Column: LGBTQ Parent Politicians

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Salt Lake City's first openly gay mayor Jackie Biskupski

2016 is a presidential election year, so let’s get in the mood for politics by catching up with some elected officials who are also LGBTQ parents.

The year began right as Jackie Biskupski started her term as mayor of Salt Lake City, the metropolis’ first openly LGBTQ chief executive. She entered politics in 1995 when controversy arose about a gay straight alliance at a city high school. After adopting a son, now almost six years old, and raising him as a single mom, Biskupski recently became engaged to Betty Iverson, an executive for Johnson & Johnson, who has an 11-year-old son.

Salt Lake City has always been a bit of a liberal enclave within a more conservative state, but as the headquarters of the anti-LGBTQ Mormon Church, seems an unlikely place for a lesbian mom mayor. (Biskupski herself comes from a Catholic background.) The Mormon Church recently established a policy that the children of same-sex parents may not be baptized until they are 18 years old (10 years later than usual), and may only be baptized or serve a mission if they move out of their parents’ home and disavow their relationship. Openly gay Utah state senator Jim Dabakis told People magazine, however, that "What makes [Biskupski’s] victory extra special is that Jackie's sexuality was never an issue” (11/5/2015).

As Biskupski took office, another lesbian mom mayor left hers. Annise Parker, who completed three terms as mayor of Houston and was required to step down, has spent 18 years in city government. Her election made Houston the largest U.S. city with an openly LGBTQ mayor.

She suffered a major political loss last November when a gender-identity-inclusive human rights ordinance, which her council had passed, was repealed at the ballot box. Opponents ran a scare campaign claiming the ordinance would lead to men in women’s bathrooms.

The Houston Chronicle recently praised her, however, for improving city-county relations, the city’s parks, historic preservation laws, and processes for criminal justice and at City Hall, even though she failed to make progress on pension reform.

Parker, who has four children with her spouse Kathy Hubbard, a tax consultant, now plans to spend a few months at the Institute of Politics at Harvard, after which she may run for a judgeship or state office.

She told KHOU two weeks ago that she never wanted to be known as the “gay mayor,” but admits that her sexual orientation gave her ‘an opportunity to talk about the coolness factor of Houston,” and helped bring it global attention.

That’s us LGBTQ parents all right: globally cool. (Shame it’s taking some places longer than others to realize that.)

On the federal level, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado, the first openly LGBTQ parent in Congress, can breathe a sigh of relief going into the New Year. The House Ethics Committee in mid-December closed a probe into actions of his that the Office of Congressional Ethics had believed might have promoted private businesses.

One was his appearance in a video by the creators of the “League of Legends” video game. Polis is an avid gamer. The other was a makeover by a Boulder menswear designer, which was prompted by GQ’s statement that Polis had the “worst Congressional style ever.” The committee found, however, that Polis’ actions had “substantial non-commercial, representational” purposes, no different from how many other members of Congress connect with constituents.

This proves, of course, that a) he’s going to be one of the coolest dads ever once his two children (now four and one-and-a-half years old) are old enough to play video games with him; and b) the myth of inherent gay male fashion sense is just a myth.

Meanwhile, Oregon Governor Kate Brown, who is bisexual and a stepmom, has her hands full managing the standoff with armed militants who have occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, hoping to wrest it from federal control. She issued a statement January 7 saying, “Those individuals illegally occupying the Malheur Wildlife Refuge need to decamp immediately and be held accountable.”

There’s no need for politicians to be LGBTQ and/or parents to support equality for our families, of course. And the politicians above have all contributed to much more than LGBTQ equality. But they give me hope that our government can truly be representative of any and all people in our country. Their willingness to be their out, authentic selves (particularly Brown, who is married to a man and could easily come across as straight if desired), brings visibility to our community. The women, too, are showing people that being a mom (coupled or single) doesn’t necessarily mean giving up a high-profile career. (Men have historically had less trouble balancing careers and parenthood.)

I wrote about politicians because I firmly believe that one of the best things we can do for our families this year is to vote. The election will determine not just the president, but also control of the Senate (the House will almost certainly remain Republican) and, in all likelihood, the balance of the Supreme Court. The recent progress of LGBTQ equality could suffer serious setbacks depending on the outcome in November.

Before then, make sure to tell friends and neighbors how the outcome of the election could impact your family. Personal stories do make a difference. Show your kids, if they are old enough, what it means to become an informed voter and be part of a participatory democracy. November may seem a long time away, but as parents, we all know how time can fly.

Dana Rudolph is the founder and publisher of Mombian (mombian.com), a GLAAD Media Award-winning blog and resource directory for LGBTQ parents.


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