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16 Inspirational Voices for LGBTQ Equality in 2016: New Pro-Equality Senators Make History

As 2016 comes to a close, there is no doubt that this year was difficult for many in the LGBTQ and allied community. After a year of such celebration and momentous progress in 2015, 2016 was a shocking wake-up call to many about the realities that LGBTQ people face. From the rise in anti-LGBTQ legislation to the horrific shooting at Pulse, from the incidents of anti-transgender violence to the election of a presidential ticket that threatened to undermine equality and justice, we know that our job is more important now than ever before.

However, through these difficult times, we witnessed countless moments of inspiration. Throughout the year, time and time again, we saw people stand up and do what was right. Whether they were celebrities, politicians, a friend or just an acquaintance, we saw people stand up for equality and inspire us all. Their stories made us cry, gave us hope and reminded us that love will conquer hate.  

On Election night, four incredible pro-equality women won U.S. Senate seats — Catherine Cortez Masto, Tammy Duckworth, Maggie Hassan and Kamala Harris.

These advocates for the LGBTQ community and diverse groups of Americans across the country, are making U.S. Senate history: Cortez Masto is the country’s first-ever Latina senator; Duckworth is the first-ever Thai American senator, and the first woman senator to serve in a combat role in the U.S. Army; and Harris is the country’s first Indian American senator, and California’s first African American senator. The 115th U.S. Senate will have more women members than ever before — a record-breaking 21 — including Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, who is the nation’s first openly-lesbian U.S. Senator.

Senator-Elect Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)

As Nevada’s next Senator, Cortez Masto has vowed to work with HRC to ensure that historic LGBTQ equality gains are protected and to fight LGBTQ discrimination. She has said, “It is outrageous that in 2016 people can still be at risk of losing their jobs in this country because of whom they love.. n the Senate I will focus on ensuring LGBT people are treated equally under the law by working to end discrimination.”

As part of HRC’s TurnOUT campaign, HRC released a digital ad in the final days leading up to the election helping to mobilize pro-LGBTQ voters in Nevada and ensure they cast their vote for Masto. “We can’t tolerate leaving anyone behind,” Cortez Masto says in the video.

Senator-Elect Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)

Seantor-Elect Tammy Duckworth has been a strong LGBTQ ally in the House of Representatives. Duckworth received a perfect score on HRC’s Congressional Scorecard for both of her terms in the House of Representatives. She is a cosponsor of the Equality Act and the Global Respect Act, which would provide a means to prevent individuals who violate the human rights of LGBTQ people from entry into the United States.

When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark marriage equality case, Obergefell v. Hodges, she said, “I am so proud that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of love, commitment and equality today. The LGBT community is entitled to the same rights afforded to everyone else and our nation has taken an enormous step towards being more fair and just.”

Senator-Elect Maggie Hassan (D-NH)

Throughout her career, Maggie Hassan has fought for the rights of all citizens to participate fully in the civic and economic life of their communities. As a State Senator, she worked tirelessly to achieve marriage equality, helping make New Hampshire one of the first states to pass legislation ensuring access to legal marriage for all. Earlier this year, she took a bold and historic step by issuing an executive order extending vitally important non-discrimination protections to transgender people in New Hampshire with respect to government employment, contracts and programs.

During the election, HRC released a digital ad in support of Hassan, “Raymond Braun Reflects on Why He Came Out to Maggie Hassan.” “I’ve known Maggie Hassan for more than 10 years,” Braun said, “and I’ve seen firsthand what a great champion she is for equality. Maggie was one of the first people I came out to, and I am honored to be able to share my experiences with the great people of New Hampshire.”

Senator-Elect Kamala Harris (D-CA)

As California Attorney General, Kamala Harris stood up for LGBTQ rights. She led the team that helped bring down California’s Proposition 8 at the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 2015, worked to  stop an abhorrent and unconstitutional proposed ballot initiative that could have criminalized same-sex relationships, potentially threatening those convicted with death. She advanced a robust platform for LGBTQ equality in her Senate campaign, fighting for LGBTQ youth, and vowing to work to include essential protections for sexual orientation and gender identity in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In 2014, Harris spoke at HRC’s Los Angeles Gala, where she shared her experience fighting for marriage equality in California and across the United States. She said, “Let us stand together on the side of fighting for justice and equality,” and called for LGBTQ equality, reproductive health rights, immigration reform and voting rights.

Follow along with HRC’s blog in the coming days as we recognize the people who inspired us and gave us hope, courage and strength in 2016.