“You Can’t Be What You Can’t See”: Oregon Governor Kate Brown

Kate BrownBy Shaley Howard, PQ Monthly

Kate Brown became the first openly bisexual woman and second female governor in the state of Oregon on February 18, 2015. For thousands, this was a momentous and memorable day—a milestone for Oregonians and the nation. I had a chance to ask Governor Brown a few questions recently about her time in office so far and thoughts on being the second female and first bisexual governor.

PQ Monthly: Governor Brown, being the first bisexual and second female Governor of Oregon what, if any, political and personal challenges did you face in regard to your sexuality orientation and a woman?
            Gov. Brown: I understand that nationally this was pretty big news when I took office, but I have been very open for a long time about being bisexual, so to many Oregonians, it is not an issue. I continually work to refocus the discussion on finding solutions to the issues and needs of the people and communities of this state rather than on me and my personal relationships.
That said, I have been an advocate for the LGBTQ community my entire political career, and that will not change. It is important to have role models—you can’t be what you cannot see. I also think women and girls benefit from having good mentors, and I have been so fortunate to have had Gov. Barbara Roberts, Oregon’s first woman governor, as my mentor and friend for many years. She taught me through her example that we all have an obligation to support and cultivate the next generation of women leaders for Oregon.


PQ:  It must have been a whirlwind the last 6 months since becoming Governor. What are some of the political and personal challenges you’ve had to experience?
            Brown: Taking office three weeks into the legislative session—and working to advance a legislative agenda and budgets I inherited from my predecessor—were definitely two of the biggest challenges. But my more than 20 years of experience as a legislator and Oregon’s Secretary of State served me well in navigating what might otherwise have been a difficult transition. I am fortunate to have the support of excellent staff, a very caring spouse, and strong network of friends and family as well. I am looking forward to rolling out my administration’s agenda.


PQ:  Do you feel your sexuality and/or sexual orientation has influenced your path as a leader?
            Brown: I went to law school to acquire the tools I needed to change the world, and I initially sought public office to be the champion for people who traditionally have not had a voice in the policy-making process. This includes members of the LGBT community; also people with disabilities, less financial means, children and working families.The work I have done over the past two decades, in collaboration with legislators from both chambers and both parties, has helped Oregon emerge as a national policy leader in terms of equity and inclusion. There is still so much more to be done, however, and I will continue to prioritize this work.


PQ:  What are you most proud of so far?
            Brown: I am so pleased to have the opportunity to make Oregon a better place for all of our families, and to see good progress being made.


PQ:  Who has been your biggest influence/role model?
            Brown: Governor Barbara Roberts


PQ:  What particular programs do you support for growing leaders in the LGBT community and why?
            Brown: There are many good programs and opportunities for leadership development in Oregon. Obviously, Basic Rights Oregon, the state’s chapter of the American Leadership Forum, and Emerge Oregon are excellent examples. Also, the Victory Fund established a scholarship at the JFK School of Public Policy at Harvard, and that is a great opportunity.
Additionally, I have made a conscious effort throughout my career to reach out to and mentor the next generation of leaders from the LGBTQ community. I know those I have mentored are doing the same, because they see, as I do, now important mentorship is to ensuring strong and continuous leadership and representation in the public policy arena.


PQ:  If you could spend more time being involved in something, what would it be?

            Brown: Mentorship and leadership development programs for women such as Emerge Oregon, the Barbara Lee Institute and Girls State.


PQ:  If you could share one piece of advice with the public about what it’s like being bisexual and a woman in politics today, what would it be?
            Brown: Be yourself. The joy of living in this modern age is that it’s much more possible to be yourself than it once was. Be yourself.