LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Tina Kotek is used to breaking new ground. After becoming the first out lesbian to lead a U.S. state’s House of Representatives, she now wants to be elected the nation’s first openly lesbian governor, too.
Kotek is one of nine candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to compete in Oregon’s gubernatorial contest, hoping a win in the northwest state will break down barriers for all LGBTQ+ Americans.
“Becoming the first openly lesbian governor in the country means that I am showing young queer kids around the country that they can do it, too,” Kotek, 55, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in emailed comments.
“To me, being a role model means two things: that I will work to make life better for my community and all communities; and that I will not stop until we don’t just have ‘the first’ – but the second, the third and the fourth as well.”
The Democrats choose their candidates for the post in May, six months ahead of the state election.
Oregon has elected Democrats as governors since 1987.
It also has a history of electing LGBTQ+ officials, including 2016’s election of Kate Brown as the nation’s first openly bisexual governor.
Brown’s term limit ends this year, with elections to replace her taking place on November 8.
Kotek stepped down as Speaker of the House in January after nine years in the role, in order to focus on her gubernatorial campaign.
As Speaker, she helped to bring in a state-wide ban on so-called conversion therapy, practices that aim to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. She also worked to protect LGBTQ+ young people from discrimination.
“We have worked to make our schools safer and more inclusive by having a strong anti-bullying law and improving social and emotional supports for students in our schools,” she said.
Now, with her eyes firmly set on the November elections, Kotek said she will fight for other LGBTQ+ people to have some of the chances she had – both growing up and in politics.
“I promise to always use my voice and my power in Oregon to stand up and defend and advance LGBTQ+ rights,” she said.
“Oregon will not move backwards on my watch, and I will always keep my foot on the gas pedal to keep moving us forward for progress, equity, and justice.”