When Kate Brown, Oregon’s current secretary of state, becomes governor next Wednesday, she will be the nation’s first openly bisexual person—and second LGBT person after New Jersey’s Jim McGreevey, who came out as gay just before stepping down amid scandal in 2004—to hold that office. Brown will take the place of current Gov. John Kitzhaber, who announced on Friday that he is resigning over corruption allegations involving his fiancée, Cylvia Hayes.
Brown, who has held various positions in Oregon politics since 1991, came out under pressure after being elected to the Oregon House, after a newspaper published a story revealing her bisexuality. She has dated women in the past and is currently married to Dan Little. Brown has described being bisexual as a source of stress in her political career; in a brief essay collected by a project called Out and Elected in the USA: 1974-2004, she observed that easy acceptance with not forthcoming.
Her parents, she said, argued that “It would be much easier for us if you were a lesbian,” while some of her gay friends called her “half-queer.” Brown also relayed a disturbing story of her early interactions with colleagues after coming out:
At the beginning of the next legislative session sitting in the House lounge, representative Bill Markham, who is over 70 years old, extremely conservative, and a legislator for more than 20 years comes to join me. Over lunch he looks up to say, “Read in the Oregonian a few months ago you were bisexual. Guess that means I still have a chance?!”
Though her name recognition was, until today’s news, fairly local, Brown has enjoyed the support of the LGBT community—earned thanks to her support of civil rights legislation in her state—and she will likely see more of it now. While running for her current position in 2007, Brown told the San Francisco Bay Area Reporter that she had been “receiving checks in the mail from all over the country. To have that support from the national LGBT community is really wonderful and exciting.”
News of Brown’s impending governorship has already drawn praise from LGBT leaders. Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said Friday that “while she’ll make history as the nation’s first sitting LGBT governor, the more important truth is that she’s supremely capable of leading the state to better days ahead.”