It may be easy to remember the names of openly gay white politicians throughout this country’s history because of the elevated platforms they’ve received in entertainment.
Take, for example, Harvey Milk, who was the first, openly gay elected official in California, where he served on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors before his assassination in 1978 by a colleague. Sean Penn famously portrayed Milk in a 2008 biopic, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Former Rep. Barney Frank is another prominent figure in LGBTQ history. He was the first openly gay person in Congress when he came out in 1987. He was one of the architects of the Dodd-Frank Act, which regulated the financial industry, and whose appeal ushered in the 2008 economic crash, which was well documented in films such as The Big Short and Too Big to Fail.
Black LGBTQ politicians who helped pave the way for many out and proud Black public servants today don’t often get recognized.
For every Milk, there’s a Ron Oden, who became the first openly gay Black man elected mayor in an American city. Oden was elected as mayor of Palm Springs, California in 2003. In 2017, Palm Springs made history by having the nation’s first all LGBTQ city council.
For every Frank, there’s a Barbara Jordan, the first African American woman elected to Congress from Texas. Jordan never spoke openly about being a lesbian, but spoke openly about her near three-decade relationship with Nancy Earl, according to NBC News.
The spoken and unspoken sacrifices by Oden, Jordan and more led to a new class of LGBTQ public servants who are able to live their lives openly and not have their sexuality disqualify them from politics.
Elected in 2019, Democrat Lori Lightfoot is the first Black, openly gay woman to be the mayor of a major American city, Chicago. A former prosecutor, who’s never held office, Lightfoot worked toward investing in the most economically devastated areas of Chicago.
As mayor, she helped launch the Invest South/West program that provided millions of dollars to 10 neighborhoods in Chicago that have been plagued with crime and poverty, according to WTTW.
Andrea Jenkins made history in 2017 by becoming the first openly transgender Black woman elected to office in the country, according to NBC News. She serves on the Minneapolis City Council and is chair of the council’s Policy & Government Oversight Committee.
Jenkins, a writer, poet and activist, is a regular guest on BNC’s Prime w/ Charles Blow, where she speaks on social justice issues, particularly around George Floyd’s death.
Ritchie Torres made history during the November 2020 election, when he won a race for New York’s 15th Congressional District, becoming one of the first openly gay Black members of Congress. He is the first openly gay Afro-Latino in Congress.
The 33-year-old progressive politician has worked diligently for people in the Bronx. He helped open up the first homeless shelter geared toward LGBTQ youth in the Bronx and helped secure funding for LGBTQ senior centers in each of New York City’s five boroughs, according to The New Yorker.
Mondaire Jones also made history during the November 2020 election by becoming the other first openly gay Black member of Congress, alongside Rep. Ritchie Torres.
“Growing up poor, Black and gay, I never imagined someone like me could run for Congress, let alone win,” Jones said last year.
Named the most active legislator in Congress, Jones sponsored and co-sponsored 287 bills in his first five months in office.
Jones represents New York’s 17th Congressional District.
One of the newer Black and openly gay politicians, Jalen Mckee-Rodriguez defeated incumbent and former boss Jada Andrews-Sullivan in a runoff race in Texas for the San Antonio City Council earlier this month.
Mckee-Rodriguez ran on addressing issues pertaining to COVID-19 vaccine distribution, gentrification, homelessness among LGBTQ teens and young adults, as well as creating a department that specializes in crime prevention.
In addition to being San Antonio’s newest councilman, McKee-Rodriguez is a high school math teacher and graduate student at the University of Texas at San Antonio.