Today, January 20, 2021, the day the LGBTQ+ community in America has long awaited has arrived—after four years of eroding the rights of our community, the presidency of Donald Trump ends and an era of rebuilding begins. While President Biden’s term opens on a crisis of historic proportions, deepened by the inaction or counterproductive action of the prior occupant, this transfer of power is accompanied by a great deal of new hope.
Yesterday, the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (NLGCC) held a forum that dealt with topics from how LGBTQ+ businesses should prepare to do business with a Federal government that is likely to show a new eagerness to engage minority partners to the way to properly position one’s business in the market of the future.
The centerpiece of the two hour session was a conversation between Sharice Davids, who has served as the U.S. Representative from Kansas's 3rd congressional district since 2019, and Justin Nelson, co-founder and president of the NLGCC. Davids is a true history maker: she is the first openly LGBT Native American elected to the U.S. Congress, the first openly gay person elected to the U.S. Congress from Kansas, and one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, along with Deb Haaland of New Mexico.
Joining Congress when she did, Davids remarks reflect the truly tumultuous times during which she has served. Half of her service has been during the COVID pandemic, and all of it under the renewed specter of white supremacy and the erratic rule of Donald Trump—including having to shelter during the Trump inspired insurrection.
Davids’ message was one of hope for the future, and for the advancement of progressive politics in America. “I do believe we are seeing a really strong Cabinet being put together … We have this group of people all across the country, all pushing for progress,” she said, from the state and local level to the top of the new administration. “That to me is a huge reason to be optimistic…” This leadership includes her fellow Native American legislator, Deb Haaland, who has been tapped to serve as Secretary of the Interior under Biden.
Davids wants to see Congress and the new president focus on reducing the outsized influence of billionaires and corporations on the political process, and on bolstering protections for the LGBTQ and other minority groups—for instance by moving the Equality Act forward. She also believes that it is essential in the first hundred days for the government to finally tackle, in a serious way, the COVID-19 pandemic, both supporting individuals and families and working to strengthen small businesses and protect the economy.
Nelson raised the question for Sharice Davids: “You're the first LGBT Native American member of Congress, you've joined the most diverse Democratic caucus yet. How do you think that bringing all of who you are, to this work makes you a better legislator?”
Davids believes that representatives from more diverse populations are more sensitive to what questions aren’t being asked and who isn’t being brought to the table—and this sensitivity is what allows government to become more representative.
“I think, in the long term, some of what we need to do to be able to develop out and grow people's faith and confidence in our federal government and government institutions, is increase our ability to see others, and recognize that everyone's experience is valid. Because of my own personal experience, when someone tells me this is the experience I have with X—even if I had a great experience, even if it was smooth sailing for me... If someone came up to me and said, ‘Actually, I really struggled accessing that program,’ my response wouldn't be, ‘Oh, well, it was easy for me...’ Instead, the question would be, ‘Let's figure out why you having a hard time navigating the program...’ Because I believe you... And I think that that is a different thing than what we have seen from a lot of our federal policymakers.”
With the Biden administration proposing the most diverse Cabinet leadership in history, Sharice Davids thinks that this is the perspective that will help right the ship in Washington, D.C. That begins today.