Who Will Be America’s First Queer President?
Ireland made history in June when it elected its newest prime minister. Leo Varadkar is the country’s youngest, first openly gay, and first biracial national leader. A doctor and the son of an Irish mother and an Indian immigrant father, Varadkar got his start in politics nearly twenty years ago at the local level and has slowly worked his way up to become the leader of the liberal-conservative, Christian democratic Fine Gael party.
While his election is certainly historic — Varadkar is only the fifth openly gay head of state worldwide — he has been criticized for his right-of-center politics. In his first speech to Parliament he said the government he leads would be of the “new European center” variety.
Regardless of the criticism, Varadkar’s election is a significant step forward, and it raises an interesting question: Who might the United States look to in the coming years to be the first queer president? (Or, at least openly so — James Buchanan and Abraham Lincoln are both rumored to have been LBGT.)
Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
In 1993, she was the first openly gay woman elected to the Wisconsin State Assembly, and the first openly gay woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1998. She served in the House for seven terms, beating six different male, Republican candidates. In 2012 she ran for an open Senate seat and beat former WI governor and US Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson, making her the first openly gay candidate elected to the U.S. Senate. Senator Baldwin is up for reelection in 2018 with one declared Republican opponent and almost ten others rumored.
Regardless of whether or not she wins that election, she could be ready to run for president as early as 2020. In the Senate she has served on the Committee on Appropriations (giving her direct experience with agriculture, the FDA, homeland security, defense and the military, as well as veterans issues), the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation (giving her experience with a range of technology, science, and environmental issues), as well as the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions.
In her 2012 DNC speech, she spoke out against tax cuts for the wealthy, spoke in support of Glass-Steagall, and acknowledged the importance of advancing protections for LGBTQ Americans.
Activist and Artist Patrisse Cullors
Cullors was raised in a largely Hispanic, low-income neighborhood in Los Angeles and was kicked out of her home at the age of 16 for coming out as queer. As a Fulbright Scholar, she earned a degree in philosophy and religion from UCLA and begin work as an artist.
Ever since rising to prominence in 2013 by forcing us to acknowledge that #BlackLivesMatter, she’s won 37 awards, fellowships, and honorary degrees. These include the 2015 Black Woman of the Year Award from The National Congress of Black Women, Politico’s 2015 “Politico 50,” The Advocate’s 2015 “40 Under 40,” the 2016 Justice Award from the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Fortune’s 2016 “World’s Greatest Leader” list, and the 2017 Samuel S. Beard Award for Outstanding Public Service 35 Years or Younger from the Jefferson Awards Foundation.
After Donald Trump’s election, Cullors called on activists and allies to organize around building political power focused on justice and dignity. She described this political moment as one to imagine a different future all together, and then begin fighting for it. Of course Cullors has never held political office before — but there’s precedent for that now.
Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO)
He has served as a member of the House of Representatives for Colorado’s 2nd district since 2009, and in June of this year announced he will be running to replace John Hickenlooper as the governor of Colorado. Polis has won each of his elections handily, the first with over 60% of the vote and the rest with well over 50% of the vote.
In the current session of Congress, he serves on the Committee on Education and the Workforce, the Committee on Natural Resources, and the Committee on Rules, and is associated with several caucuses including the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and the LGBT Equality Caucus.
Polis and his partner are the fathers of two children, making him the first openly gay parent in Congress. The congressman’s race for governor will not be easy — it’s a very crowded field — but his personal wealth and personal story could set him apart. A victory in that race would also put him in the national stage in a powerful way.
Congresswoman Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ)
She was the valedictorian in her high school class, graduating at age 16, and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University, a master’s degree in social work, a law degree, and a Ph.D. in Justice studies, all from Arizona State University.
She has worked as a social worker, a criminal defense lawyer, and a law professor. Sinema is a proponent of the DREAM Act and worked against attempts to ban the recognition of same-sex marriage in Arizona, and has spoken in favor of universal healthcare. She has been endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, an endorsement Democrats don’t often receive, and has been acknowledged for many bipartisan efforts.
Apple CEO Tim Cook
Cook also called out the Department of Veterans Affairs for struggling to provide healthcare to veterans and cited that he comes from a family of vets as an added reason he is passionate about the issue.
In the past Cook has spread his own personal political budget around giving to both Democrats and Republicans. During the 2016 Presidential Election, CNBC reported that since 2008 he had given “$10,800 to Republican candidates and joint fundraising committees and $10,400 to committees on the Democratic side.” Cook also hosted a fundraiser for Paul Ryan and contributed “$7,100 to his campaign and a joint committee with the GOP.”
In 2016, he joined a wide range of billionaires and CEOs at a secretive, exclusive GOP establishment meeting off the coast of Georgia last year, which turned into a summit on how to stop Donald Trump from getting the nomination. So while Cook could run for and become president one day, he may follow in the centrist, economically conservative footsteps of Varadkar.
Someone We Haven’t Seen Yet
Regardless of outcome, any of these individuals could mount a serious campaign in 2020, even a grassroots campaign funded in the same way that Bernie Sanders funded his. Tammy Baldwin would be a junior senator with more prior federal experience than Barack Obama had when he was elected in 2020. If Jared Polis becomes governor of Colorado in 2018, and is re-elected in 2022, he would have four terms in the House and six years as governor under his belt in 2024.
On an early November night in the coming years, our community could find ourselves, mouths ajar, saying, “We never thought we’d live to see the day.”
Featured image by Renaschild via iStock.