By Lynnea Urania Stuart
Elation peeled in shouts, high fives, embraces, and jubilation throughout the trans community. Historic wins in California, Georgia, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Virginia aroused great celebration and deep pride. We would have been elated if only 1 happened to win office. But 7 won instead. Has the trans community truly found its place in society? Not yet, but we may be on our way. Questions remain. Now that the 7 won, what’s next for these people and for the trans community?
VICTORIES MORE THAN NAME DEEP
In case you might not have been following this story, here’s a list of the winners:
- Doraville GA City Council: Stephe Koontz, a businesswoman and church administrator, also serving on the Board of Directors at the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta.1
- Erie PA School Board: Tyler Titus, winning as a write-in candidate. He’s a licensed professional counselor, working in public and private schools. He’s a known youth advocate, and public speaker.2
- Minneapolis MN City Council, Ward 8: Andrea Jenkins, winning with a whopping 73% of the vote against 3 other candidates in her district. She had been a campaign aide to other city council members for 12 years. Her objective as councilmember is to make Minneapolis a better place for marginalized minorities, especially African-Americans. She wants to create more affordable housing, promote police accountability, promoting economic development3
- Minneapolis MN City Council, Ward 4: Philippe Cunningham, winning by a closer margin than Andrea Jenkins so his election wasn’t called till the following day. He ran on a platform that stressed housing as a basic human right and expansion of business in the 4th4
- Palm Springs CA City Council: Lisa Middleton who won one of 2 seats, both winning 30% of the vote. Middleton previously served as a Planning Commissioner and other groups for the City of Palm Springs and worked for California’s State Compensation Insurance Fund (Worker’s Compensation). Her win makes her the first elected non-judicial trans official in California.5
- Somersworth NH School Board: Gerri Cannon, retired carpenter on call and public speaker at Freedom New Hampshire.6
- Virginia House of Delegates, 13th District: Danica Roem, a journalist against whom the Republican opponent produced ads attacking her trans status. She defeated her opponent by 9% of the vote.7
None of these candidates claim to be the first elected trans candidate anywhere in the world. We’ve known people like Stu Rasmussen, who was not only elected Mayor of Silverton OR but kept getting re-elected to municipal positions.8 Looking across the Pacific, Christchurch, New Zealand elected Georgina Beyer as Mayor in 1999.9 Victoria Kolakowski was elected in 2010 as a Judge of the Superior Court in Oakland CA.10 But all of them rightfully claim firsts for their own localities as those openly transgender. Others claim first in other ways. Andrea Jenkins was the first elected transwoman “of color” in the United States,11 followed by the first elected transman “of color,” both of whom will serve together on the Minneapolis City Council.12 Danica Roem of Virginia took the highest prize of all as the first trans candidate elected to a state legislative position.
Delegate Elect Roem’s win is especially significant in another way. Her opponent was Robert G. Marshall who had written and sponsored anti-transgender legislation in Virginia.13 Virginia still reels from the attack of Alt-Right organizations in Charlottesville last summer in a wave of racism and sexism emboldened by Donald Trump’s election the previous year and his anti-immigrant and anti-LGBT divisiveness.14 Delegate Elect Roem’s victory has been noted by a number of news organizations to be a rebuke against the agenda of Donald Trump.15
It’s not just Trump’s agenda they rebuked either. The rebuke has hit the prevailing agenda of the Evangelical Alliance. Time this week noted this comment on Twitter by Andrew T. Walker, the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission Director:
“Christian parents, the nations [sic] first transgender elected official enters into American history tonight. What are you doing to prepare your children for this new world?”16
His tweet demonstrated ignorance of the history of trans officials currently in office, and now, winning elections across the United States. But his comments also struck a chord with many religionists, with rebukes tweeted from everywhere. They included pointed references to his bigotry from parents, individuals, rabbis and other ministers, even a Jesuit. They didn’t mince words either, possibly a harbinger of things to come after Twitter doubled its allowable characters from 140 to 280.17
Rebukes from those not transgender made the wins that much sweeter, for it shows that many to whom trans-activists have appealed over the years really do get it. While much much more needs to be done, activists to date can point to such responses as the fruit of labors where they have sought for people to understand.
