QSU hosts openly LGBTQ+ legislators

QSU+hosts+openly+LGBTQ%2B+legislators

Courtesy of QSU's Instagram

Suffolk’s Queer Student Union (QSU) hosted a panel of openly LGBTQ+ lawmakers and advocates  at its Monday event, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to discuss LGBTQ+ representation in government.

Guest speakers included newly elected Oklahoma State Legislator Mauree Turner member of the Hawaii House of Representatives Adrian Tam and Domestic Programs Manager at the Victory Institute Sarah Pope. 

When asked about what inspired Tam and Turner to run for office, Tam explained how his home state of Hawaii was suffering from “a broken state” and struggling with homelessness, cost of living and lack of housing even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March. 

“I just wanted to serve my community and help make Hawaii better,” Tam said. “That was what kind of inspired me to run. My message was that we aren’t going to solve these new problems with the old leadership.”

Tam beat out incumbent Tom Brower in the primary election, and Nicholas Ochs, a member of a far-right neo-fascist group called the “Proud Boys,” in the general election. 

Turner spoke about their path to candidacy, and how they didn’t plan on running for office at all, originally attending school to become a veterinarian. They began community organizing on their own for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and saw that their home state also needed help.

Turner felt that Oklahoma’s elected officials didn’t represent the majority of the population and started looking for someone else to run for office. As Turner had more meetings with members in Oklahoma’s State House District 88, people started asking when they were going to run and why they hadn’t run yet. 

After getting these questions more and more, Turner decided that they would listen to their own advice about “why it is important we see ourselves in the positions that make, interpret and enforce policies on our everyday lives.”  

Turner was elected as the first non-binary state official in the United States, as well as the first Muslim lawmaker in the state of Oklahoma. 

“I can only hope that I am doing this job justice and being able to push open a door for more folks to come along and to continue the fight,” Turner remarked.

Sarah Pope decided that she wanted to help members of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as women and people of color, become elected officials. 

“It was very important to be a part of building this pipeline of empowerment,” Pope said. 

At the Victory Institute, Pope works mostly with undergraduate students who look to run for office in the future, and she offers the support, resources and other tools they need for their future campaigns. 

Both Turner and Tam spoke on their struggles during their campaign trail as open members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

For Turner, they found that because they aren’t “masculine presenting,” they felt pressure from electability politics. They were often told that they should try running for smaller elected positions, or that people would be voting for Turner’s opponent, Kelly Barlean, because Barlean identifies as a man.

Tam echoed Turner’s statements about the struggles with electability issues. The incumbent for Hawaii’s House District 22 seat had held the position for 14 years, and concerns were made about Tam’s young age and possible inexperience. 

“The truth is, if you vote for people they can be elected,” Turner said in regards to electability. 

The guests were asked about some of the issues that they think are important, and what they might have on their agenda right now.

Turner brought up how they are working on legislation to make the process of changing the gender on legal documents easier in the state of Oklahoma, because currently gender-changing surgery is required to do so.

Pope said the Victory Institute is focusing on getting more women involved in politics. Overall, women across the country vote in higher numbers, despite not being equally represented by elected officials. 

When it comes to growing the representation in politics for LGBTQ+ members and people of color, Tam shared a quote from politician Shirley Chisholm, stating “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” 

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