Ten openly LGBTQ people were sworn in as members of the 116th Congress on Thursday afternoon, marking an all-time high for the body.
In another historic note, half of all LGBTQ members in Congress are women, up from two in the 115th Congress, and two are people of color, up from one in the previous Congress.
In the Senate, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, both Democrats, were sworn in, bringing the total of LGBTQ people in the upper chamber to a historic high of two.
Similarly, in the House, eight Democrats were sworn into office, breaking the previous record of six LGBTQ people. Those members are: Reps. Sean Patrick Maloney of New York, David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Mark Takano of California, Sharice Davids of Kansas, Angie Craig of Minnesota, Katie Hill of California, and Chris Pappas of New Hampshire.
The LGBTQ Victory Institute, which advocates for LGBTQ representation in government, issued a statement celebrating the diversity of the new LGBTQ caucus.
“A historic number of LGBTQ people will serve in the new U.S. Congress and their influence will shape the debate on equality legislation and issues moving forward,” Annise Parker, the president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute. “In the U.S. Senate, those opposed to the Equality Act will now need to look two openly LGBTQ Senators in the eyes and tell them their lives are not worth protecting.
“In the U.S. House, Speaker Pelosi will have eight LGBTQ Representatives to consult about how various healthcare or criminal justice reform policies uniquely affect our community,” added Parker. “The relationships these LGBTQ lawmakers will build with their colleagues on Capitol Hill are transformative, and with an unprecedented number of women and people of color also joining the 116th Congress, equality issues will finally receive the attention they deserve.”
In other positive news for the LGBTQ community, the first vote of the new Congress saw the election of longtime LGBTQ ally U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. The incoming Democratic majority also reformed “the motion to vacate the chair,” by making it privileged — which, in lay man’s terms, makes it harder groups like the right-wing Freedom Caucus, or any left-wing equivalent that may arise in the future, to force Congress to grind to a halt by threatening to oust the Speaker of the House for ideological reasons.
Advocates are hopeful that Pelosi, a staunch supporter of LGBTQ rights, will help push and pass legislation that extends legal protections to members of the LGBTQ community, such as the Equality Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the list of characteristics protected from discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In doing so, Pelosi will also put pressure on the Senate — specifically Republican members in Democratic-leaning or swing states or those who have already gone on record as supporting LGBTQ rights — to pass similar legislation. The passage of Democratic-backed bills that expand LGBTQ rights or protections will also force President Trump to opine on various bills and could potentially provide a contrast between where the Democratic Party and the Republican Party stand on equality issues ahead of what promises to be a contentious presidential election in 2020.
Indeed, shortly after the session, while taking part in ceremonial swearing-in ceremonies with newly elected members, Pelosi reaffirmed her commitment to passing the Equality Act as Speaker. Previously, she had expressed her intent to bring the bill to the floor in the early months of 2019.
“It is a welcome relief that fair-minded, pro-equality lawmakers have returned to the majority in the U.S. House, and now it’s time for them to roll up their sleeves and get to work for all marginalized communities, including LGBTQ Americans,” Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, said in a statement. “As the Trump Administration continues to rollback equality in an effort to erase LGBTQ Americans from the nation, we need allies like Speaker Pelosi fighting for us in Congress.”
“Now is the time to move equality forward by advancing the Equality Act to ensure LGBTQ Americans are able to go to work, raise their families, and live their lives free from discrimination,” HRC President Chad Griffin added in his own statement. “Far too many LGBTQ people face unfair and unjust discrimination each and every day with only a patchwork of protections across the country. We are thankful for Speaker Pelosi reaffirming her commitment to advance this critically important legislation and seize this historic moment to make full federal LGBTQ equality a reality.”