Melanie Conklin

Newly Out Legislator Sees Hope

Rep. Greta Neubauer joins a growing list of out LGBTQ legislators around the country.

By , Wisconsin Examiner - Jul 18th, 2020 01:29 pm
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Rep. Greta Neubauer speaks at a 2019 Pride Festival event. Photo courtesy of Neubauer/Wisconsin Examiner.

Rep. Greta Neubauer speaks at a 2019 Pride Festival event. Photo courtesy of Neubauer/Wisconsin Examiner.

There has been a 21% increase in openly LGBTQ elected officials nationwide over the past year, according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute’s Out for America 2020 digital report, an annual ‘census’ which was released Thursday.

The large increase comes at a time when there are 880 openly LGBTQ people running for office in 2020 — a record number. The institute says the climbing numbers are attributable to several factors: an increase in those running, candidates willing to run openly, as well as incumbents who are coming out while in office.

State Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine) fell into the latter category a few weeks ago, announcing “some personal news” on Twitter and in a June 28 column in the Racine Journal Times titled, ‘I’m queer and I’m talking about it.

Before coming out, Neubauer was outspoken in favor of LGBTQ rights and equality. She authored a bill this past session to ban “gay panic” or “trans panic” as a defense to claim provocation or self-defense under Wisconsin law. She feels it places the blame on the victim of a crime and perpetuates a myth that LGBTQ+ people are inherently dangerous. One of the inspirations for that bill, she says, was her younger trans sister. Still, telling her own story was tough.

“I’ve been thinking about it for a year, and so it did take me awhile to gather my courage and get my thoughts in order,” she says. “It feels certainly very different than talking about other policies because it is really personal. It is really vulnerable.”

Historic numbers

While that happened less than three weeks ago, Neubauer is already noted on the Out for America site as one of six LGBTQ Wisconsin legislators, including five Democrats and one Republican.

“While LGBTQ people are running for office in historic numbers, we remain severely underrepresented at every level of government – and that must change,” said former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute in a statement. “We know that when LGBTQ people are in elected office and in the halls of power, they change the hearts and minds of their colleagues and it leads to more inclusive legislation.”

Tammy Baldwin

Tammy Baldwin

Wisconsin has 21 LGBTQ elected officials, including U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Mark Pocan. In addition to the six legislators there are two mayors (in Madison and Durand), nine elected leaders in local government and two circuit court judges who are LGBTQ.

Wisconsin is the only state in the nation that currently has more than one LGBTQ person serving in Congress, according to Elliot Imse, senior director of communications at the LGBTQ Victory Institute.

“While Wisconsin has fallen behind on advancing LGBTQ equality in recent years, its place in LGBTQ history is secure,” adds Imse, who happens to be from Wisconsin. “Wisconsin was the first state in the nation to pass employment non-discrimination protections based on sexual orientation. … Sen. Tammy Baldwin made history as the first openly LGBTQ woman elected to the U.S. House, and then again as the nation’s first out LGBTQ U.S. senator. Her legacy alone makes Wisconsin an important player in the history of LGBTQ political power.”

Locally elected Wisconsin officials include a transgender woman, a transgender man and a gay Hispanic man. And LGBTQ elected officials are not just in the Madison and Milwaukee areas. Also represented are Eau Claire, Appleton, Hudson, Neenah, Durand, Racine, Beloit and Dodgeville.

Every state — with the exception of South Dakota — has at least one LGBTQ elected official, according to the institute’s map. Nationwide there are 843 openly LGBTQ elected officials. Calculating, as the institute does, that at least 4.5% of the population is LGBTQ, that number is far from parity. Elected LGBTQ officials make up just 0.17% of elected officials.

“While the number of LGBTQ elected officials continues to increase at a steady pace, we still must elect 22,544 more LGBTQ people to public office before equitable representation is achieved,” added Parker in her statement. “The hateful legislation targeting our community in city councils, state legislatures and at the federal level is a byproduct of this gap in representation. … The numbers in this report show LGBTQ political power is growing rapidly. But it also demonstrates the daunting representation gap that we must close and is a call to action for all in our community to consider a run for office.”

Mark Pocan

Mark Pocan

The report also shows that LGBTQ elected officials are a diverse group. There has been an increase of 22% in LGBTQ officials of color, 18% among Latinx officials and 21% among Black officials.

“Over the past year, LGBTQ elected officials have been on the frontlines — leading efforts to end racism, blocking bills targeting the trans community and passing legislation that moves equality forward for our community,” Victory Institute Ruben Gonzalez said in his statement.

In Wisconsin, Neubauer, 28, is among those officials. She had plenty of reasons to stay silent. She has watched many people she knew who grew up with her in Racine waiting until they left the city to be public about their gender or sexual identity, worried about the response they might get in their hometown. A year ago, at a Pride event in Racine she encountered protesters with signs about LGBTQ people going to hell who shouted over her as she addressed the crowd.

As an elected official, there’s an additional layer of difficulty because people can take those biases into account in the voting booth.

Since coming out three weeks ago, the calls, letters, emails and other responses she’s received have been almost entirely positive, which she says is reassuring. She’s not sure if her announcement will have any impact on her election in the fall, but she feels positive there’s been progress among people in her community and state.

“I think things have changed a lot in just the last couple of years on this topic. Even my own fears about the response that I would get, I think show that things have changed,” Neubauer says. “So I would say there is still maybe a perception that the people are not as forward thinking as they are.”

The Out for America reports began in Nov. 2017 and over the past three years have seen fast-paced growth among LBGTQ electeds of 88%. The Victory Institute works to increase the number of LGBTQ public office holders, as well as supporting them once they are elected.

Reprinted with permission of Wisconsin Examiner.

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