First Openly Lesbian African-American Mayor Takes Office

E. Denise Simmons made history on Jan 14 when she was elected mayor by her City Council colleagues in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

E. Denise Simmons made history on Jan 14 when she was elected mayor by her City Council colleagues in Cambridge, Mass-achusetts. She became the first openly lesbian African-African to hold the office in an American city.

“I feel that it’s an honor to serve with distinction and open up opportunities by serving in this position,” Simmons told GO in a telephone interview after her election. “My presence here moves things along,” she added, “and makes the impossible possible.”

Simmons, 56, won a seat on the City Council in 2001, after nearly a decade of service on the School Committee. A small businesswoman and lifelong resident of Cambridge, she brings decades of involvement in economic, family and youth issues, in addition to her commitment to LGBT rights in the only state that grants full marriage equality to same-sex couples.

While an elected member of the Cambridge School Committee in the mid-’90s, Simmons became the board’s first-ever family liaison to the LGBT community. Also during that time, her sexual orientation, which she never hid, was announced in the local newspaper.

“The community didn’t blink,” she recalls of the experience in the city of 101,000 adjacent to Boston. Her mayoral predecessor, Ken Reeves, holds the distinction of being the first openly gay African-American mayor in the United States.

Simmons credits her tenure on the School Committee, which is chaired by the mayor, with helping her appreciate the possibilities of a political career.

“I realized how important it is to have someone on the other side of the aisle, pushing your agenda and advocating for you,” she states.

In her mayoral role, Simmons plans to emphasize education and green jobs initiatives. The latter create economic opportunities in tandem with environmental awareness. As a
partnered mother of four who is raising three grandchildren ages 16, 14 and 10, she speaks with authority on school and family issues.

When GO asked the hottest question of the political season as it pertains to the national scene, Simmons enthusiastically answered that she supports Senator Barack Obama for president.  “I like his message, his experience and his courage,” she said. “He has the ability to bring people together from diverse ideologies and parties and I think he’s very good at that, and that’s my reason for supporting him.”

What Do You Think?