November 20, 2012 | by Chris Johnson
Newly elected out House members talk LGBT issues

The new LGB members of the House. From upper left clockwise: Kyrsten Sinema (photo courtesy Sinema), Mark Takano (photo courtesy Takano), Sean Patrick Maloney (Blade file photo by Michael Key) and Mark Pocan (Blade file photo by Michael Key).

The Nov. 6 election resulted in four new lesbian, gay and bisexual candidates winning seats in the House of Representatives and all eyes are now on them to see what they’ll do on LGBT issues upon taking office.

A number of new faces will join the LGBT representation in Congress: Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, who’ll be the first openly bisexual member of Congress; Sean Patrick Maloney, who’ll be the first out congressman from New York; Mark Takano of California, who’ll be the first openly gay Asian-American in Congress; and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, who’ll take lesbian Rep. Tammy Baldwin’s seat in the U.S. House.

Upon taking their seats, a total of seven LGB members will serve in Congress. The four new members will join Baldwin, who’s moving from the House to the Senate, as well as Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who last week told the Washington Blade he plans on taking the lead on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act in the next Congress.

While participating in training and orientation programs on Capitol Hill, each of the four of the new congresspersons-elect communicated with the Blade about initial plans they have for LGBT issues after being sworn in on Jan. 3 — despite the difficulty of moving any legislation forward in the Republican-controlled House.

Takano said he’s vying for a position of the Committee on Education and the Workforce because the panel has jurisdiction over ENDA and anti-bullying legislation for LGBT students.

“I know ENDA is reintroduced almost every session, and those are two parts of an equality agenda that I’d like to be able to work on,” Takano said. “I’m mindful that we have a Republican majority in the House … I want to spend time building relations with Republicans who might want to join in some aspects of an equality agenda.”

A public school teacher for 23 years specializing in British literature and member of Riverside Community College District’s Board of Trustees, Takano may have the experience that would land him a seat on the committee.

Takano also said he wants President Obama to revisit the idea of an executive order barring federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT workers, which the White House said in April Obama wouldn’t issue at this time.

“President Truman was right to stand on the right side of history when he used his executive powers to integrate the armed forces,” Takano said. “So will President Obama be when he uses his executive authority to bar discrimination in federal contracting against LGBT workers.”

Takano joins Maloney in saying the White House should rethink its position on the issue. The congressman-elect from New York told the Blade over the course of his campaign that he still wants Obama to issue the directive. Pocan said last year — before the White House said “no” — he backs the idea of an executive order.

For his part, Pocan said he’s more focused on getting his office and staff set up as he prepares to take his seat, but said he spoke with Polis about a possible new direction for the LGBT Equality Caucus — a group of House members committed to the advancement of LGBT issues.

“I did sit down with Jared Polis, and we had a good discussion about having the LGBT [Equality] Caucus pool some money and perhaps hire a staffer like some of the other caucuses do,” Pocan said. “That way we could hopefully be even more proactive on issues like ENDA, student non-discrimimation and some of the other bills that are out there.”

Maloney, a staffer in the Clinton White House, was more general when talking about initial plans on LGBT issues after taking his seat, saying his goal is to work toward full equality for the LGBT community.

“I want to continue the work I’ve done for 20 years to secure full equality under federal law,” Maloney said. “I think the most important thing is to work with my colleagues in the House to pass legislation across party lines, and keep focused on a goal, which is full equality under federal law.”

Asked if he could name any bills or initiatives he wants to spearhead, Maloney replied, “I don’t see it as my job to put myself in front of others who have already been working on these issues. It’s my job to support and work cooperatively with folks who’ve been in the fight for years.”

None of the new LGB members of the House were able to identify pieces of legislation for which they want to be chief sponsor or other initiatives they want to spearhead, saying it’s too soon in the process to know where responsibilities will be allocated.

Pocan noted the issues affecting the LGBT community are known and what remains to be decided is the best way to approach them over the course of the next few years.

“Clearly, we know some of the issues that are out there — whether it be ENDA, whether it be tax fairness, whether it be benefits for federal employees, other non-discrimination laws,” Pocan said. “I think it’s just a matter of now figuring out — having seven of us total — how can we best move those forward either through legislation and working with the president to issue orders.”

Sinema issued a statement to the Blade saying she’s “thrilled” the next Congress will be the most inclusive ever and she’s proud to be a part of it. On her to-do list is finding ways to work across the aisle on LGBT issues.

“The first thing I plan to do is what I did while serving in Arizona’s legislature — and that was to seek out members that I often disagreed with on important issues,” Sinema said. “It was through our authentic relationships and mutual respect that we found common ground on legislation that helped people. The challenge for Congress is to move past the harsh partisanship that we saw in the last term. This is a critical step in advancing policies that will strengthen and protect LGBT families.”

NOTE: This story has been updated to include a statement from Kyrsten Sinema.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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