THE TERMS TO COME
So what lies ahead for these elected officials now? Not one of them can harbor any illusion of a political cakewalk to come. The hard work of running for office is meant to prepare for the even harder task of making good, for these officials must be able to make deals with other officials, many of whom staunchly hold views opposed to their own.
Consider the case of an existing trans official. Jess Herbst is Mayor of New Hope, Texas. Mayor Herbst had already been elected when she announced her transition.18 Did New Hope convulse with a major backlash?
To set the context of Mayor Herbst’s constituency, we must understand that Texas has been a battleground state on trans issues for many years. The Texas judicial decision in Littleton v. Prange in 1999 invalidated the heterosexual marriages of transpeople, declaring them to be same-sex unions on the basis of the presumption that the chromosomes of a transwoman must be 46 Karotype XY and those of a transman must be 46 Karotype XX.19 This precedent was later successfully challenged by Nikki Arguz in 2007.20 But these court battles underscore what has been a running philosophical conflict among Texans and legal experts on both sides.
Conflict reached a fever pitch this year in the Texas capitol of Austin in which the governor, known to be hostile to the rights of transpeople and especially trans kids, called the legislature to special session in an attempt to push through anti-transgender legislation.21 The action sparked waves of protests, not only by transpeople, but by allies in faith communities of various sorts. Mayor Herbst joined these protests.22
Texas’ “bathroom bills” and other pieces of anti-transgender legislation failed in the current legislative session. These measures are dead, at least till the next legislature. But after all that political turmoil, what repercussions existed for Mayor Herbst that might apply to the newly elected officials?
Mayor Herbst has found it to be “business as usual,” at least for now. The New Hope City Council has continued its work, seemingly indifferent to whether the mayor is trans or not.23
Trans Muse Planet asked Mayor Herbst concerning what the 7 new officials are likely to face in their terms of office. She responded:
“I think Danica will face the biggest issues. Being a delegate, she faces the largest number of peers and thus possibly animosity. She will be the only transgender woman her legislative colleagues have dealt with. I think the first few months will go smoothly as they study her for strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, Danica will have to deal with a possible 50/50 split in the house, a difficult situation in any case.
“For the city council members it should really be business as usual. Trans people are not unknown in local government, so as long as [they] stick to city business they will do great.”24
It’s a view echoed in her own philosophy as a public servant. Mayor Herbst advises:
“Public office is not about you. It’s about the people you represent. It is your job to lead, but also make sure no one is left behind.”25
Leaving certain people behind has become a mark of Dominionist officials who aggressively wear their religiosity on their sleeve. Attempts to undermine the rights of transpeople at the state and federal levels in the past 2 years have also become a theme for the current U.S. administration.26
The fact that transpeople understand minority struggles better than rabid Dominionists who reek of White supremacy, religious bigotry, and sexism marks them as better potential leaders precisely because they don’t want to leave others behind. Dominionists, on the other hand, crave political power to compel people to either accept some “acceptable” form of Christianity or face ostracism from work, home, and potentially every other part of society.
Dominionists have long urged its members to run for school boards and municipal offices in an attempt to control the educational process and facilitate proselytizing while shielding schoolchildren from understanding minority communities. Schools like that often present LGBT peoples as inherently “wicked”. Intersex people are ignored, instructors pretending they don’t exist and would also re-define transpeople out of existence in an agenda of erasure if they could. They trivialize science while the Bible as interpreted by local clergy becomes the full and final authority for everyone.
How much this Dominionist fervor plays out should make a difference in the level of difficulty these officials will face. It could be “business as usual,” to use Mayor Herbst’s terms. Council chambers can also become hotbeds of contention. Municipal offices aren’t usually partisan offices, even though officials typically do belong to political parties. They also typically consist of odd numbers of only a few seats, preventing stalemates in voting. They’re configurations conducive to getting things done.
Delegate Elect Roem’s challenges in that 50/50 partisan split that Mayor Herbst described should be examined further because the Dominionism that has fueled the GOP in recent years may also infect some Democrats. On the other hand, not all Republicans are Dominionists. Not all would share the snarkiness or arrogance we might expect from someone representing a district in Lynchburg with connections to Liberty University.
Those differences will matter for the Delegate Elect. After all, legislation incorporates the art of deal-making. As a journalist, she understands issues and argument. Her skills as a negotiator will be tested. Not only will others “study her strengths and weaknesses” as Mayor Herbst described, the Delegate Elect will also study those of other delegates.
