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Chicago's Lightfoot leads way in what could be 'year of the lesbian mayor'

In addition to Lightfoot's win, out lesbian Satya Rhodes-Conway was elected mayor of Madison, and lesbian candidates head to runoffs in Tampa and Kansas City.
Image: Chicago mayor elect Lori Lightfoot speaks at her election night party in Illinois on April 2, 2019.
Chicago mayor elect Lori Lightfoot speaks at her election night party in Illinois on April 2, 2019.Armando L. Sanches / Chicago Tribune via Getty Images

Sweeping all 50 wards of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot on Tuesday became the first LGBTQ person ever elected mayor of America's third-largest city.

"Out there tonight, a lot of little girls and boys are watching. They're watching us, and they're seeing the beginning of something, well, a little bit different," Lightfoot, 56, who is also the first black woman elected mayor in the country’s third-largest city, told a jubilant crowd at a downtown hotel. "They're seeing a city reborn."

Chicago mayor elect Lori Lightfoot kisses her wife, Amy Eshleman, during her election night party in Illinois on April 2, 2019.Kamil Krzaczynski / AFP - Getty Images

Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor, was not the only lesbian to win Tuesday night: Satya Rhodes-Conway, a Democrat, defeated Paul Soglin to become mayor of Madison, Wisconsin, the state’s second-largest city. In addition to wins in Chicago and Madison, two other major cities — Kansas City, Missouri and Tampa, Florida — have lesbian mayoral candidates who are heading to runoff elections.

Former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, CEO of Victory Fund, a nonpartisan organization that promotes LGBTQ candidates, hailed Lightfoot’s groundbreaking victory.

“A Black lesbian taking power in the nation’s third-largest city is a historic moment for so many communities that are too often ignored in American politics," Parker, who is a lesbian, said in a statement shared with NBC News.

“Lori will certainly remain focused on the issues facing Chicago,” Parker continued, “but as the highest-ranking LGBTQ person ever elected mayor of an American city — a title she takes from me — she is also now a key leader in the movement to build LGBTQ political power nationwide.”

When Parker was elected in 2010, she became the first openly gay person ever elected mayor of a major American city. On Tuesday, she said the victories of Lightfoot and Rhodes-Conway “leave us well-positioned to make 2019 the year of the lesbian mayor — potentially tripling the number of lesbians elected major city mayors in just one cycle."

Lesbian mayoral candidates Jane Castor of Tampa and Jolie Justice of Kansas City will be on their cities' ballots April 23 and June 25, respectively.

Prior to the victories of Lightfoot and Rhodes-Conway, Victory Fund said only six openly LGBTQ people had ever served as mayors of major American cities: Sam Adams of Portland, Oregon (2009 - 2012); Parker of Houston (2010 - 2016); Jim Gray of Lexington, Kentucky (2011 - 2019); Ed Murray of Seattle (2014 - 2017); Robert Garcia of Long Beach, California (2014 - present); and Jenny Durkan of Seattle (2017 - present).

Lightfoot and Rhodes-Conway will join Durkan and Garcia to bring the current total of LGBTQ mayors of major American cities to four.

Lightfoot, according to the Associated Press, will also join seven other black women who are serving as mayors of major American cities.

“This historic win reaffirms that our diversity is our greatest strength, and that our elected leaders should reflect the diversity of the communities they represent,” Tom Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, said of Lightfoot. “I look forward to working with Mayor-elect Lightfoot as she fights to build a brighter future for all. The people of Chicago will be well served with her leadership.”

After the victories of Lightfoot and Rhodes-Conway, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the first openly LGBTQ person ever elected to the U.S. Senate, told NBC News, "We've come a long way."

"We still have strides to make in battling discrimination for every single LGBTQ American," she added. "I’m glad there are going to be a lot more leaders in that fight."


The Associated Press contributed.