An Abridged History of Openly Queer Political Candidates in the US

José Sarria, Harvey Milk, Althea Garrison, Kim Coco Iwamoto, and Danica Roem (Illustrated by Mel Paisley)

José Sarria, Harvey Milk, Althea Garrison, Kim Coco Iwamoto, and Danica Roem
(Illustrated by Mel Paisley)

With the recent political victories of queer candidates like Danica Roem and Andrea Jenkins, WUSSY is here to provide context and an abridged breakdown of our queer political herstory. 

Take a minute to recognize these queer heroes who helped paved the way for our gay asses.

San Francisco as the Seat of Early Queer Candidacy

José Sarria was the first openly gay candidate to run in 1961 for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He finished 9th in the race out of 34 candidates, which was not enough to win, but it established the power and prevalence of the gay voting bloc as a formidable demographic

Outside of politics, Sarria was a veteran of World War II and performed operatic drag at the Black Cat Tavern in the 50s and 60s, deemed The Nightingale of Montgomery street and later as Her Royal Majesty, Empress of San Francisco, José I, The Widow Norton.

Any other auxiliary activism work: Co-Founded the League of Civil Education in 1960, which ran educational programs on the topic of homosexuality and advocated on behalf of men being ostracized for being gay and for those caught in police raids. Sarria also founded the first US-based gay business association in 1962 called The Tavern Guild, comprised of gay bar owners and employees in order to push back against police raids and predatory actions from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control as well as raise money for legal fees of patrons arrested at these establishments.

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk

Following in Sarria’s footsteps, Harvey Milk Ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors first in 1973 after moving to California from New York in 1972 and opening the Castro Camera Shop in the heart of San Fran’s queer community. He lost that year, but ran again in 1977 and won the race for City Supervisor of San Francisco, becoming the first recorded high profile openly gay person to hold political office in the United States.

While in office, Harvey Milk worked closely with the liberal Mayor George Moscone to abolish anti-sodomy laws within city limits as well as focus on child care, housing, and forming a civilian police review board.

While this was going on, a conservative former police officer on the Supervisory Board named Dan White saw the increased queer liberation in the city as a disease eroding the values and integrity of the community. He resigned in 1978, and then returned to city hall a month later with a loaded .38. He entered the building through an open basement window to avoid security, went to the Mayor’s office, and shot him twice in the chest and once in the head after an argument about reinstating him to the council. White then went down the hall to Harvey Milk’s office and assassinated him with two shots in the chest, another in the back, and then twice again in the head. White’s trial sparked a week of riots and civil unrest in San Francisco after the jury downgraded his conviction from murder to voluntary manslaughter with only a 6 year sentence.


The Rise of Gay Politicians Post-Harvey Milk

In the years since Milk’s win and subsequent assassination, there has been a steady and scattered rise in openly queer politicians holding public office. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) was the first out gay person elected to the House of Representatives in 1999. She was technically preceded by Gerry Studds (D-MS), but he was elected in 1973, outed in 1983, and continued to serve until 1997. As of 2016, all fifty states have been served by openly LGBT elected politicians in some capacity, and forty-three states have elected openly LGBT politicians to one or both houses of their state legislature.


Kim Coco Iwamoto

Kim Coco Iwamoto

Trans Representation in American Politics

Althea Garrison was the first trans person in Congress, thought she was not publicly out when elected in 1994. A graduate of  Suffolk University, Lesley College, Harvard University and Newbury Junior College originally from Hahira, GA she secured her legal name change from A.C. Garson to Althea Garrison in 1976, writing that the name was “consistent with the petitioner’s appearance and medical condition as is the name by which he will be known in the future.” Garrison was outed by an opponent during her term, and was not reelected in 1995. She never again served in Congress, but has been involved in several campaigns at the state and local level since the 1990s, and is a firm Human Rights Activist and is still out here doing work and advocating for black and queer rights. Joanne Conte was another passing trans woman who was elected to public office then lost her re-election after coming out. She served on Arvada, Colorado’s City Council from 1991 - 1993, and came out publicly in order to get the news out before an opponent published her status in a sensationalist article in the local paper.

The first out trans person to be elected to statewide public office was Kim Coco Iwamoto, who was elected to the Hawaii Board of Education in 2006, then elected again for a second term in 2010 with even more votes in her favor. In 2012, she was appointed by Governor Neil Abercrombie to the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, where she served as a commissioner until 2016. After her was Stacie Laughton, who was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 2012 but gave up her seat after an aggressive public smear campaign continued to pull up past charges of conspiracy to commit credit card fraud in 2008, which she was not legally required to disclose during the campaign.

Danica Roem

Danica Roem

In the June 2016 Congressional Primary, two women named Misty—Misty Snow of Utah and Misty Plowright of Colorado—made headlines for winning the Democratic primaries in their states. Misty Snow ended up losing the final race in the November 2016 Congressional election to Republican incumbent Mike Lee, and Misty Plowright lost to Republican incumbent Doug Lamborn.

Danica Roem broke the gay internet earlier this month by winning the 13th District’s seat in the Virginia House of Delegates against notoriously vicious anti-queer incumbent Bob Marshall, who had held the seat for 25 years and lobbied against recognizing same-sex marriages and introduced an anti-trans bathroom bill designed to further push trans folks from participating safely in Virginia's public sphere. Other trans candidates who knocked it out at the voting booths  were Andrea Jenkins for the Minneapolis City Council (becoming the first noted out black trans woman elected to public office in the US), Tyler Titus in Erie, Pennsylvania who became the first out trans person elected to any public office in the state by winning a school board position, and Lisa Middleton for the Palm Springs City Council in California.


Mel Paisley is transmasculine author, illustrator, and general loudmouthed inkslinger based out of Savannah, GA. He writes a lot about pre-Stonewall herstory, schizophrenia, and being mixed and queer in the Deep South. (IG/Twitter: @melpaisleyart,