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Congress will have record number of LGBTQ lawmakers next session

"These are the voices that can pull us from the brink and toward a more united and fair society."
Rep.-elect Ritchie Torres,  D-N.Y., left, Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan. and Rep.-elect Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y.
Rep.-elect Ritchie Torres, D-N.Y., left, Rep. Sharice Davids, D-Kan. and Rep.-elect Mondaire Jones, D-N.Y.AP

A record number of LGBTQ lawmakers will be heading to Congress next session after an Election Day marked by historic firsts.

In New York, Democrats Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones won their House races and became the first two gay Black candidates elected to Congress.

Jones told NBC News he is excited about serving alongside Torres.

“He’s a tremendous candidate and a good friend," he said. "This is a chance for us to be the role model we looked for growing up — for queer youth and especially queer youth of color.”

Torres, a Bronx native who identifies as Afro Latinx, is also the first LGBTQ congressperson from New York City.

“Most would have thought New York City’s first LGBTQ member of Congress would be from Chelsea or Greenwich Village or Hell’s Kitchen, but the Bronx beat them to it,” said Annise Parker, president of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which works to elect openly LGBTQ candidates at all levels of government.

The elections of Torres and Jones "shattered a rainbow ceiling,” Parker said, adding that they will bring new and vital perspectives to Congress.

"As our nation grapples with racism, police brutality and a pandemic that disproportionately affects people of color and LGBTQ people, these are the voices that can pull us from the brink and toward a more united and fair society,” she said.

With the addition of the two New Yorkers, the next session of Congress will likely include 11 openly LGBTQ members — nine House representatives and two senators — the most in U.S. history.

Six of the seven LGBTQ incumbents on the ballot, all Democrats, won re-election: David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Angie Craig of Minnesota, Mark Takano of California and Sharice Davids of Kansas, who became first openly gay Native American in Congress in 2018. The seventh incumbent, Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, is leading his Republican opponent by nearly 3 percentage points with 78 percent of votes in.

Davids, the lone Democrat in Kansas’ congressional delegation, defeated former state Republican Party chair Amanda Adkins, 53 percent to 44 percent.

In her acceptance speech late Tuesday night, Davids thanked voters for turning out in record numbers.

“Even in the face of this pandemic, American democracy moves ahead,” she said, adding that Kansans “spoke loud and clear — they rejected the tired politics of the past. … They chose a different vision for who we send to the United State House, making sure that we continue this path that we started.”

Cicilline, who introduced the Equality Act in 2019, defeated independent Frederick Wysocki by more than 50 percentage points.

“After four long years of turmoil and strife, Rhode Islanders are ready to bring our country together and heal the wounds that Donald Trump has opened,” Cicilline, 59, said in a statement.

There were more than two dozen LGBTQ congressional candidates on the ballot Tuesday, according to the Victory Fund. While only two nonincumbents won their races, Gina Ortiz Jones, an out lesbian and former Air Force captain, lost her race in Texas' 23rd Congressional District by just 3 points to Republican Tony Gonzalez.

Jones, 39, an Iraq War veteran, would have been the first openly gay representative from Texas and the first Filipino American woman in Congress. Two years ago, Jones lost to Republican incumbent Will Hurd by less than 1,000 votes.

The two LGBTQ senators, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, were not up for re-election.

In 2013, Baldwin, a lesbian, became the first LGBTQ senator in U.S. history. She was joined in the Senate by Sinema, who is bisexual, in 2019.

Baldwin, who was elected to the House of Representatives in 1998, was also the first gay nonincumbent elected to either chamber of Congress. Prior, a handful of representatives — including Barney Frank and Gerry Studds of Massachusetts and Robert Bauman of Maryland — either came out while serving or after leaving Congress.

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