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Bi Political Leaders Blazing a Trail for Others

September 23, 2013

By Ellyn Ruthstrom on Bi Pride Day

Out bisexual political leaders may be few and far between, but over the last few years we have finally seen a number of state leaders, and one national leader, emerge onto the political scene while being out and proud bisexuals. However, only five of approximately 90 out LGBT state-level legislators are bisexual according to the Victory Fund, so there is still much more to be done for bi politicians to sustain a significant presence.

U.S. Rep. Krysten Sinema

U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.)

In 1997, Evelyn Mantilla, a newly elected state representative in Connecticut made the decision to come out as bisexual, becoming the first to do so at a state level. “My partner and I began to feel what it really meant to be in the closet, as I was suddenly a public figure. My instincts quickly told me that I would not want to live my life that way. From a political perspective, it also became clear to me that I would be most effective in fighting for gay rights if I was open about myself. We now know that having our own at the table is one of the factors that can change the hearts and minds of policymakers.”

Being the first to succeed in any endeavor you have to step into the limelight without role models around you, but now there are other out bi political leaders and Mantilla sees a lot of hope from that. “I am thrilled that in the 16 years since I came out, so many other openly-bi officials have come into office.  It is undeniable that when a few of us rise to prominent positions, our entire community is lifted. Other bi candidates may still face difficulties, but with every new one, our path becomes easier.”

Though receiving a generally positive response from her public coming out, Mantilla says, “Many of the pundits quickly declared me a one-term legislator.” Fortunate for Connecticut, Mantilla proved the pundits wrong, staying in office for ten years and now she is an independent consultant working on leadership development in the state.

The five out U.S. bisexual political leaders currently in office are:

  • Secretary of State of Oregon, Kate Brown has had a career of many firsts. Brown started her political career in 1991 when she won election to the state House, then on to the state Senate in 1996, where in 2004 she became Oregon’s first female Majority Leader. In 2008 she became the first and the highest state-level bisexual office holder when she was elected Secretary of State.
  • Angie Buhl was elected in 2010 to the South Dakota Senate at the age of 25, the youngest state senator in the state’s history. The year after she took office she came out publicly as bisexual and now chairs the Senate Democratic Caucus.
  • State Representative Micah Kellner is one of six out LGBT legislators in the New York State Assembly and the only out bisexual. Elected in 2007 in a special election, Kellner recently lost his Democratic primary so will not be running for re-election this year.
  • Kyrsten Sinema became the first out bisexual member of Congress in 2012 in a very contentious race that wasn’t formally called until nearly a week after the election. After all was said and done, however, she won her Phoenix area district by just over 4%. She had won election to the Arizona House in 2005 and the Arizona Senate in 2011; winning both times while campaigning as openly bisexual.
  • When State Representative JoCasta Zamarripa came out a year ago during her first term in office, she became the second out LGBT legislator in Wisconsin’s State Assembly and its only Latina member.

All of these political leaders are breaking ground for more bi candidates in the future. It will be wonderful when their presence in the political process will not be considered an anomaly. Until then, we salute these brave trailblazers for clearing the way.

Ellyn Ruthstrom is the president of the Bisexual Resource Center and the past editor of Bi Women newsletter. She’s also a writer and editor and you can find her work at ellynruthstrom.com.

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