Old Habits Die Hard in the New South

By Bryan Ochalla

Originally published on Advocate.com January 23 2008 1:00 AM ET

Michelle Bruce is
no stranger to intolerance -- she was born
intersex and now identifies as transgender. So it was a
shock when she ran for a seat on the city council of
Riverdale, Ga., in 2003 and her political platform --
creating a neighborhood watch program and a police
bicycle patrol -- made headlines instead of her sexuality.

Unfortunately for
Bruce, the opposite occurred when she ran for
reelection last year. Although things went smoothly until
Election Day, where her 312 votes ensured a runoff
against runner-up Wayne Hall (202 votes), third-place
finisher Georgia Fuller (171 votes) quickly filed
a lawsuit claiming Bruce misled voters by running as a
woman.

Although a judge
dismissed the complaint on December 3, “the damage
was done,” says Bruce, who lost the runoff to
Hall the very next day.

Why do you think your sexuality became an issue
during your reelection when no one seemed to care the
first time around?
I guess they just didn’t think about it
until now. That’s the only reason I can come up
with, because everybody here knows who and what I am. I
live as a woman, I dress as a woman, I walk as a woman, I
carry myself as a woman -- and that has never seemed
to bother anyone here except the bigots in office.

So you consider Riverdale, an Atlanta suburb of
12,000 people, to be fairly LGBT-friendly?
I
think so. I felt supported by most of the people. I
wasn’t so sure that would be the case when I
first ran, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Does Riverdale have much of an LGBT community? There are a few, and they’re all waking
up to what’s going on here -- the nepotism and
cronyism that's keeping important things from getting done.

What’s next for you? Will you run for office
again in the future?
Oh, this isn’t the end of me. I think
I’ll be more dangerous as a regular citizen
than as an elected official, especially since I know how the
game is played. I’m going to raise hell until I
can run again.

Do you hope your story will cause other LGBT people
to follow in your footsteps?
What I hope is that LGBT people from around the
country will move here and run for office too. They
can help me bring about change and educate the people
who live here and don’t understand our
community.