Gay lawmakers take center stage at Democratic convention


The Democratic National Convention spotlighted three gay lawmakers among the party's 'rising stars' on Tuesday.

Three gay lawmakers made history on Tuesday night as the first out LGBTQ keynote speakers of the Democratic National Convention. Georgia state Rep. Sam Park, Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, and Long Beach, California, Mayor Robert Garcia were among the 17 Democrats, billed as "rising stars" of the Democratic Party, chosen as keynote speakers for the evening.

This week, Kenyatta told the Philadelphia Inquirer: "I don't know if I'll ever get over the fact that a poor, Black, gay kid from North Philly is about to be on this stage."

He added, "So often, working people and young people, we're asked to work on other people's campaigns, we're asked to wait our turn, but I think the time for turns is over."

In 2018, Kenyatta was the first LGBTQ person of color elected to the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Park is the only Asian American and the first out gay man in the Georgia General Assembly, to which he was elected in 2016. In 2014, Garcia became the first Latinx person and openly gay man to be elected mayor of Long Beach, and in 2018 was the first mayor to get married while in office when he wed his partner of many years, Matt Mendez.

During the keynote, Kenyatta appeared with his fiancé, Matthew Miller. "When I wanted to marry the man I love, Joe Biden was the first national figure to support me and my family," Kenyatta said. Added Miller, "Appreciate you, man."

The three lawmakers spoke of the economic and health crises Americans are facing during the coronavirus pandemic.

"You deserve more than the constant chaos that Donald Trump delivers," Garcia said.

Kenyatta spoke of doctors, nurses, and home health care aides in Philadelphia who "have to risk their own lives to protect others because there is not enough protective equipment."

Park said that teachers in Gwinnett County, Georgia, and across the country "are being asked to return to the classroom without a plan to keep them safe, and parents are exhausted juggling full-time work and full-time child care."

The three men also spoke of the life experiences they bring to the Democratic Party. Garcia said he knew the frustrations of carrying student loan debt; in April, he had tweeted that student loan cancellation must be included in congressional coronavirus relief.

Kenyatta shared the "insecurity and indignity" that comes with receiving an eviction notice; last year he sponsored state legislation to restore financial assistance for vulnerable Pennsylvanians that had been eliminated earlier in 2019.

Park spoke of his experiences with the health care system: "We have lived that feeling of helplessness when someone we love is very sick and access to health care is a matter of life and death." He told NBC News in 2016 that he decided to run for office after his mother's 2014 cancer diagnosis. Park's mother died a year after he was elected, and he has been working to expand Medicaid in the state. Park said that a plan released by Georgia's Republican Gov. Brian Kemp last year is insufficient.

"The rate of uninsured children is rising and we're in the midst of the opioid crisis as well as the HIV epidemic. Medicaid expansion could cover 500,000 Georgians, and if we extended Medicaid to the full extent under federal law, the federal government would cover 90% of the cost. ... The plan they put forth does too little to address the challenges we face," Park said last year.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.