EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: First gay Black congressmen Jones and Torres say 'no choice but to fight'

Thursday, 5 November 2020 22:31 GMT

ARCHIVE PHOTO: Bronx City Councilman Ritchie Torres speaks during a news conference, outside 666 5th Avenue regarding the Kushner Companies allegedly falsifying work permits with the City's Department of Buildings, in New York, U.S., March 19, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

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New York Democrats Ritchie Torres and Mondaire Jones made history as they won seats in the U.S. House of Representatives

By Matthew Lavietes

NEW YORK, Nov 5 (Openly) - Two New Yorkers this week became the first gay men of color elected to the U.S. Congress, making strides for LGBT+ rights while the U.S. presidential candidates were locked in a close national contest.

Democrats Ritchie Torres, a 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.

"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."

Their election came as a liberal "blue wave" that had been predicted by some pundits failed to materialize, and Republicans appeared poised to retain control of the U.S. Senate and chip away at the Democratic majority in the House.

"Overall it's a disappointment," said Torres, who said he was hoping for a Democratic sweep of the presidency, Senate and House.

"Instead, we are likely to have divided government that could result in more gridlock," he said.

Jones said he found support in progressive voters who said they were less excited about the more centrist views of the Democratic presidential candidate, former Vice President Joe Biden, who was running against Republican President Donald Trump.

"I encountered so many people ... who told me that voting for me was the first time they had ever been excited voting for any candidate," Jones said.

Both Jones and Torres 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."

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(Reporting by Matthew Lavietes, editing by Ellen Wulfhorst; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

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