But the likelihood of anti-transgender legislation in Richmond has diminished for a key reason other than the election of Danica Roem. Virginia also elected a Democrat, Ralph Northam, as Governor. He denounced the message of hate and disunity that has typified the Trump era. Anti-transgender legislation will be doomed to veto and proponents can’t expect sufficient votes to override it.27
Delegate Elect Roem’s term may also be compared to the terms of early Black Congress members during the period of Reconstruction. There was an influx of Black politicians serving at the federal level. Then Jim Crow laws put a damper upon them through suppression of Black voters. That kind of suppression has also raised its ugly head in the 2016 election and every voter must give attention to newly imposed requirements and overcome them lest our voices be shut out again as were Blacks before the Civil Rights Era. A closely split state like Virginia can easily see-saw from Left to Right. Southern GOP bosses will be inclined to perceive a minority candidate as vulnerable. No doubt, they will invest in a war chest for a challenger in the next electoral cycle. The Delegate Elect must understand this very well and likewise make preparations while performing well for her constituents.
LOOKING TOWARD 2018
This midterm victory for the trans community has emboldened not a few. We may expect to see many more transpeople seeking public office in the 2018 midterm election. Many with political aspirations have felt held back, not taken seriously in the mounting milieu of anti-transgender fervor from many sides.
But we can think again. Many of us are very astute at debate and should perhaps think about running for public office who might not have considered doing so in the past. We’ve been like gropers in the dark. But might we have been looking for the wrong thing, a light at the end of a tunnel of struggle or should we seek the light of a hallway we inhabit leading from disorder to an order of cooperation? It may be that all of us are far closer to that reality than we think and that we have more available at hand to make change happen than we had imagined. These 7, shining like the 7 ancient planets, have already taught us the latter case through their successes.
It’s good to start with local offices too. In doing so our future candidates learn the procedures that make greater things happen, unfolding from the obscure to the more influential. For the challenges increase with those higher levels, and electorates love those with greater experience and accomplishment. Local offices include school boards. After all, scientific and religious literacy need to maintain a balance, for both contribute to make humans human and to make inquirers more cunning.
For transpeople not so inclined to enter the political arena, it makes sense that we should support those who have those inclinations and who have a history of instruction, law, and bringing people together. A mere 7 can become 14, then more. Eventually Americans should understand that gender identity is no more a criterion for rejection than race, sex, or ethnicity.
What’s next for the 7 echoes what’s next for the rest of us: the prospect of a bright future, but a fight to maintain it. We have one distinct advantage in terms of voter anger. Donald Trump won partly because of anger on the Right. Now we’re witnessing a corresponding anger on the Left for oppression of minorities and anger . We even see anger in the Center for the impending restriction of civil rights of the sort that resembles the Jim Crow South more than the America in which we grew up. As divides within the GOP deepen on the fissures we’ve noticed in that party since Tea Party Republicans felt their oats after 2008, we can discover a new optimism through a newfound unity. The most oppressed of minorities, transpeople, may become symbolic of that unity too. We can only hope as we get busy.
Featured Image: A cluttered hallway leads to a bright light, fragmented into the colors of the transgender flag. From the author’s archives.
- Stephe Koontz. (Website, accessed November 8, 2017) https://www.stephekoontz.com/about .
- Candy Woodall. “Tyler Titus wins seat to become first transgender person elected in Pennsylvania” PennLive (November 7, 2017, accessed November 8, 2017) http://www.pennlive.com/news/2017/11/tyler_titus_wins_seat_to_becom.html
- Ashley May. “Danica Roem, Andrea Jenkins, more: Is this election a moment for the transgender community?” USAToday (November 8, 2017, accessed November 8, 2017) https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2017/11/08/election-moment-transgender-community/843385001/ .
- Philippe Cunningham. (Website accessed November 8, 2017) https://www.cunninghammpls.org/ .
- Dan Avery. “Palm Springs Elects Trans Candidate Lisa Middleton To City Council” NewNowNext (November 8, 2017, accessed November 8, 2017) http://www.newnownext.com/palm-springs-transgender-lisa-middleton/11/2017/?fb_ref=fbshare_web.
- Gerri Cannon. (Facebook page, accessed November 8, 2017) https://www.facebook.com/gerri.cannon .
