If Robert Haaland wins a seat on the San Francisco board of supervisors November 2, he would be one of the first transgendered elected officials in the nation's history. An activist who once sued city police for groping him to determine his gender identity, the 40-year-old Haaland was born and raised as a female in Austin, Minn. He declared himself a lesbian at age 20 and began to identify as a man after attending the University of California, Berkeley, and Hastings Law School.
While transgendered candidates have run for office in San Francisco and never won, Haaland is considered a front-running Democrat in the race to represent the city's Haight-Ashbury district. He's won the backing of several of the city's top elected officials, including Dist. Atty. Kamala Harris and Supervisor Tom Ammiano. Mayor Gavin Newsom is supporting a more moderate Democrat. A win would be historic "and a little scary," Haaland said. "When you put yourself out there, it's a little nerve-racking. But it's definitely something I'm comfortable with," he said.
A member of the New Zealand parliament is believed to be the only current transgendered officeholder in the world. Twenty-seven years after Harvey Milk became the nation's first openly gay elected official when he was elected a San Francisco supervisor, many Democratic leaders in the city say Haaland's win would be a comparable milestone. "There are parallels, certainly," said Ammiano, who is gay. "The
institutionalized prejudice and ignorance around the issue make his run very significant. A win would be even sweeter."
Haaland is one of 22 candidates running for the seat. His strongest opponents are an HIV-positive openly gay African-American man and two Green Party activists. The winner will replace Green Party member Matt Gonzalez, who decided not to seek reelection to the board after losing a close race for mayor last year.