The late Patsy Mink would have turned 91 in December, leaving a legacy for the people of Hawaii and the United States of leveling the playing field for all women in higher education.

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That legacy has come home to Hawaii, with the equality that Title IX — the law she co-authored and championed — now enshrined in Hawaii state law. It’s also the first state Title IX law to extend those protections to LGBTQ+ students, teachers and faculty.

She was a trailblazer in politics, but leading the way meant she was a target of racial and gender-based discrimination. A direct connection can be drawn from Mink’s experience of racial and gender discrimination to Congresswoman Mink’s instrumental role in co-authoring Title IX. However, despite the advances that were made because of Mink, there is still much work to be done including extending those rights to the LGBTQ+ community.

Mink was born Patsy Matsu Takemoto on Dec. 6, 1927, in what was the Territory of Hawaii. Mink’s father (an engineer) was passed over for promotions in favor of his white co-workers.

While attending the University of Nebraska, Mink was placed in student housing segregated by race. She formed the Unaffiliated Students of the University of Nebraska for students of color who were prohibited from joining fraternities and sororities and the group successfully changed the university’s housing policies.

Patsy Takemoto Mink was a leader in legislating against discrimination.

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Mink’s ambition was to be a doctor, but none of the medical schools she applied to would take a woman — or a woman of color. Being shut out of what she had worked so long and hard for was devastating but it put her on the path to effecting change that reverberates to this day.

Focusing on and being accepted into law school, Mink turned her attention to politics. She was elected to congress in 1964 — the first woman of Asian ancestry and the first non-white woman elected to office.

Championing The Law

Mink was the first of more minority women elected to Congress, including women who were part of racial minorities that had been marginalized. She served from 1965 to 1977, and again from 1990 to 2002.

She also served on the Honolulu City Council, as the Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs in the Carter administration and was Secretary of the House Democratic Caucus while in Congress.

Title IX became synonymous with Mink. After Title IX was passed, the law was renamed the Patsy T. Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act in 2002 because of her co-authoring and championing the law.

Title IX states: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

It is only appropriate that Hawaii leads the way in extending Title IX rights.

Initially this law was associated with women’s athletics and establishing and expanding programs for female athletes at colleges and universities.

However, the law prohibited all discrimination on the basis of sex for any educational institution taking federal funds, putting virtually all educational institutions from grade schools to high schools and colleges under the jurisdiction of Title IX.

Schools also must have clear policies in place for handling sexual harassment and sexual assault allegations because of the law.

As the birthplace of Mink, it is only appropriate that Hawaii leads the way in extending Title IX rights. The federal government should follow Hawaii’s lead and continue to build on Mink’s legacy to ensure schools and universities develop their students’ talents and abilities, no matter what their color, sex or gender identity.

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