On Thursday, the 116th U.S. Congress opens for business, and a historic number of newly-elected and reelected LGBTQ officials are about to be sworn in. With two senators and eight congressional representatives starting work today, neither chamber has ever been this queer.
All 10 of the new queer Congress members are Democrats, hailing from all over the country. Coming to the Senate are Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema. Four congressional freshmen are coming aboard for the first time: Minnesota’s Angie Craig, Kansas’ Sharice Davids, California’s Katie Hill, and New Hampshire’s Chris Pappas.
— Sharice Davids (@sharicedavids) January 3, 2019
Today is the day. Thanks to everyone who has made this moment possible. It's time to get to work for #NH01. Follow @RepPappasNH for news and updates from the official side. #nhpolitics pic.twitter.com/TWEFxJlIq9
— Chris Pappas (@ChrisPappasNH) January 3, 2019
The newbies will join four gay incumbents who were reelected to Congress this year: Rhode Island’s David Cicilline, New York’s Sean Patrick Maloney, Wisconsin’s Mark Pocan, and California’s Mark Takano.
With Congress flipped to a Democratic majority, and Nancy Pelosi returning to her reign as Speaker of the House, 2019 is setting up to be a banner year for LGBTQ equality legislation.
“Speaker Pelosi will have eight LGBTQ Representatives to consult about how various healthcare or criminal justice reform policies uniquely affect our community,” said Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Institute, in a statement on Thursday. “The relationships these LGBTQ lawmakers will build with their colleagues on Capitol Hill are transformative, and with an unprecedented number of women and people of color also joining the 116th Congress, equality issues will finally receive the attention they deserve.”
Parker, who became the first openly gay mayor of a major metropolitan U.S. city when she was elected mayor of Houston, Texas in 2009, noted that even though the Senate chamber remains under Republican control, the presence of lesbian (Baldwin) and bisexual (Sinema) senators can only help increase LGBTQ visibility there.
“In the U.S. Senate, those opposed to the Equality Act will now need to look two openly LGBTQ Senators in the eyes and tell them their lives are not worth protecting,” said Parker.
The Equality Act is a bill previously introduced twice by Cicilline that would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If passed, it would offer LGBTQ Americans the first federal antidiscrimination protections in history — and the only protections for those living in states that have no local antidiscrimination laws inclusive of LGBTQ people.
The new LGBTQ members of Congress are already making their voices heard. In a letter to the House chief administrative officer on Thursday, Pappas said he plans to refuse his first congressional paycheck — saying he doesn’t want to get paid until the government shutdown ends. During the shutdown, around 800,000 federal government workers are under furlough and not being paid.
“As someone who has run a small business, I could not imagine receiving a paycheck while any of my employees are working without pay,” Pappas told Manchester, New Hampshire’s WMUR on Thursday. “For this reason, I write today to request that my pay be withheld until the current shutdown has ended and the entire federal government is reopened.”