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Marina Gomberg: America’s bias runs deep, and these groundbreakers still made history

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Marina Gomberg.

Elections have a special way of putting our values on display. In some ways, they’re like magnified parades of our nation’s character (wave to the $15 minimum wage float from Florida, oh and there’s the Utah contingent who banned slavery in the state’s constitution!). In some ways the exposure is more comfortable than others.

It’s as stunning to me when elections illuminate what matters to us as it is when they uncover what doesn’t. The latter is excruciating, and like a person in a crop top, America’s underbelly has been thoroughly exposed this week.

But among the mounting evidence of work yet-to-do for the vast majority of us who want to ensure liberty and justice for all, there are monumental wins. They may not be as splashy as the presidential race (BTW, at the time of writing this, I don’t yet know if shero Kamala Harris will become a very important first, but she’ll probably deserve her own column for that), but we saw an inspiring increase in the diversity of our public servants.

I’ve compiled a list of some of the historic wins, the places where our leaders are now a more accurate reflection of our vibrant electorate.

Just by virtue of being visible elected officials, these public figures will likely shift society’s perceptions of the communities that for so long have been disenfranchised and marginalized.

And we need it.

Their successes don’t erase the reality that large swaths of America are driven by deeply entrenched biases, but I appreciate that they complicate that notion which at face value feels remarkably disappointing.

Undoubtedly, we have a lot of work to do. I’m starting by celebrating these remarkable groundbreakers.

For the first time in America’s history, there are three Indigenous women elected to Congress. That might not seem monumental (maybe because in 2020 it shouldn’t be), but until two years ago, there were none.

Republican Cherokee Yvette Herrell from New Mexico joined Democrats Deb Haaland, a Laguna Pueblo member from New Mexico, and Kansas’ Sharice Davids, a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation, who were both elected in 2018.

In LGBTQ news (which Advocate is calling the “Rainbow Wave”), Delaware Democrat Sarah McBride has become the country’s first openly trans state senator and the nation’s highest-ranking trans official. Congress welcomes its first openly gay Black men with New York’s Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones.
On the queer front in state races, Oklahoma elected the nation’s first openly nonbinary state legislator, Mauree Turner, who is also that state’s first Muslim legislator. Lesbian Kim Jackson is Georgia’s first out member of the state Senate. Vermont’s Taylor Small has become the state’s first openly transgender legislator. Florida gets its first out state senator with Shevrin Jones, along with its first Black queer woman, Michele Raynor, in the House. Stephanie Byers will become Kansas’ first transgender legislator. Tennessee welcomes its first openly LGBTQ legislators with Torrey Harris and Eddie Mannis, who won seats in the state House. And the list goes on.
Women of color are powerfully claiming their space as well. New Mexico made history by being the first state to send an entire U.S. House delegation made up of women of color with important wins for Deb Haaland, Yvette Herrell and Teresa Leger Fernandez. One of 115 women of color running for seats in Congress, Cori Bush is the first Black woman to serve the state of Missouri.
Republican women surged with style as well by doubling their presence in the House of Representatives. And Cynthia Lummis became Wyoming’s first Republican woman elected to the Senate.
And Nikil Saval became the Pennsylvania Senate’s first Asian American member.

While this list of heroic firsts is not exhaustive, they inspire hope and faith that we can, in fact, become one nation indivisible.

Until then, I’ll take the advice Mr. Rogers attributed to his mom: When we see scary things in the news, “look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Marina Gomberg is a communications professional and lives in Salt Lake City with her wife, Elenor Gomberg, and their son, Harvey. You can reach Marina at mgomberg@sltrib.com.
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