What to Know About Ritchie Torres, the First Gay Afro-Latino Elected to Congress
Torres, a New York City council member, won his election for the state's 15th Congressional District.
Last week, Democratic politician Ritchie Torres, 32, won his congressional race in New York, becoming the first openly gay Afro-Latino elected to Congress. After winning the primary this summer, Torres claimed victory on election night over his Republican opponent in New York's 15th Congressional District, which is centered in the Bronx.
Torres will share the historical moment with the winner in New York's 17th District, Mondaire Jones, who is the first openly gay Black member of Congress. With the addition of the two New Yorkers, the next session of Congress will likely include 11 openly LGBTQ+ members, between nine representatives in the House and two senators.
"Thank you," Torres tweeted about his victory. "Tonight, we made history. It is the honor of a lifetime to represent the essential borough, the Bronx."
Before Torres started his political career, he grew up in New York. Here's more you need to know about him:
His father is Puerto Rican and is his mom is African-American. His mother raised him, his twin brother, and their sister in the Throggs Neck Houses, a public housing project in the Throggs Neck neighborhood of the East Bronx, where he was frequently hospitalized for asthma as a result of mold growing in their apartment.
"I was raised by a single mother who raised children on minimum wage," Torres has said. "I lived in public housing and had to struggle with depression and substance abuse. I never thought life would take me on a journey from the Bronx to Washington, D.C."
In junior high, he realized he was gay, but did not come out till his sophomore year of high school because he was afraid of homophobic violence from his peers.
He attended Herbert H. Lehman High School in the Bronx, later working as an intern in the offices of the mayor and attorney general. After high school, Torres enrolled at New York University, but dropped out at the beginning of his sophomore year because he was suffering from severe depression. He struggled with suicidal thoughts based on his sexuality. As he recovered, Torres resumed working for NYC Council Member James Vacca, eventually becoming Vacca's housing director. In that role, Torres conducted inspections and reported on housing conditions, ensuring that critical issues were promptly addressed.
His political career
At 25, Torres ran to succeed Joel Rivera as the council member for the 15th district of the New York City Council. When he won the nomination, he became the first openly gay political candidate in the Bronx to win the Democratic Party nomination and the youngest elected city official. Torres also serves as a Deputy Leader of the City Council, chair of the Committee on Public Housing, and is a deputy majority leader. In 2016, Torres was a delegate for Bernie Sanders's presidential campaign.
His work with the LGBTQ+ community
Torres helped open the first homeless shelter for LGBTQ+ youth in the Bronx and he also secured funds for senior centers to serve LGBTQ+ people in all five boroughs.
New York's 15th Congressional District
In July 2019, Torres announced his bid for New York's 15th Congressional District, to succeed Representative José E. Serrano. The 15th District is one of the most heavily Democratic-leaning districts in the U.S. Torres won the 2020 general election and will assume office on January 3, 2021.