Meet Oregon’s Tina Kotek, who hopes to be America’s first lesbian governor

Tina Kotek hopes to make political history again. She became the nation’s first lesbian speaker from a state House of Representatives in 2013. She once again broke barriers by becoming Oregon’s longest-serving speaker, before resigning in January to step down. run for governor.

Now, after winning the state’s Democratic nomination for governor last week, Kotek hopes to add another notch to her political belt by becoming the first lesbian governor in the United States.

“That’s not what I’m running for,” said Kotek, 55. “But I also know it can inspire other young people to say to themselves, ‘Listen, life can get better. I can do whatever I want, because look at this person or that person. So that would be an honor.

Oregon Rep. Tina Kotek speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in 2016.David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

To do so, she will have to overtake Republican Christine Drazan, the former Oregon House Minority Leader, in November’s open general election. And amid the current difficult national environment for Democrats, Republicans see the Oregon governor’s mansion as an opportunity to secure a victory in a solidly blue state. If elected, Kotek would follow three other LGBTQ Democrats who have led state government: former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, who came out as gay during his resignation speech in 2004; Colorado Governor Jared Polis, who is gay; and Oregon Governor Kate Brown, who is bisexual.

Kotek was born and raised in York, Pennsylvania, and headed west in 1987 to attend the University of Oregon, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies. She then went to the University of Washington to pursue her master’s degree in Comparative Religion and International Studies.

Kotek, who is Roman Catholic, said that while many religious institutions have rejected LGBTQ people, religious teachings — at least the way she interprets them — have always played an important role in her life.

“I think God said, ‘People are what they are. I made them that way. Let’s support and celebrate people in their authentic selves,'” she said. believe, and I think a lot of people believe that. I know a lot of Oregon voters believe that.

While learning about different religions as a student, Kotek also had another spiritual awakening of a different kind: she became a lesbian. Like his learnings about religion, Kotek said his coming-out experience also shaped his success and political style.

“When you’re dating, you have to build resilience around people who treat you differently for who you are, and that made me a stronger person,” Kotek said. “It also opened me up to saying, ‘Listen, I want to understand where you’re coming from and let’s have a conversation. “”

“I’ll talk to anyone,” she added. “Because at the end of the day, we are all human beings.”

After grad school, Kotek returned to Oregon to work in public policy for various nonprofit organizations. In 2007, she was elected to the state House of Representatives.

If elected governor, Kotek said she intends to use her bully pulpit to fight the historic number of anti-LGBTQ bills circulating in state legislatures across the country.

More than 320 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group. Many bills seek to limit teaching about LGBTQ issues in schools, trans youth’s ability to participate in school sports, and trans youth’s access to gender-affirming medical care. The Oregon legislature, however, is not currently considering any such bill, according to the HRC.

“It’s hard when you’re young,” Kotek said. “You’re trying to figure out who you are and having people chasing you, feeling like you can’t be your authentic self right now, it’s hurtful. It’s damaging for LGBTQ youth, who have a higher degree of suicidality, and that is dangerous.

Kotek added that she believes the problems the list of laws aims to address are “manufactured” to distract Americans from more pressing issues such as health care costs and inflation.

“Going after a few trans kids who want to be authentic and play sports? Is that really the issue we need to focus on in this country? asked Kotek. “I do not think so.”

In recent weeks, the LGBTQ community has also been rocked by the fact that some of its federal rights could be taken away by the Supreme Court after a majority draft opinion leaked this month showed the court planned to cancel Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision on abortion rights. Politico initially reported the leaked version of the court’s opinion, which sent political shockwaves across the country.

Kotek said if elected, she would “consider” amending the Oregon Constitution to protect same-sex marriage, which the Supreme Court legalized nationwide in a landmark decision in 2015.

“We’re in this kind of moment where people want to push back, whether it’s because of raw politics or fear,” Kotek said. “What I would say is that we have to dialogue, that we work on it, that we continue to move forward.”

“That’s why I consider myself a progressive,” she added. “We can always make the world a better place, we can always move forward.”

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