White House to honor LGBT leaders as “Champions of Change”

Ten out LGBT elected or appointed officials will be honored for their commitment to equality and public service at the White House on Wednesday afternoon as “Harvey Milk Champions of Change.”

Thumbnail image for White House.jpg“When President Obama posthumously awarded Harvey Milk the Medal of Freedom in 2009, he praised his leadership and courage in running for office. Today, we honor Harvey Milk’s legacy in these ten outstanding public servants, who will surely inspire the next generation of public servants,” said Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to the president, in a statement announcing the event.

Wednesday’s ceremony will coincide with the birthday of Harvey Milk, who was assassinated in 1978, less than a year after he was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. 

According to Chuck Wolfe, president of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, “These are LGBT leaders who have demonstrated a strong commitment to both equality and public service. They are citizen legislators, executives and appointees who serve honestly, openly and proudly.”

The Champions of Change program was established by the White House as a means to honor those “who are doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.”

Read the White House’s bios of the 10 officials who will be honored here: 

Simone Bell
Georgia State Representative
Atlanta, GA

Simone Bell serves in Georgia House District 58 in Atlanta, Georgia. After more than 20 years of advocacy and activism around a host of issues she won a special election in 2009 and became the first African American out lesbian to win a seat in a State House in the United States. Representative Bell serves on Inter-Governmental Coordination, Juvenile Justice, and Human Relations and Aging committees, and is a respected member of the Democratic Caucus WHIP Team. Representative Bell shares her life with her partner of 24 years, Valarie Acree.

Angie Buhl O’Donnell
South Dakota State Senator
Sioux Falls, SD

Senator Buhl O’Donnell, 28, is in her second term in the South Dakota State Senate, serves as the minority caucus chair, and is the first openly LGBT person elected to any office in the state.  Senator Buhl O’Donnell has a background in non-profit work, and has advocated for LGBT South Dakotans, as well as for women, Native Americans, workers, low-income families, domestic violence and sexual assault victims.  A proud 4th generation South Dakotan, Senator Buhl O’Donnell represents the heart of Sioux Falls, South Dakota’s largest city, where she resides with her husband, Jacob. 

Karen Clark
Minnesota State Representative
South Minneapolis, MN

Representative Karen Clark was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives in 1980, making her the longest serving openly gay or lesbian state legislator in the country.  She represents three inner city neighborhoods in South Minneapolis, the lowest income district in the state.  Representative Clark is an advocate for low income, Indigenous American Indian and community of color constituents, including many new Americans.  A former public health nurse, current college instructor and co-founder of the Women’s Environmental Institute, some of Representative Clark’s major legislative accomplishments include chief authoring and passing worker and consumer right-to-know toxic exposure laws, affordable housing and homelessness initiatives, youth and dislocated worker job training strategies and numerous  human rights, environmental justice  and anti-discrimination protections. Recently, Representative Clark authored and helped pass the 2013 Minnesota Freedom to Marry bill with bi-partisan support.

Michael A. Gin
Mayor of Redondo Beach
Redondo Beach, CA

Mayor Michael A. Gin is currently serving on his second term as the 28th Mayor of the City of Redondo Beach, having been reelected in March 2009.  As Mayor, he has seen the city through several years of economic challenges with a consistently balanced budget and a thriving local economy.  He has worked to bring the community together from all sectors on various issues, resulting in uniquely collaborative solutions.  Mayor Gin has been in public service for over 20 years.

Kim Coco Iwamoto
Hawaii State Civil Rights Commissioner
Honolulu, HI 

Kim Coco Iwamoto, a certified therapeutic foster parent, was elected to Hawaii’s State Board of Education in 2006 and re-elected in 2010.  During her time in office, Commissioner Iwamoto was able to implement many of the policy recommendations of the Department of Education’s Safe School Community Advisory Committee, and in 2011, she drafted the Hawaii Safe Schools Act, which gave the legislature and the governor an opportunity to join the effort to reduce bullying and harassment in public schools.  The bill was signed into law later that year.  In 2012, Commissioner Iwamoto was appointed and confirmed to the Hawaii State Civil Rights Commission.

John Laird
California Secretary of Natural Resources
Santa Cruz, CA

John Laird has a forty year public service career, including twenty-three years in elected office.  In 1983, he was one of the first openly gay Mayors in the country.  His election to the state legislature in 2002 made him one of the first openly gay men elected to the California legislature, where he was author of 82 bills signed into law and was part of leadership as Budget Chair. He was appointed California’s Secretary of Natural Resources on January 5, 2011.  Secretary Laird resides in Santa Cruz and Sacramento, with his spouse John Flores.

Ricardo Lara
California State Senator
Long Beach, CA

In 2012, Senator Ricardo Lara, a native of East Los Angeles, became the first openly gay person of color elected to the California State Senate.  He is the first LGBT legislator to Chair the California Latino Legislative Caucus and also serves as Vice Chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee and as a member of the Committee on Senate Rules.  Senator Lara represents parts of Southeast Los Angeles and Long Beach, which is home to the nation’s largest port complex and one of the most diverse populations in the United States.

Kim Painter
Johnson Country Recorder
Iowa City, IA 

Kim Painter serves as Johnson County Recorder in Iowa City, Iowa.  In 1998, she became the first openly gay person to win election to public office in Iowa.  In 2007, she was selected by peers to serve as president of the Iowa State Association of Counties.  She has also chaired Iowa’s Commission on the Status of Women.  She and spouse Jessica Kardon have been together for 17 years. They married in Iowa in 2009.

Chris Seelbach
Cincinnati City Council Member
Cincinnati, OH

When he was elected in 2011, Chris Seelbach became the first openly gay person ever elected in the city of Cincinnati.  Since taking office, Council Member Seelbach has led efforts to extend equal partner health insurance to all city employees, create an LGBT liaison in the police and fire departments, and make it mandatory for anyone accepting subsidies or funding from the city to agree, in writing, to follow an inclusive non-discrimination policy. 

Pat Steadman
Colorado State Senator
Denver, CO

An attorney by training, Senator Pat Steadman has worked for equal rights for LGBT Coloradans for over two decades.  In 1992, he helped organize the lawsuit challenging Colorado’s infamous “Amendment 2,” an anti-gay initiative that was declared unconstitutional by the United State Supreme Court in 1996 in the landmark Romer v. Evans ruling.  Prior to his election, Senator Steadman was a partner in a successful lobbying firm in Denver where his clients included LGBT advocacy groups, and on their behalf he championed anti-discrimination laws, second parent adoption, hate crimes protections and equal benefits laws.  Senator Steadman was the lead sponsor of Colorado’s recently enacted civil unions law. 

[Photo: White House (Credit: Justin Snow/Metro Weekly)]

Justin Snow is Metro Weekly's political editor and White House correspondent. He can be reached at jsnow@metroweekly.com.

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