Kate Brown was sworn in Wednesday morning as Oregon’s 38th governor, making her the first openly bisexual governor in the US.
Brown is replacing John Kitzhaber, also a Democrat, who announced his resignation last Friday. Kitzhaber and his fiancee, Cylvia Hayes, were the center of a large controversy that led to state and federal investigations looking into allegations of influence peddling. Brown has worked in Oregon politics since 1991, when she began her run as a member of the Oregon House of Representatives. She was later elected to the state’s Senate and most recently served as their Secretary of State.
“Few are better prepared to lead the great state of Oregon than Kate Brown,” Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said following the news. “She’s a known commodity to Oregonians with a distinguished record of service of over two decades. And while she’ll make history as the nation’s first sitting openly LGBT governor, the more important truth is that she’s supremely capable of leading the state to better days ahead.”
Brown has a lot of work to do after the political drama under Kitzhaber, but her inaugural speech Wednesday promises transparency and hard work. “We must work together to address these and other real problems in real time,” Brown said, “to strengthen Oregon’s recovery from the recession; to improve access to quality education and health care, and create more living-wage jobs in every single corner of the state.”
Brown’s election represents a victory for women and LGBT folks, who are underrepresented in gubernatorial positions as well as in all levels of national and state leadership. Women currently hold only 24.2 percent of all available elected state positions in the US, and only 22 percent of Americans have an openly LGBT elected official representing them at any level. Only five other women in America are currently serving as governors alongside Brown.
Although no bisexual person has ever been elected governor, openly bisexual people have served in state and national legislatures since 1997, when Evelyn Mantilla became the first openly bisexual state official as a a member of the Connecticut House of Representatives – where she remained until 2007. Openly bisexual lawmakers Kyrsten Sinema (R-AZ), Rep. JoCasta Zamarripa (D-Milwaukee), and South Dakota Sen. Angie Buhl (D) have since been elected to office.
In the documentary Breaking Through, Brown said when she was working in law, she was “terrified” about the idea of her employers finding out she was dating a woman. “I was walking on eggshells the whole time,” she said. “Like I couldn’t be who I am – I’m not free to be myself. It feels like you’re cutting off your legs or your arms. It feels like you can’t be a whole person.”
Media Resources: The Oregonian 2/18/2015; The New York Times 2/18/2015; Human Rights Campaign 2/13/2015; Advocate 8/23/2012; Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics 2015; The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund