Trans Candidates take to Office

Alice Bailey

On Nov. 7, Election Day presented multiple historic victories for the transgender community with eight  openly trans candidates elected to city councils, school boards, boards of representatives, and, mostly notably, the Virginia House of Delegates. The candidate who received the most press was Danica Roem, who ran as a Democrat against Republican incumbent Bob Marshall . Marshall is the author of the discriminatory “bathroom bill” and self-described Virginian “chief homophobe.” He ran an extensive slander campaign against Roem. 

Roem may be the first out trans person who will both be elected and serve her term on a state legislature, but she is not the first trans person to do these things individually. Althea Garrison was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1993 and served one term, making her the first trans person to do so. However, Garrison was not out at the time of her campaign. 

The fact that she was transgender was publicized without her consent shortly after the election. On the other hand, Stacie Laughton was already out when she was elected to the New Hampshire’s House of Representatives. She did not serve her term, though, after her previous jail sentencing prompted some questions about her eligibility for the position.

Despite Roem’s election potentially being a historic U.S. first, it is important to give attention to the seven other trans people elected on Nov. 7. Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunnigham were elected to the Minneapolis City Council in the Ward 8 and Ward 4 seats, making Andrea Jenkins the first out trans person elected to a major city’s governing body. Jenkins and Cunningham are some of the first openly-trans people of color elected in the United States. Andrea Jenkins also became the first openly transgender woman of color elected to public office in the United States. 

Andrea Jenkins announced her run for office after 5,000 people called her to run on Facebook immediately after Elizabeth Glidden, the previous Ward 8 chair, released a statement saying that she would not run for re-election. Cunningham became the first transgender man elected to a major city’s council. He became the first new Democratic candidate backed by the party in Minnesota in nearly 20 years. Both candidates made Teen Vogue’s “4 Transgender Candidates to Watch” list with Danica Roem and Mel Wymore, who ran for the District 6 seat of the New York City Council and did not win.

Lisa Middleton was elected to the City Council of Palm Springs, California, making everyone on the council LGBTQ+. It is made up of three gay men, one bisexual woman, and Middleton. Tyler Titus and a trans woman named Gerri Cannon were elected to the school boards of Somersworth, New Hampshire and Erie, Pennsylvania, respectively. Tyler Titus became the first openly transgender candidate to be elected in Pennsylvania. According to Cannon’s LinkedIn account, she plans to join the running to be a New Hampshire State Representative in 2018, following in the footsteps of Stacie Laughton.

Stephe Koontz was elected to the Doraville City Council in Georgia and became the city’s first openly trans elected official, winning by a close margin of 350 to 344 votes in Doraville City Council District 3. When Raven Matherne was elected to the Stamford Board of Representatives in Connecticut on election night, she became the state’s first out transgender lawmaker. She is also the youngest member in the history of the board.

In the current political climate, with some candidates running against staunchly anti-trans opponents or in states with anti-trans policies, these victories represent a new wave of trans representation in U.S. public offices. According to the Williams Institute, there are about 1.4 million trans adults in the United States and we are underrepresented in public office but overrepresented in victimization of hate crimes. 

The Human Rights Campaign has reported a rise in the murders of trans people, up from 25 murders in the entirety of last year to 27 before Oct. 22. The election of these trans people to public office is the first step towards progress in non-discriminatory legislation and a continuation of work done by trans activists to gain equity under the law. I can only hope that these candidates continue their work and fight for trans rights, and bringing our issues into the public and legal eye.