Today marks the culmination of a set of historic firsts for for all trans Americans. For Trans United Fund’s Breakthrough political action committee, we worked with and supported many trans and gender-expansive candidates, but we focused our resources into our #Make It The First Campaign — four priority candidates who we believed were positioned to make history.
Two out of those four candidates — Danica Roem and Andrea Jenkins secured victories, beating Virginia’s most anti-trans legislator and securing a city council seat for the first out trans person of color, respectively. Phillipe Cunningham is still in the running in Ward 4 in Minneapolis. We know that Kirsten Browde, the first trans woman to ever run on a major party ticket in New York State, and the first trans women ever to be endorsed by a major presidential candidate — Hillary Clinton — fell short of winning her election by only 244 votes.
These were historic, groundbreaking victories for trans people; not just because of who we elected, but that it was Trans United Fund’s Breakthrough PAC (a group of trans and gender expensive people who actually reflect the racial, economic, and gender diversity of the trans communities) that were decisive architects of these victories. The Make It The First Campaign was itself a historic first — a coordinated multi-state effort — in partnership with the analyst institute, which brought to bear the most sophisticated and evidence-based campaign tactics with some of the leading operatives in the field, all of which operated under the strategic direction of a diverse and representative group of trans leaders.
Which brings us to perhaps the most important part, something that might sound strange coming from the only trans-led and trans-focused national PAC in the U.S. — winning elections does not, in and of itself achieve our mission. Politics for us is not a game in which there are short bouts of battle that results in winners and losers all to be started again one cycle to the next. For TUF, politics is a means by which we can build a country where trans people can not only thrive, but survive.
Many existing models of political engagement are built around the idea of projecting power by being risk-averse in electoral fights, where organizations focus on races that were never competitive (and thus never at risk) or by investing more in political ads that capture the cultural zietgeist, rather than investing in the real electoral expertise required to make a difference after the election. Both history and our everyday lived experience tells us that these models do not work. At TUF, we are building a new model by which we define what it would mean for trans and gender-expansive people to survive and then to build the powerful current of trans people and our allies required to achieve those goals.
Trans people cannot afford to play it safe. There is no safe for us. The only way to safety is forward. And so we take risks, calculated, strategic, and values- driven. Risks like investing early in laying the groundwork for our co-founder Andrea Jenkins to be elected as the first trans person/trans person of color to a major city council. It’s why when no one else would help, we built partnership with Outfront Minnesota and ran the largest trans candidate focused campaign in history, to elect a black trans man with a track record of innovative policy design and getting things done in a ward that was majority black, poor, and working class, and had one of the lowest voter turnouts in the city. It’s why we backed that campaign against an incumbent who served as the city council president and whose family had held the seat for three generations. It’s why when the chamber of commerce committed a million dollars against that black trans man and three other candidates, we doubled down, and extended our efforts to support those other candidates as well. It’s why today, we made the difference in Jeremiah Ellison’s district and why Cunningham stands poised to do the almost impossible and beat Barb Johnson.
That's why we run campaigns in ways that deepen relationships with coalition partners, center leadership development, and skill building and why we don't throw away our list of voters and volunteers on Nov. 8; it's why each endorsed candidate has made a commitment to meet with our leadership team in the next 30 days to build a proactive plan to improve trans propels lives — a plan which the leaders we have developed and the voters we have begun to build relationships with — will help to drive.
It pains us that one of the most brilliant, competent and effective people we know, Kristen Browde, did not win her election last night. Bowde isn’t someone we met at an endorsement meeting and wrote a check to — she is our friend, someone who invested in and awed by on a regular basis. She is one of the fiercest and strongest and hands down most courageous and brilliant leaders — trans, cis, or otherwise — and we know that this campaign has tested and strengthened her resolve and charted skills. In short, win, lose, or draw we emerge stronger. Yesterday was Nov. 7 and we made history but the most important day is tomorrow.
It is not lost on us that these wins came just 13 days before we celebrate Transgender Day of Remembrance, the day when we will mourn the 25 trans people we have lost to violence this year — a clear trans political issue. At vigils and across the internet, people will talk about the intention of #NOTONEMORE. Intentions are powerful things, but in and of themselves they do not often save lives. The next two weeks will include planning meetings with our trans elected officials, two of whom are of color and queer, to define proactive and forward-looking ways to improve housing, decrease poverty, and reduce violence.
Because of these wins, we have an incredible opportunity to take the hashtag #NOTONEMORE and build it into a political program and a tangible reality. Today, trans people have more allies than we have ever had in our history. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges to building real political power is to somehow move from the idea that what it means to be an ally is to show up for us when we have been murdered or victimized and rather to ask for people to show up for us now, right here, right now, today with Trans United Fund. Do not wait to become an ally after we're dead. Instead, we need allies now. We began to take a step in that direction last night.
We proved that it's time to move away from a strategy in which trans people simply hope that powerful people who should be allies finally show up. Last night, a diverse and representative group of trans people, with support from allies who know what it means to show up, came together and showed just how powerful we all are — and just what we are capable of achieving together. This is just the beginning.
DANNI ASKINI and MONICA ROBERTS are national co-chairs of the Breakthrough Political Action Committee, the only trans-led and trans-focused national PAC. More info here.