In exclusive interview, former Arizona state Sen. Kyrsten Sinema discusses sexual orientation, friendship with Giffords, state’s anti-immigration law
Sunday night Sinema
The fundraiser for Kyrsten Sinema is 5-8 p.m. Sunday, April 29, in the Vixen Lounge at Sue Ellen’s. To R.S.V.P., email Erin Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about Sinema, visit www.kyrstensinema.com.
Kyrsten Sinema, a former Arizona state senator who’s vying to become the first bisexual member of Congress, will be in Dallas on Sunday, April 29, for a fundraiser sponsored by
Stonewall Democrats, the Human Rights Campaign and the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.
Sinema resigned in January from the Arizona Senate to focus on her campaign for the new 9th Congressional District seat. If elected, she would not only be the first bisexual person elected to Congress, but also at 35 the youngest woman to represent Arizona.
Erin Moore of Dallas, vice president of the Texas Stonewall Democratic Caucus, helped plan the fundraiser after meeting Sinema and hearing hear speak in the past.
“She’s a great candidate and a great statesman and would be great for female and LGBT causes,” Moore said. “We’re hoping to raise some money to get her shored up in her campaign and have a voice in Congress.”
Sinema was elected to the Arizona House of Representatives in 2004 and was elected state senator in 2010. After working in the state Legislature, she said she wanted to do more for the struggling citizens she helped in her state.
“Families all across America are struggling,” she said. “And Congress is doing nothing to help families.”
Sinema said she was raised in poverty after her parents divorced. Although both of her parents remarried, she lived in an old gas station with no running water or electricity for two years when she was 8.
“Sometimes we didn’t have enough food to eat. We were hungry,” she said. “Those were tough times.”
Her stepfather was fortunate to get a job after two years, and Sinema said her life began to improve. But the challenges of her youth helped inspire her to seek a career in social work and later in politics to help families like hers that had worked hard, earned college degrees and still couldn’t find jobs or feed their families.
Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, also inspired Sinema to run for Congress. The two served in the state Legislature together. Sinema said when Giffords ran for Congress in 2006, she was only in her second year of service but thought that she could run one day, too.
“She’s a real role model for me,” Sinema said. “She just had a desire to serve and a focus on the community and just really embodied the same values that I hold dear.”
After the assassination attempt on Giffords in January 2011 in Tucson, Sinema sponsored a bill to ban Westboro Baptist Church protesters from the funeral of a 9-year-old girl who was killed in the shooting.
Sinema called the shooting a testament to how politics have bred hate in America, with constant fighting in the Capitol. She said Giffords continues to be a role model for her even after she resigned earlier this year.
“I think that Gabby was a model for civility and civic discourse long before the shooting and she continues to be just that now that she’s resigned from Congress,” she said. “I think she’s just a beacon of light, that she’s the standard there for all of us.”
In 2006, Sinema chaired Arizona Together in an effort to stop an amendment from passing that would have banned same-sex marriage and civil unions, as well as domestic partner benefits offered by municipalities. The amendment did not pass, making Arizona the only state to vote down a state marriage amendment. A more narrowly written marriage amendment passed in 2008. Sinema said its passage was “unfortunate,” but at least it did not take away the rights that straight and gay unmarried unions have.
Sinema supports marriage equality and said she thinks it should be added to the Democratic platform, arguing that it would not harm the party because people’s mindsets are changing in favor of equality.
“I fundamentally agree that treating one group of people differently from another group of people, regardless of whether or not I’m a member of that group, is wrong,” she said.
“And that’s why I’ve worked so hard on immigration and why I’ve worked so hard on issues like LGBT issues … to me the differential treatment if those communities is very similar. It’s just not OK to treat people differently because of who they are.”
A staunch supporter of the DREAM Act, Sinema said “it makes no sense” to not allow children who grow up in America and complete college or serve in the military to be granted citizenship.
As for immigration, Sinema said Arizona’s law passed in 2010 and currently being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court is “a failed solution to a very real problem.” The law, which has been hailed as the strictest immigration law in the U.S., allows police to check the status of people they stop if there is suspicion they are illegal and cracks down on the hiring of immigrants.
Sinema said there needs to be a secure border while letting in those who do good and bring business, and a system to allow people to come in to meet labor needs. As for the millions of people who are in the U.S. illegally, she said they need to be dealt with in terms of fines, paying taxes, learning English and a means to gain citizenship without deporting them.
Sinema will face two Democrats in the primary, state Sen. David Schapira, who has served in the Legislature since 2007, and former Arizona Democratic Party Chairman Andrei
Cherny. With five Republicans running, the Democratic nominee will also have a general election opponent.
The new district is evenly split between Democrats, Republicans and Independents, but Sinema said Democrats have historically done well in the area, calling it “truly a toss-up district,” but adding that she is confident because of “my experience and my record of putting down petty partisan politics and getting things done.”
Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Washington D.C.-based Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, said that the organization has endorsed her but she still has “stiff competition.”
“We feel pretty good about the race and are confident if she gets the nomination that she can actually win and become the first openly bisexual member of Congress,” Dison said.
He said that while bisexuals make up the largest part of the LGBT community, they “are often not heard as loudly as gays and lesbians.” But Sinema’s success could change that.
“It would be a very big moment if someone like her was elected to Congress because it would be the first person who would be able to talk about those issues from a point of authenticity,” he said. “And on the floor of the United States House of Representatives, that would be kind of cool.”
Sinema was originally labeled as a lesbian politician, but later came out as bisexual. She said that while she self-identifies as bi, she thinks the focus on labels creates division within communities.
“I believe that every member of the LGBT community is equally valued and important and that individuals should have the right to self-identify in whatever way makes them feel most comfortable,” Sinema said.
While she is excited about the possibility of becoming the first bisexual elected to Congress, she said she wants to help the LGBT community unite with other communities struggling for equality.
“I’m excited about being a person who can go and represent the LGBT community,” she said. “I also want to represent women and children and people who are disabled and
Latinos and people who are left behind.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 29, 2012.