“When you’re coming out, you have to build a resilience of dealing with people who treat you differently for who you are, and that has made me a stronger person.”
Christine "Tina" Kotek stands as a trailblazer in American politics, holding the distinction of being the first openly lesbian governor of Oregon and one of the initial two lesbian governors elected in the United States. Moreover, she made history as the inaugural openly lesbian speaker of a State House and emerged as the longest-serving House speaker in Oregon's annals.
Born in York, Pennsylvania, to first-generation American parents with Czech and Slovene heritage, Kotek's journey unfolded against a backdrop of diverse cultural influences. Following her graduation from Dallastown Area High School, she embarked on studies at Georgetown University, though she did not complete her course. Her path eventually led her to Oregon in 1987, and in 1990, she earned a bachelor's degree in religious studies from the University of Oregon. Furthering her academic pursuits, Kotek achieved a master's degree in international studies and comparative religion from the University of Washington.
Long before seeking public office, Kotek dedicated herself to community service. She championed the cause of the Oregon Food Bank and served as a policymaker for Children First for Oregon. Her ongoing commitment extends to volunteering at her church's food pantry.
Religion holds a significant place in Kotek's life, and her journey included the intersection of her faith and her identity as a lesbian. It was during her studies in religious studies that she openly embraced her sexual orientation. Kotek found solace and fortitude in her faith, countering anti-LGBTQ rhetoric with a steadfast sense of self.
Kotek remains unreserved in expressing her lesbian identity. She met her wife, Aimee Wilson, in 2005, and their union was solidified in marriage in 2017, just two years after the nationwide legalization of same-sex marriage. While they safeguard the privacy of their personal lives, they are forthright about their relationship, often appearing together at political events.
Kotek's entry into the realm of politics initially saw a setback with her loss in the 2004 Democratic primary for an Oregon House seat. However, triumph followed in 2006 when she secured a House seat with an overwhelming majority of the vote. Reelected in subsequent terms, Kotek's ascendancy continued in 2013 with her nomination as Speaker of the House—an achievement unprecedented for an openly lesbian individual. She held this position until 2022, when she transitioned to her gubernatorial campaign.
In 2023, Kotek clinched the role of the 39th governor of Oregon, marking a historic milestone as the state's inaugural openly lesbian governor and only the second in U.S. history. Her unwavering commitment is dedicated to enhancing the lives of Oregon's residents, with a progressive Democratic agenda advocating for an increased minimum wage, enhanced healthcare accessibility, and safeguarding the legality of abortion, among other vital policies.
Kotek, along with her wife and their two dogs, resides in North Portland, embodying a legacy of advocacy, leadership, and inclusivity in her adoptive home state.