Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key.
Donald Trump’s recently unearthed 2005 remarks bragging about sexual assault were “re-traumatizing” for Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, who’s a survivor of domestic violence.
The governor, who could become the first out LGBT person elected as governor in the United States, reflected in an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade on the misogynistic comments from Trump that shook up the presidential race.
“I think for all us who have been through incidents of domestic violence or sexual assault the words are re-traumatizing, and I think, unfortunately, for women across the United States, it’s all too common to hear words like this from men in places of power,” Brown said.
Asked what the remarks portend for a potential Trump presidency, Brown replied, “I’m certainly hoping that conscientious men and women will rise up and vote against Donald Trump.”
Brown, who’s bisexual, came out as a survivor of domestic violence last month in response to a question about improving the lives of women during a debate with her Republican opponent William “Bud” Pierce. Referencing a new report from the Women’s Foundation of Oregon, which found women continue to face high rates of domestic violence and sexual assault, Brown said of her experience, “I know what it feels like to be a victim of domestic violence.”
In response to the same question, Pierce didn’t acknowledge the governor’s disclosure and said, “A woman that has great education and training and a great job is not susceptible to this kind of abuse by men,” drawing boos from the audience.
During her interview with the Blade, Brown said Trump’s remarks were emotional for her personally and the negative impact was compounded because they came days after her debate with Pierce.
“It was re-traumatizing to me because [Pierce] clearly hadn’t listened to what I had to say, and it was just a very challenging next several days between that and Trump’s statement,” Brown said. “I don’t understand how anybody could consider voting for Donald Trump after what they heard him say.”
The Brown campaign has confirmed the candidate was a victim of domestic violence, but declined to provide details other than to say the perpetuator wasn’t Dan Brown, her spouse, whom she married in 1997.
The first openly LGBT person elected as governor?
Currently the only openly LGBT person serving as a governor in the United States, Brown rose to the position last year. As Oregon secretary of state, she was next in line to become governor after her predecessor, former Gov. John Kitzhaber, resigned in scandal.
But if Brown wins in November, she’ll have the distinction of being the first openly LGBT person, and first openly bisexual person, to win a gubernatorial election.
For Brown, the significance of that distinction is increased visibility for the LGBT community because “you can’t be what you can’t see.”
“If I can be a role model for one young person that decides that their life is worth living because there’s someone like them in the world, it’s worth it,” Brown said.
(The first openly LGBT governor was former New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey, but he came out as gay in 2004 after he was elected and amid scandal prior to resigning. Former Rep. Michael Michaud sought to become the first openly gay person elected as governor in 2014, but he lost in a three-way race against Maine Gov. Paul LePage, who won re-election, and independent candidate Eliot Cutler.)
Polls indicate Brown is likely to win that historic first for the LGBT community. A survey from the Oregon-based DHM Research for Oregon Public Broadcasting found Brown has a commanding 46-33 lead over Pierce.
Aisha Moodie-Mills, CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, said Brown has “shattered glass ceilings throughout her career,” and the organization, which has endorsed Brown, is “thrilled” she’s about to break another ceiling by being the first openly LGBT person elected governor.
“Her leadership sets the direction and tone for the entire state, and the result is a government focused on issues of equality for all people, including women and LGBT Oregonians,” Moodie-Mills said. “LGBT elected officials change the dynamics by humanizing our lives, impacting legislative debates and influencing lawmaker colleagues to support equality. The election of Gov. Brown will be a seminal moment in the history of our movement, and a further indication that LGBT people can run for the highest offices and win.”
Over the course of her decades-long career in politics, which began as a lawmaker in the state legislature before she became secretary of state, Brown had a hand in advancing LGBT rights. She was a lawmaker when Oregon enacted its statewide LGBT non-discrimination law in 2007 and domestic partnership registration.
The domestic partnership law, Brown said, was “created in such a way to ensure legal success in the future” for marriage equality, which came to pass in Oregon through litigation in 2014.
“I have been on the path for justice and equality, particularly for LGBTQ issues my entire adult life,” Brown said. “I will continue that fight here in Oregon. In Oregon, we are fortunate that we’ve been able to change the law. Now we need to be focused on changing people’s hearts and minds.”
Among her most recent accomplishments for LGBT rights was signing into law a statewide ban on widely discredited “ex-gay” conversion therapy, which she said was personally rewarding. Oregon is one of five states that prohibit the practice for minors in addition to D.C.
“I did not have that experience, but I was well acquainted with others in our community who had,” Brown said. “I was so proud that the legislature was willing to move forward on it, and I was very pleased to sign it into law.”
Another LGBT achievement Brown identified during her tenure as Oregon governor was the establishment in May of an LGBT veterans coordinator at the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs, the first of its kind nationwide.
Asked about her involvement in the bisexual community, Brown said she’s “honestly been really focused on governing the last 20 months” and pointed to her record in extending legal protections for LGBT people.
Brown observed few openly bisexual people are political officeholders, but said she met Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (R-Ariz.), the only out bisexual in Congress, while traveling with the D.C.-based Aspen Institute.
“And I have people come up to me on a regular basis and just say thank you for being out,” Brown said. “It’s certainly opened a lot of eyes. We have a really solid bi community here in Oregon.”
(A 2011 Williams Institute study found bisexual people comprise a bare majority in the LGBT community. Compared to the 1.7 percent who identify as gay or lesbian, 1.8 percent of the U.S. population identify as bisexual.)
With so much progress made on LGBT rights in Oregon, Brown said the way forward is ensuring “gender-affirming services in our Oregon health plan.” The challenge, Brown said, is “getting medical providers that are competent in terms of handling those health issues, and so I see that as an area of work.”
“And then, we’re really working hard in our LGBT communities of color as well,” Brown added. “Oregon has struggled to be a fully inclusive state in terms of people of color, and so I am focused as governor in ensuring that we move forward in that regard.”
Sean Yeager, a Portland-based bisexual activist and lead organizer for Bi Brigade, said the potential of Brown’s election as Oregon governor “gives us hope” because her story “speaks to the growing acceptance of bisexuals within Oregon and within the entire country.”
“There are still many issues facing the community, as Gov. Brown’s own experiences with domestic violence indicate, but it is empowering to know that we will be represented by someone who understands our unique experiences,” Yeager said.