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Oregon's Kate Brown just became the first openly bisexual governor in American history

Kate Brown will soon become Oregon's governor.
Kate Brown will soon become Oregon's governor.
Kate Brown for Secretary of State campaign
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

  1. Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown was sworn in as the state's governor Wednesday, after John Kitzhaber resigned due to a corruption scandal.
  2. Brown is the first openly bisexual governor in American history. She's also the only current openly LGBT governor of a US state, and the second openly LGBT governor in US history (after New Jersey's Jim McGreevey, who announced he was gay shortly before resigning).
  3. Brown has worked in Oregon politics for over two decades, serving in the state House and state Senate, eventually becoming the Senate Democratic leader before winning election as Secretary of State in 2008.
  4. Oregon will hold a special election in 2016 to determine who will serve the rest of Kitzhaber's term. Brown is expected to run.

"It was definitely a forced coming out"

Kate Brown 2007

Then-state Senate Majority Leader Kate Brown hugs a fellow legislator at the 2007 signing ceremony for Oregon's same-sex partnerships law. (Craig Mitchelldyer / Getty)

Brown has spoken extensively about the difficulties she faced being closeted — and then being outed. During her early law career, she was "terrified" she'd lose her job if her employers found out she was dating a woman. "I was walking on eggshells the whole time," she said in Breaking Through, a documentary about LGBT politicians. "Like I couldn't be who I am — I'm not free to be myself. It feels like you're cutting off your legs or your arms. It feels like you can't be a whole person."

Then, a few years after joining the state legislature in the early 1990s, Brown was outed by an Oregon newspaper. "I got a call the night before and they said we're gonna print that you're bisexual in a story," Brown says in the documentary. "So it was definitely a forced coming out. It was probably good that it happened, but it wasn't sort of in my own terms and in my own timeline." She continued: "It's challenging to be up-front about who you are with people, and it's really challenging when there are not a whole lot of other people like you."

In an essay for Out and Elected in the USA, Brown wrote that, after she came out, some of her "gay friends" called her "half-queer," and an elderly conservative legislator said to her, "Read in the Oregonian a few months ago you were bisexual. Guess that means I still have a chance?" She continued, "Some days I feel like I have a foot in both worlds, yet never really belonging to either."

Up the ladder

Brown won the loyalty of her state Senate colleagues, and was elected Democratic party leader in 1998 — a post she'd hold for 10 years. There, she'd push for campaign finance transparency, and would play a key role in passing the state's same-sex partnerships law in 2007. She herself has been married to her husband Dan Little for over a decade.

In 2008, she was elected Secretary of State, a position in which she oversees the state's elections and audits state spending. She won a second term in 2012, and was frequently mentioned as a possible gubernatorial candidate in the future.

Her career hasn't been without controversy, though. Spencer Woodman of The Verge has reported that Brown sent a letter to the FCC backing the Comcast / Time Warner Cable merger that was "almost wholly written by a Comcast Government Affairs specialist." Brown's spokesperson later defended the move, saying she supported the merger and the borrowed language was just "the most expedient way" to back it.

A historic first

No out LGBT politician has ever been elected governor of a US state. Jim McGreevey of New Jersey, who announced he was "a gay American" in 2004 on the same day he announced he would soon resign, is the only governor to come out while in office. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin became the first openly LGBT US senator in 2013.

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