Proud Representative Defeats Proud Boy


Adrian Tam

Hawaii Representative poses for a picture at the State Capitol.

Vivian Rosenlee, Reporter

On November 3rd, Adrian Tam assumed office in the Hawaii House of Representatives for District 22 (Ala Moana, Waikiki, and Kaka`ako).  Tam’s first week in office has largely been normal: moving in, hiring staff, and learning.  However, his electionnarrowly winning against a long-time politician, defeating an alt-right Proud Boy opponent, making national news, and becoming the only openly gay Hawaii Representativewas anything but.

Newcomer in the Primaries

Back in August, Tam was fighting what many considered to be a losing battle. Tam, a first time 28-year-old candidate, was up against Tom Brower, a-14 year incumbent in his district.  He didn’t have the experience, connections, or “high dollar lobbyist donors” Brower did. By all means (and by Tam’s own words), he was expected to lose. 

“When you talk to people, you win them over,” Tam said, and that’s exactly how he won.

With nothing to lose and everything to gain, Tam got a list of phone numbers from his district.  For hours every day he called his constituents, talked to them one on one, and got to know them and their problems.  He woke up early to sign-wave every morning. Tam walked the district, knocked on doors, and introduced himself to strangers. Even in his off time he’d continue to meet and talk to new peoplesome of his favorite moments from the campaign were playing tennis at Ala Moana Beach Park with the members of his neighborhood. “Some candidates wouldn’t do that work, and just expect to win,” Tam said.  In the end, that connection with his community was the difference. Tam’s grassroots campaign had worked, and he won against Brower with a three percent lead.

A Newsworthy General Election

The general election brought a new wave of difficulties.  His Republican opponent Nick Ochs’ reputation preceded him.  Ochs is the current president and founder of Proud Boys Hawaii, a national far-right organization. The Proud Boys have been described by US intelligence as a “white supremacy group” and have engaged in political violence.  During Tam’s campaign, Ochs would frequently target him on social media.  While sign-waving, Tam was concerned for the safety of his supporters and suggested they didn’t wear any of his merchandise at night to avoid attacks.  “The more you give them any attention, the more they will attack you. And the more [you] feed them, they thrive off of attention,” Tam said.  Ultimately, this strategy of using love to trump hate paid off.  With 68% of the popular vote, Tam won District 22.

In the days after his election, Tam’s popularity skyrocketed.  Aside from dominating local news stations, his unique story started to get picked up by national and international news.  Tam’s name and face were featured in the Daily Beast, PinkNews, and NBC.  He got shoutouts from celebritiesdesigner Marc Jacobs and makeup artist/YouTuber Bretman Rockand a follow from one of his favorite comedians, Ronny Chieng. But in the end, it was the smaller recognitions of his victory that mattered the most.   

“I’ve gotten a lot of letters and emails and messages from people around the world, telling me how much this means to them,” Tam said.  In Hawaii, it’s entirely possible for a gay politician to win, but in Indonesia, where Tam once received a message, gay marriage isn’t legal.  Tam hopes that the news of his election can help inspire others to find their voice and run for office, too. 

Making Milestones

Tam is currently the only openly LGBT (the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community) member of Hawaii’s House as well as one of the youngest members.  However, he still makes sure to mention those that have come before him and those alongside him for where he is now.  Tam notes that change is coming to Hawaii and that he is only one of eight other incoming under-40 legislators.  He also credits other LGBT Hawaii politicians for helping him feel like it was possible to run for office growing up.  This includes Blake Oshiro (an openly gay Hawaii Representative before him) and Kim Coco Iwamoto (formerly the highest-ranked transgender elected official) for coming first.

“I always say that our legislature should look like the people of Hawaii… so I’m glad that I finally have a seat at the table,” Tam said.

There’s still a long way to go until the legislature looks just like the people of the islands, and hears all of their concerns and problems.  But for the next two years, Tam is dedicated to giving back to the community that gave him a shot and elected him.  Between aiming to ease the state’s budget deficit, make his community safer, and provide opportunities for Hawaii’s youth, Tam hopes to make the world a better place.  

“Even though I’m the only one right now, just right now, I [will] not be the last one,” Tam said. “And more will join.”