America's First Openly Bisexual Governor

Kate Brown, Oregon's new executive, takes over after John Kitzhaber was forced to resign.

Don Ryan/AP/The Atlantic

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber submitted his resignation on Friday, just one month into his record fourth term in office. Kitzhaber's fate was all but sealed Thursday, after Secretary of State Kate Brown issued a statement describing his behavior, accurately, as "bizarre," top Democrats called on him to step down, and several of his closest advisers resigned.

The resignation takes effect on Wednesday, February 18, and according to the state's succession law, Brown will take over his job—and becomes a pioneer. She is the nation's first openly bisexual governor. (Like Kitzhaber, she's a Democrat.) By some standards, she's also the first openly LGBT governor. James McGreevey, former governor of New Jersey, sometimes gets that honor, but McGreevey came out while announcing his resignation amid a sex-and-influence scandal.

"I believe it was during my early 30’s that I figured out who, or what, I am. But it wasn’t until it was written in the Oregonian newspaper that I was bisexual that I had to face the inevitable and let those around me know," she wrote for a collection of portraits of out lawmakers. She said she found it especially hard to explain that she wasn't simply a lesbian, encountering skepticism from her family, gay friends, and straight friends alike: "Some days I feel like I have a foot in both worlds, yet never really belonging to either."

She offered a taste of the sort of creepy and uncomfortable treatment she received in the same essay:

At the beginning of the next legislative session sitting in the House lounge, representative Bill Markham, who is over 70 years old, extremely conservative, and a legislator for more than 20 years comes to join me. Over lunch he looks up to say, “Read in the Oregonian a few months ago you were bisexual. Guess that means I still have a chance?!”

As one the nation's highest-ranking LGBT elected officials, she's received national support. "I have been receiving checks in the mail from all over the country. To have that support from the national LGBT community is really wonderful and exciting," she told the Bay Area Reporter, a California LBGT newspaper, in 2007, while running for secretary. (Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat, became the first bisexual member of the U.S. House of Representatives in 2013.)

In many ways, Brown—who is now married to a man—cuts a classic Oregon profile: She loves yoga and studied environmental law at Lewis and Clark College in Portland. She was born in Spain, where her father was in the Air Force.

Brown will serve until 2016, when an election will be held to serve out the remainder of Kitzhaber's term, which ends in 2019. She could run in that race. The nation narrowly missed having its first openly gay elected governor in 2014, when Representative Mike Michaud's bid to defeat incumbent Paul LePage in Maine fell short.

Her ascension may be a welcome return to normalcy for Oregon's political establishment, which has been shaken by the bizarre scandal that brought Kitzhaber down. Kitzhaber's fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, stands accused of using her connections in government to further the interests of clients of her consulting business; there are allegations that Hayes and Kitzhaber tried to cover up the conflicts of interest involved.