Washington Edges California with 6 Openly Gay Legislators

By Rachel La Corte – Associated Press

19 states including Texas have none, according to the Victory Fund



Cal Anderson, right, the first openly gay member of the Washington Legislature, died of AIDS in 1995.

OLYMPIA, Wash. The Washington state Legislature has more openly gay lawmakers than any other state in the country, edging out California after a new young representative was appointed to the statehouse this year.

Marko Liias, a 26-year-old Democrat from Mukilteo, started the legislative session earlier this month, replacing former Rep. Brian Sullivan, who left the Legislature for the Snohomish County Council. Liias’ arrival gives Washington six openly gay lawmakers, ahead of California’s five.

That makes Washington the state with the largest Capitol gay caucus, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based political action committee.

“Anything that we can do, me as an individual, or us as a state, to be leaders on this issue and be role models is excellent,” Liias told The Associated Press Wednesday. “The message really is, everyone deserves a stake in Washington, and everyone has a stake in Washington’s future.”

Liias joins Reps. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver and Dave Upthegrove, D-Des Moines, and Sens. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, and Joe McDermott, D-Seattle.

Of the approximately 500,000 elected officials in America, about 400 of them are openly gay or lesbian, said Denis Dison, a Victory Fund spokesman.

Nineteen states don’t have any openly gay lawmakers in theirs legislatures. Of those, six don’t have any openly gay officials at any level: Alaska, Louisiana, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina and West Virginia.

With 116, California leads the nation as the state with the most elected and appointed officials who are openly gay, according to the Victory Fund. Pennsylvania is second with 37 officials, though none are state legislators. Washington is third with 35, and New York is fourth with 30.

More gay and lesbian candidates are running for office and getting elected because they are becoming more politically sophisticated, better funded and better organized, Dison said.

“Barriers have been broken,” he said. “I think we are in the adolescence of gay and lesbian people stepping up and running for office.”

The group has endorsed 39 candidates in various political campaigns this year, including the re-election of U.S. Rep. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass, but hopes to support more than 100. It supports two candidates in Oregon, Sen. Kate Brown, who is running for secretary of state, and Portland City Commissioner Sam Adams, who is running for mayor.

Dison cited Cal Anderson, the state’s first openly gay lawmaker who, died of AIDS in 1995, as a trailblazer for gay politicians in the state.

“He was a towering figure in the gay community,” Dison said. He added that Murray took over much of Anderson’s leadership, including the drive for a gay rights bill that passed in 2006.

For Murray, who for many years was the lone openly gay lawmaker in Washington state, the state’s new status is welcome.

“What I think it signifies for the state is that this is a fairly tolerant state and that voters are making decisions on people’s character, and not their sexual orientation,” he said.

Liias said that while he will have a voice on issues important to the gay community, like a domestic partnership bill he is co-sponsoring, his main goal in the Legislature is to work on issues important to his district.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 25, 2008

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