- Antonio Olivo. “Danica Roem of Virginia to be first openly transgender person elected, seated in a U.S. statehouse” Washington Post (November 8, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/danica-roem-will-be-vas-first-openly-transgender-elected-official-after-unseating-conservative-robert-g-marshall-in-house-race/2017/11/07/d534bdde-c0af-11e7-959c-fe2b598d8c00_story.html?utm_term=.426f80edc35e .
- Stu Rasmussen. (Website accessed November 8, 2017) http://www.sturasmussen.com/realityCheck.htmreference .
- Kathy Marks “Georgina Beyer: The double life of Georgie” The Independent, UK (July 18, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/georgina-beyer-the-double-life-of-georgie-184803.html .
- Malaika Fraley. “Meet Judge Victoria Kolakowski, nation’s first transgender judge” East Bay Times (March 14, 2007, accessed November 9, 2017) http://www.eastbaytimes.com/2017/03/14/meet-judge-victoria-kolakowski-nations-first-transgender-judge/ .
- Marwa Eltagouri. “Meet Andrea Jenkins, the first openly transgender black woman elected to public office in the U.S.” Washington Post (November 8, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/11/08/meet-andrea-jenkins-the-openly-transgender-black-woman-elected-to-public-office-in-the-u-s/?utm_term=.8ade533ecd66 .
- Chris Johnson. “Phillipe Cunnignham first trans man elected to U.S. public office” Washington Blade (November 8, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) https://www.washingtonblade.com/2017/11/08/phillipe-cunningham-first-trans-man-elected-u-s-public-office/ .
- Mark Joseph Stern. “Transgender Democrat Danica Roem Makes History, Defeats Notorious Anti-LGBTQ Incumbent” Slate (November 7, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2017/11/07/transgender_democrat_danica_roem_defeats_bob_marshall.html .
- Maggie Astor, Christina Caron, and Daniel Victor. “A Guide to the Charlottesville Aftermath” New York Times (August 13, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017)
- David Smith. “Democrats mark anniversary of Trump’s election with night of sweeping victories” The Guardian (November 8, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/nov/08/democrats-election-victories-anniversary-trump-virginia-new-jersey .
- Andrew T. Hoffman, Tweet November 7, 2017 6:00 pm, quoted by Ashley Hoffman. “Christians Took to Twitter to Rebuke This Man’s Tweet About a Transgender Politician” Time (November 8, 2017, accessed November 8, 2017) http://time.com/5015153/danica-roem-reaction/?utm_campaign=time&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_medium=social&xid=time_socialflow_twitter
- Brett Molina. “So long, 140, Hello, 280: Twitter doubles its character count on tweets” USA Today (November 7, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2017/11/07/so-long-140-hello-280-twitter-doubles-character-count-tweets/839604001/ .
- Christine Houser. “Texas Mayor Announces That She Is Transgender” New York Times (February 1, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/01/us/texas-transgender-mayor.html .
- “Littleton v. Prange” FindLaw (October 27, 1999, report accessed October 5, 2017) http://caselaw.findlaw.com/tx-court-of-appeals/1079164.html.
- Francesca Acocella.“An Affirmative Decision for Transgender Marriage in Texas” Jurist (September 16, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) http://www.jurist.org/dateline/2014/09/francesca-acocella-transgender-marriage.php .
- Madison Park. “’Bathroom bill’ fails to make it out of special session” CNN (August 16, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) http://www.cnn.com/2017/08/16/politics/texas-bathroom-bill-dead/index.html .
- A. Crunden “Activists rally for transgender and immigrant rights in Texas” Think Progress (August 4, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) https://thinkprogress.org/texas-trans-immigrant-rights-rally-6e0a472d2813/ .
- David Taffett. The completely nonexistent story of a transgender mayor’s transition” The Dallas Voice (October 27, 2017, accessed November 9, 2017) https://www.dallasvoice.com/the-completely-nonexistent-story-of-a-transgender-mayors-transition-10244717.html .
- Response by Mayor Jess Herbst to the author on November 9, 2017.
- Lynnea Urania Stuart. “Dominionist Collapse” Trans Muse Planet (July 22, 2017 , accessed November 10, 2017) https://thetmplanet.com/the-dominionist-collapse-when-transpeople-face-theocracy/
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