of underlings isn't necessary in politics. Just look at all of the examples above. They succeeded in elective office and were out and proud.

Steve Weinstein has been a regular correspondent for the International Herald Tribune, the Advocate, the Village Voice and Out. He has been covering the AIDS crisis since the early '80s, when he began his career. He is the author of "The Q Guide to Fire Island" (Alyson, 2007).


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