November 10, 2016 at 11:02 AM
Kate Brown is bisexual. She is also the newly elected governor of Oregon and the first openly LGBT person to be elected governor of a state. Brown (D) was actually the incumbent Tuesday: The former secretary of state stepped into the top job in 2015 after Gov. John Kitzhaber resigned amid scandal. But she had never been elected to the job until Tuesday. The Fix caught up with Brown the morning after to talk about her historic election. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
THE FIX: Can you reflect for a minute on being the first openly LGBT governor elected?
BROWN: I am certainly honored to claim that post. But I will say, I just met last week with a gay student alliance from a number of schools in Oregon, and students are very concerned. There is much more work that we need to do here in Oregon. We have achieved enormous victories: We have passed a ban on conversion therapy. We've created an LGBT office within our department of veterans affairs.My department of education came out with rules to ensure the safety and security of students in high school and schools throughout the state.
But it is very clear that we need to redouble our efforts to make sure that members of the LGBT community have the support and the services that they need on every level in our education system.
Your win could be considered a bright spot for progressives in an otherwise very dark election for them. How, if at all, do you think your election fits into the narrative of a starkly divided America?
I think as governor, I'm really focused on my state and making sure that my diverse community has the support and services they need.
I will say at a national level, you can't be what you can't see. It is important to have a diversity of voices at the leadership table for a number of reasons. And I believe very strongly that by having a diversity of voices at the leadership table, the public policy we make is more reflective and more respectful. And I will, within my role at the National Governor's Association and other organizations like the Western Governors Association, continue to use that voice and my experiences as a member of the LGBT community, as well as my female voice to help us push forward as a nation.
What it's like to be a female, Democratic politician in a nation that just rejected the first female major-party candidate for president?
I think the first job as the president-elect is to bring the country together, and for me, one of the most important things that he can do is to unite our country and preserve the ideals that make our country great, and that is about justice and equal rights for all people.
Those of us who are at the leadership table, we're going to have to use our voices, and we're going to have to reach back and pull up more women.
Democrats actually lost governors' seats Tuesday. So same question: What's it like to be a Democrat in what feels like a Republican world?
I think the work we are doing at the state level is critical. I see the state as the think tank, the petri dishes of progressive public policy, and under my leadership, in Oregon we will continue to be a progressive leader for the country. And I think our work is even more important than it was during the last two years.
Example: We were able to pass the nation's first automatic voter registration law, and we saw other states replicating that work.
Secondly, Oregon became the first state in the nation to intentionally move away from coal-generated electricity as we work to reduce greenhouse gases. I see that legislation as a role model for the country.
We obviously don't know what our president-elect's plans are in terms of global climate change, but it is here impacting our economies, and we need to address it.
I'm also asking: Okay, we need to provide support and encouragement for people who are truly afraid, like for members of the Latino community who are worried they are going to be deported. How do we coalesce, how do we collaborate, how do we unite and work together to make sure that doesn't happen?
Your campaign made news for another reason. In a debate with your Republican opponent, you shared for the first time publicly that you had been a victim of domestic violence. Walk me through why you decided to share that.
For me, it was a moment of sharing a part of myself and my experiences to connect with basically the 1 million women and girls in this state who have been victims of domestic violence or sexual assault. A report had just come out talking about the numbers of women and girls in the state who are impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault, and in that report 50 percent of the women and girls in the region had been impacted. That's a really incredulous number on a number of levels, and I wanted these girls to know I had had similar experiences, and that I was standing shoulder to shoulder with them and I would continue to fight for them.
It feels like since this campaign, women are more willing to talk about their experiences with domestic violence and sexual abuse.
There's absolutely no question. I think that this campaign kind of blew the lid off people keeping these experiences private, and women and girls feeling very strongly that they need to share, so that other women and girls understand that they're not alone.
What was interesting for me was reading and hearing other women describe their experiences, and how it was similar to mine. And maybe if we talked about it more, we would be more comprehensive in our effort to combat it.
Anything else you want to add about this election?
Yes. I graduated from high school in 1978. I have watched the feminist movement ebb and flow over time. We have taken steps forward, and we have had to take steps back. I was intricately involved in the fight for LGBTQ equality in this state. I know that in the end, we will continue to move forward, and we will continue to move in the direction of justice and equality. I know that in my heart.
Correction: This post originally had the incorrect year Gov. Brown became governor.