Adrian Tam, a 28-year-old gay Asian American son of immigrants, defeated a leader of the Hawaii chapter of the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group, to become the only openly LGBTQ person in Hawaii’s Legislature.
Tam, a first-time candidate, took 63 percent of the vote against Nicholas Ochs.
“It feels really good to know that someone who is openly LGBT can win,” Tam told NBC Asian America. “There was a time when people like me could not win. I’m glad that I can bring that representation to the capital.”
Tam described what was a nerve-wracking election season, from trying to connect with voters amid coronavirus, to narrowly taking down longtime incumbent Tom Brower in the August Democratic primary, to facing an overwhelming amount of hate from Ochs and his supporters in the general election.
“It’s almost to a harassment level,” Tam said, noting that Ochs' supporters bombarded his campaign’s social media to the point where the messages from his own voters were drowned out.
Ochs told NBC News he also faced harassing messages from Tam's supporters and that he was disappointed the two didn't get a chance to debate. He said that he is not racist.
Ochs’ campaign page was removed by Facebook in September for posts that violated the platform’s terms of service and community standards, local station KITV reported. He has been criticized in the past for offensive posts toward Black, Jewish and LGBT communities. Facebook did not respond to NBC News' request for comment.
Tam said part of his job now is to serve even those who directed hate toward him and his allies.
“I wanted our community to come together,” he said. “I wanted to let everyone know that I’m a public servant that will work with everyone. My office door will always be open to them and their families.”
Tam's agenda includes recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, strengthening the nontourism economy and improving resources for the homeless. Hawaii has the third-highest rate of homelessness in the country, according to a 2019 study, and Tam says the problem is especially prevalent in his district.
Brower, who assumed office in 2006, once smashed the belongings of homeless people in the district.
“We needed new leadership,” Tam said. “It was time for change, and I wanted to step up to the plate.”
Annise Parker, president of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a political action committee that supports LGBTQ people running for office, said that when there are no LGBTQ elected officials in a state, "it has consequences, both in policy and how young LGBTQ people view themselves.”
“Adrian will ensure LGBTQ people are considered and prioritized in the state capitol and will inspire more LGBTQ people to run and serve," Parker said in a statement.
Tam reflected on the record number of LGBTQ and people of color elected to local and national government across the U.S.
“I’m glad that our Congress is slowly coming together and starting to look like the population of America,” he said.