Story at a glance
- Christopher Coburn, a newly elected city commissioner in Bozeman, Mont., is the state’s first Black, LGBTQ+ elected official.
- Coburn was elected in November after being appointed to the commission earlier this year when a seat was left open by a sudden departure.
- While Montana politics are largely conservative, Coburn said his dedication to his state and his community resonated with voters.
A city commissioner in Bozeman, Mont. is the state’s first Black, LGBTQ+ elected official.
Christopher Coburn, a Montana native who grew up in Missoula, roughly three hours outside of Bozeman, was elected to the city commission in early November after he was passed over for an appointment last fall.
When another commissioner suddenly resigned in March, Coburn was appointed to fill the unexpired term before winning a four-year seat in the municipal general election last month.
Coburn’s win as a queer Black man in a state where 38 percent of adults identify as conservative and whose governor granted license to businesses earlier this year to discriminate against LGBTQ+ patrons may seem unusual from the outside.
But Coburn said his race and his sexual orientation aren’t the only things that define him as a leader. He’s a lifelong Montanan and has a firm grasp on local political dynamics and community issues — something that resonated with voters.
“This is my home, but I know how to navigate Montana politics. Even if we have differences, we also have shared values like stewardship, community and respect. I am not going to lie to you and say it’s easy campaigning as queer, but it’s the only thing available to me, because this is who I am,” he told the Daily Montanan Tuesday.
“It means a lot to me that I can show up as my full self and be successful. I want people to see themselves represented at the highest levels of decision making in Bozeman,” he added.
Coburn was congratulated on his historic win by Wilmot Collins, who in 2017 became the first Black mayor elected in Montana.
“I want to extend my warmest congratulations to Christopher Coburn of Bozeman for becoming the first Black, LGBTQ elected official in the state of Montana,” he wrote on Twitter. “You are an inspiration to many, and I can’t wait to see all of the amazing things you make happen for the city of Bozeman!”
Coburn was also praised by the former Houston Mayor Annise Parker, one of the first openly gay leaders of a large city.
“Montana and the nation continue to grapple with systemic racism, police brutality and health and economic disparities – and Christopher is involved in efforts to tackle all of these pressing issues,” she said in a statement posted to the website of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, for which she is chief executive. “Christopher shattered a rainbow ceiling in Montana, and his victory will encourage even more LGBTQ people to step up and run.”
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