Jared Polis is officially the Governor of Colorado and the first openly gay man to be elected governor in U.S. history.
Polis won against republican candidate Walker Stapleton after a tumultuous campaign season. It all paid off, as Polis, his husband, and their two children pack their bags and move into the Governor’s Mansion.
“Colorado has always been a forward-thinking state,” Polis told OUT FRONT.
Although former Governor Jim McGreevey of New Jersey, a democrat, made history by coming out as gay while in office in 2004, Polis is the first openly gay man elected governor. Oregon Governor Kate Brown is also the nation’s first openly bisexual governor, as well as the first openly LGBTQ governor when taking office.
Polis’ career in public service has been defined by a series of shattering glass ceilings.
By age 33, Polis had already launched several successful businesses, founded schools for young immigrants and other vulnerable youth, chaired the Colorado Board of Education, and led a ballot measure that banned gifts from lobbyists to Colorado lawmakers. And, he had been elected to Congress.
In 2008, Polis worked with President Obama and democratic leaders to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell; the gavel used for the bill’s passage is still prominently displayed in his office. And with his help, the Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus transformed from a quiet organization unknown outside progressive circles into a political powerhouse.
In 2011, Polis busted through another barrier: he and his partner welcomed their first child, making Polis the first openly gay parent in congressional history.
“Every Coloradan, every American, deserves to look at their elected leaders in government and see themselves represented,” Polis said. “When LGBTQ Americans are in positions of leadership, it shows the country we aren’t just an abstraction they read about in the news. It shows we are real people—parents, sons and daughters, teachers, neighbors, co-workers, business owners, faith leaders.”
For Polis, the importance of representation goes beyond sending a message. It translates directly into policy.
Polis has used his position to aggressively advocate for the rights of LGBTQ Americans. In addition to his efforts to overturn Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Polis helped to pass a landmark hate crimes law that expanded federal protections based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. He also led legislative proposals to stop anti-LGBTQ discrimination at school and in the workplace.
“One of my major goals here in Colorado is building an economy that works for everyone,” Polis said. “But as a nation, our economy can’t work for everyone if some people have to worry about losing their job simply because of who they are or who they love.”
Polis was a driving force behind President Obama’s official guidance in 2016 that existing civil rights law should protect transgender and gender nonconforming students from discrimination at school. President Trump reversed President Obama’s guidance almost immediately upon taking office.
“Now more than ever, we need a governor who will stand up for the rights of all Coloradans, whether that’s LGBTQ folks, women, racial and religious minorities, or our immigrant communities,” Polis said.
He’s Not Alone
There are a total of 670 LGBTQ folks serving as elected officials—activated by greater social acceptance of queer folks and a surge of liberal energy to oppose Trump and other radical republicans.
According to the Victory Fund, a nonpartisan group that supports and tracks queer political candidates, Polis stands alongside Oregon’s Kate Brown, a bisexual woman, serving as the nation’s first two LGBTQ governors. The U.S. Congress houses 10 LGBTQ represenatives. There are 39 LGBTQ people serving as mayor, 149 in the state legislature, 348 serving local offices, and 106 serving as judges.
In Colorado, eight LGBTQ people hold seats in the legislature: Sonya Jaquez Lewis, Brianna Titone, Rochelle Galindo, Alex Valdez, Daneya Esgar, Dominick Moreno, Joann Ginal, and Leslie Herod.
What We Can Expect
Polis was openly and unapologetically liberal during his campaign and vows to keep the promises he made at that time.
“Our campaign is about a bold vision for where we go as a state, because we have an historic opportunity before us,” Polis said. “I want Colorado to lead the way into the future with universal pre-K for every child, a thriving renewable-energy sector, and an economy that works for all Coloradans.”
He’s also a strong believer in full equality and is willing to stand up for issues the current U.S. Supreme Court may go after, including abortion and LGBTQ rights. Some fear the court will dismantle federal protections, and protective legislation will then be up to individual states. If that happens, the position of governor becomes more important than ever.
“I will lead legislation to preserve reproductive choice in the Colorado Statute so that Coloradans’ basic rights don’t come and go based on the ideological makeup of the Supreme Court,” Polis told OUT FRONT in October. “Every, single Coloradan, no matter who they are or who they love, should be able to attend school, get a good-paying job, and live affordably in the community they call home without being subjected to discrimination or harassment.”
“These issues aren’t about liberal versus conservative,” Polis said. “They’re about forward versus backward.”
Already, Polis has delivered a State of the State address, taken action on his plans for full-day kindergarten, and worked on a plan to switch to more renewable energy. If his first days in office are any indication, Polis won’t rest until he acts on the promises made during his campaign.
Photo by Brian Degenfelder