It's official: Voters in New York have given final approval Tuesday night to U.S. House candidates Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres, making them the first openly gay Black candidates elected to Congress.
Jones was elected in New York's 15th congressional district in the Bronx and Torres prevailed in New York's 17th congressional district upstate. The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which seeks to elect political candidates to public office, called the races in favor of Jones and Torres polls closed in New York at 9 p.m.
Both candidates were running in among the most "blue" districts in the United States, so their wins against Republican challengers were expected. The major hurdle for them was winning their Democratic primaries, which they did in June 23. (However, it took state officials in NY-17 six weeks to count the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots and officially declare Torres the winner.)
Torres won a crowded primary in which his main opponent was New York City Council member Ruben Diaz Sr., who's one of the few remaining anti-LGBTQ Democrats and once said the council is "controlled by the homosexual community." After his defeat, Diaz announced he'd retire from politics.
In an interview with the Washington Blade in September, Torres said he wants to pursue big changes in the style of President Franklin Roosevelt to lift up the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"We have a once in a century opportunity to make a massive investment in the United States, on the scale of the New Deal," Torres said. "We have a once in a century opportunity to fight catastrophic climate change, create the next generation of jobs, enable our economy and society to recover from COVID-19 and build a comprehensive safety net that catches all of us when we fall and fight systemic racism, which has been centuries old. We are living in the makings of an FDR moment."
In addition to being one of the first openly gay Black candidates elected to Congress, Torres would also be the first out Afro-Latino elected to Congress.
Jones, who won his primary in NY-15 by riding an insurgent wave against Democratic incumbents, said in an interview with the New York Times in July his primary win demonstrates voters have embraced progressive values on combating climate change and racial injustice.
"Growing up poor, Black, and gay, I never imagined someone like me could run for Congress, let alone win," Jones is quoted as saying. "Indeed, in the 244-year history of the United States, there has never been an openly gay, Black member of Congress. That changes this year."
Annise Parker, CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement Jones and Torres "shattered a rainbow ceiling and will bring unique perspectives based on lived experiences never before represented in the U.S. Congress."
"As our nation grapples with racism, police brutality and a pandemic that disproportionally affects people of color and LGBTQ people, these are the voices that can pull us from the brink and toward a more united and fair society," Parker said. "Their elections will end any doubts about the electability of Black LGBTQ men to our nation's highest legislative body. It will also inspire more young LGBTQ leaders and leaders of color to run and serve."
This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.