By Matthew Lavietes
NEW YORK, NY, Fri. Nov. 6, 2020 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Two New Yorkers this week became the first gay men of color elected to the U.S. Congress, including one whose roots extend to the Caribbean.
Democrat Ritchie Torres, an openly gay Black and Latino man from New York City’s Bronx borough, and Mondaire Jones, a openly gay Black man from a New York City suburb, won seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Torres’ roots run to the Caribbean, his father is Puerto Rican.
A member of the Democratic Party, he is the New York City Councilmember for the 15th district. Elected in 2013, he is the first openly gay candidate to be elected to legislative office in the Bronx, and the youngest member of the city council. He serves as the chair of the Committee on Public Housing, and is a deputy majority leader. As chair of the Oversight and Investigations Committee he is focusing on taxi medallion predatory loans, and the city’s Third Party Transfer Program. In 2016, Torres was a delegate for the Bernie Sanders campaign.
In July 2019, Torres announced his bid for New York’s 15th congressional district, to succeed Representative José E. Serrano. The 15th district is one of the most Democratic leaning congressional districts in the country. Torres won the November 2020 general election, and will assume office on January 3, 2021.
“A wise person once said, ‘If you don’t have a seat at the table, then you’re probably on the menu,'” Torres told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “With Mondaire Jones and I, LGBTQ people of color will have a seat at one of the most powerful tables, the United States Congress.”
Both Torres and Jones said they worried a divided Congress would block measures to advance LGBT+ rights such as the Equality Act, which would add sexual and gender identity to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that bans discrimination based on race, religion, sex and national origin.
The House approved the measure in 2019, but the legislation stalled in the Senate.
Biden has promised to make it a priority.
“I’m willing to work with anyone and everyone in the service of causes that matter to me, but I also have no illusions about the nature of the Republican party,” said Torres.
Trump used executive orders to ban trans people from joining the military and roll back health care protections for LGBT+ people.
“We’ve made extraordinary progress, but progress is fragile and reversible,” said Torres. “If we do nothing, nothing will change, so we have no choice but to fight and fight and fight.”
(Reporting by Matthew Lavietes, editing by Ellen Wulfhorst)