Oregon set to select 1st lesbian House speaker

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SALEM, Ore. — An openly lesbian lawmaker could lead a state legislative chamber for the first time if Democrats choose Rep. Tina Kotek as House speaker in Oregon, as expected.

Kotek was running unopposed Thursday for the post. Her selection would be another key political victory for the gay community that has notched successes around the nation.

If Kotek wins the position, openly gay leaders will control the House or Senate in five states -- more than ever before, and up from two before last week's election, according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund.

Four of those leaders are men.

"For many years, we were building a bench of openly gay officials who could step into those roles, and now we're seeing that around the country," said Denis Dison, a spokesman for the Victory Fund, a national group that helps gay candidates get elected to offices at all levels.

The organization backed 180 candidates this year, and 122 won office, Dison said.

Kotek said she didn't set out to break barriers but is honored to represent the gay community.

"We all look for people out there who look like us," she said. "I have had emails and text messages from people who are very excited."

Kotek has represented a liberal district in the heart of Portland since 2007. She became the No. 2 leader in the Oregon House in 2011 after persuading her Democratic colleagues to oust her predecessor after a legislative session that left many of them frustrated by Republican successes.