Awaiting the results of this week’s US presidential election, some were hoping to see the nation’s first female president. That didn’t happen, but here, we share stories of the women behind some of this election’s notable firsts
Photo by Governor Kate Brown/Flickr
First elected openly LGBTQ governor
Kate Brown has been serving as Oregon’s governor since her successor resigned amid a corruption scandal in 2015. This week, she was elected by the state to serve the next two years of what would have been the rest of former governor John Kitzhaber’s term.
Brown – previously Oregon’s secretary of state and majority leader of the state Senate – is the first openly LGBTQ candidate to win a gubernatorial [related to a governor] election. She has been married to her husband since 1997, but was revealed to be bisexual years before that. She has since embraced her identity publicly, taking opportunities to speak about her sexuality.
“You can’t be what you can’t see,” she told the Washington Blade newspaper. “If I can be a role model for one young person that decides their life is worth living because there’s someone like them in the world, it’s worth it.”
Brown is also a survivor of domestic violence. She was vocal in criticising some of Donald Trump’s comments about women, which she said in the same interview were “re-traumatising” for her.
As governor, Brown has already invested into Oregon’s education budget and increased the minimum wage. Next, she hopes to introduce gun safety legislation – especially on campuses – increase high school graduation rates, and pass protections for LGBTQ people.
Photo by Cherie Cullen/Wikimedia Commons
First Thai American woman elected to Senate
Many believe that Tammy Duckworth has been making history for years. Elected to the US House of Representatives in 2013, she became the first female veteran, the first disabled woman, and the first Asian American woman to represent Illinois.
Born in Bangkok to a second world war veteran father and a Thai mother, Duckworth grew up in various places throughout Asia, where her father worked for the UN and numerous corporations. She moved to Hawaii at age 16, where she also attended college, before earning her master’s in Washington, D.C.
She joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in 1990 and later served as a helicopter pilot. In 2004, Duckworth was deployed to Iraq, and lost both her legs after her helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. She has since advocated for veterans.
Each year, Duckworth and her former crewmates gather to celebrate their survival in the 2004 crash. “You can choose to spend the day of your injury in a dark room feeling sorry for yourself or you can choose to get together with the buddies who saved your life, and I choose the latter,” she told the Chicago Tribune.
In office, she has promised to fight for civil rights for LGBTQ people, protection of the Affordable Care Act, basic assistance for people facing poverty, and a reduction in gun violence.
Photo from Kamala Harris campaign website
First mixed race and Indian American woman elected to Senate
In 2010, Harris made history as the first female, first black, and first Asian American to be elected attorney general of California. Now, she will be the first Indian American and first biracial female senator.
Harris’ upbringing was a multicultural one. Born to an Indian mother and Jamaican father in California, she attended Howard University in Washington D.C. and received a law degree from the University of California.
Harris earned President Obama’s endorsement for the Senate, and was also speculated to be a potential replacement for US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, though she has said she had no interest in filling the position.
In an interview with the New York Times Magazine, Harris discussed racial discrimination among prosecutors, saying: “They were talking about how these young people were dressed, what corner they were hanging out on, and the music they were listening to. I remember saying: ‘Hey, guys, you know what? Members of my family dress that way. I grew up with people who live on that corner.’”
Harris has committed to making higher education more accessible and expanding voting rights. She is also expected to work toward improving the criminal justice system.
Photo by Joe Mabel/Flickr
First Indian American woman elected to the US House of Representatives
Soon representing Washington’s 7th congressional district, Pramila Jayapal is the first Indian American woman elected to US Congress. Born in India and raised in Indonesia and Singapore, she came to the United States at the age of 16 to attend Georgetown University in Washington D.C.
Jayapal has been involved in civil rights activism in and around Seattle for more than 20 years. She founded and served as executive director of pro-immigration advocacy group OneAmerica until 2012. In 2013, she was given the White House’s Champion of Change award.
She began her political career as a Democrat in 2014 when she ran for state Senate and won. After two years in state office, she decided to run for Congress and went on to a significant victory in the primary over her opponent, Democrat Brady Walkinshaw.
Jayapal’s progressive beliefs align with Bernie Sanders, who endorsed her in April. In a statement addressing the ‘one per cent’, Jayapal said: “What Congress needs is a progressive voice who is unafraid to take on these powerful interests.”
Photo from Catherine Cortez Masto campaign website
Catherine Cortez Masto
First Latina woman elected to Senate and first female senator from Nevada
Catherine Cortez Masto is both the first Latina woman and woman to enter the Senate from Nevada. The granddaughter of a Mexican immigrant, Cortez Masto was born and raised in the state.
Before being elected as Democratic senator, she served two terms as attorney general, during which she worked to provide financial aid for students and strengthen laws preventing sex trafficking.
“My grandfather came from Mexico for the very reason that many other families have come here, which is an opportunity to succeed, to make sure your kids have more than what you had,” she told news platform Mother Jones. “Because of his hard work and courage and the hard work of my parents, my sister and I are the first to graduate from college. That, to me, is the American Dream.”
As senator, she has said she will work to protect access to Medicare and Social Security, raise the minimum wage, and craft comprehensive immigration reform.
Photo by Lorie Shaull/Wikimedia Commons
First Somali American Muslim woman elected to state legislature
Ilhan Omar is the first Somali American woman to be elected to public office in the US. After fleeing the Somali civil war with her family aged eight in the early 1990s, Omar spent the next four years in a Kenyan refugee camp.
In 1995, Omar’s family arrived in Virginia and eventually resettled in Minneapolis, home to the nation’s largest population with Somali ancestry. She studied political science and international studies at North Dakota State University.
Omar has worked at the Minnesota Department of Education and as a senior policy aide for a Minneapolis senior council member. In August, she beat a 22-term incumbent by more than 10 per cent of the primary vote.
She has said she believes it is time leaders of her district truly represent the community’s diverse history, one that includes immigration. But her success hasn’t come from just popularity among Somalis.
“That ability to create connections with people who don’t look like me, who don’t share my identities, has sort of been the success of my campaign,” she told the digital media company Refinery29.
In office, Omar is expected to focus on closing the opportunity gap by supporting universal pre-kindergarten access, hiring more teachers of colour, and fighting for better rights for immigrants and LGBTQ people. She is also committed to making higher education more affordable and ensuring clean air and water.
This article was originally published in Yes! Magazine.