Democrats Mondaire Jones and Ritchie Torres were officially sworn into Congress on January 3 in an historic moment that delivered New York City its first out member of Congress and grew the state’s LGBTQ Congressional delegation from one member to three.
Jones, who is the first out gay Black member of Congress, is succeeding Representative Nita Lowey in New York’s 17th district, which covers Rockland County as well as Central and Northern Westchester. Torres, now the first out gay Afro-Latinx congressmember, will represent the South Bronx in the 15th District following the departure of José E. Serrano. Jones and Torres are joining out gay Hudson Valley Congressmember Sean Patrick Maloney, who became New York’s first out LGBTQ member of Congress when he was first elected in 2012.
Torres will serve on the House Committee on Financial Services, while Jones will be a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
Both of the incoming lawmakers acknowledged their rise to Capitol Hill as they took office.
“Today, with my sister by my side, I was sworn in to represent the community that raised me from Section 8 housing all the way to the halls of Congress,” Jones wrote in a Tweet. “My heart is full of gratitude for the great people of Westchester and Rockland Counties, and I can’t wait to get to work.”
Torres, 32, praised his predecessor as he stepped in to represent the Bronx at a critical juncture in Washington.
“Thank you, @RepJoseSerrano, for dedicating your life to serving the people of the Bronx. You have — without fail — set the gold standard of decency and integrity in elected office,” Torres noted in a tweet. “From the Bronx River to Puerto Rico, the impact of your service will be forever felt.”
Torres is entering Congress after spending nearly two full terms as a city lawmaker who chaired the Committee on Public Housing in his first term and led the Oversight and Investigations Committee following his re-election. Although Jones has not worked as an elected official, he has held positions in the Obama administration’s office of legal policy at the Department of Justice. He also worked as an attorney for Westchester County’s Law Department.
During the 2020 election, Jones’s campaign ran on a progressive platform that included a f0cus on student loan forgiveness as well as support for Medicare for All, a policy providing single-payer healthcare coverage throughout the US.
Torres’ victory marked a defining moment in his career — and it was even more pivotal because he defeated anti-LGBTQ Councilmember Ruben Diaz, Sr. in a contentious Democratic primary election battle that featured several other notable candidates, including former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Bronx Assemblymember Michael Blake. Torres focused heavily on targeting Diaz’s anti-LGBTQ record, though Torres also took some heat from his opponents — especially on issues of campaign finance — once he emerged as a frontrunner down the stretch.
In an interview with Gay City News in 2019, Torres set the tone for his campaign as he made the case that he would be the best alternative to Diaz.
“[Diaz] is a creature of the right, I am a creature of the pragmatic progressive left,” Torres told Gay City News in 2019. “He’s a leading voice of opposition to LGBT equality, I am an LGBT trailblazer in the Bronx. So the race is about the future of the Bronx. Who we elect as our congressperson in the 15th district will speak powerfully about the values of the borough. It is by far the most consequential race in the Bronx in decades.”
Jones and Torres have vowed to advocate for the Equality Act, a comprehensive non-discrimination bill that would include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected clauses under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. That bill would add to the protections established over the summer when the Supreme Court ruled that the Title VII ban on employment discrimination based on sex also encompasses sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. While that ruling is expected to eventually have a wider impact beyond employment, legislation is needed to take those gains a step further.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on January 4 that there will be a special election for Torres’ former Bronx City Council seat on March 23. Out trans candidate Elisa Crespo is among those aiming to succeed Torres in the 15th District, which is in the Central Bronx.
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