Insurgent candidates are upsetting the political landscape this election cycle — women defeating entrenched incumbents, people of color winning in conservative states and districts, and millennial candidates breaking new ground. On Tuesday night in Vermont, another groundbreaking candidate dominated that landscape, when Democratic primary voters made Christine Hallquist the first openly trans person to win the gubernatorial nomination of a major American political party.
Her victory is remarkable given how recently trans candidates began winning elected office at any level of government. In a crowded primary field of five candidates, Christine’s business experience and progressive vision kept her the perceived front-runner, far surpassing her opponents in visibility and fundraising. Her gender identity was largely a nonissue, despite the continued transphobic rhetoric and policies emanating from the White House and state legislatures across the nation.
While extreme-right politicians and organizations actively work to promote anti-trans policies, trans candidates are winning elected office in higher numbers and at higher levels of government than at any time in history. Anti-LGBTQ organizations are trying to elevate trans issues into the American consciousness, believing the American people will reject this long-marginalized group for their political gain. In many ways, the opposite is happening.
Corporations, business leaders, and even some conservative politicians warn about the damage to the reputations and economies of states with anti-trans measures. The political attacks are raising the profile of trans people, demystifying gender identity, and humanizing trans lives for many Americans. And the attacks are sparking outrage in the trans community and motivating many to seek elected office for the first time. Bigotry is accelerating trans acceptance, and the results are in: Trans candidates are winning historic victories thought impossible just a few years ago.
America is in the midst of a revolution in trans political power and it will only accelerate. LGBTQ Victory Fund dubbed 2017 the ‘Year of the Trans Candidate’ because of the unprecedented number of trans candidates elected. Danica Roem’s election to the Virginia House of Delegates — making her the first out trans person to serve in a state legislature — attracted national and international media attention. Now, just one year later, we are on the verge of electing the first out trans governor in American history.
Sure, it is in very blue Vermont. But it was Vermont that was the first in the nation to adopt civil unions 18 years ago and the first to legalize marriage equality through legislation. Vermont lit a spark that propelled the marriage movement forward, shifting attitudes and laws at a breathtaking pace. Christine’s victory makes it likely that Vermont will again be that spark, this time for trans equality — a moment when the unlikely became reality and a path forward was made clear.
But we are still a long way off from equal representation for the estimated 1.8 million transgender Americans. There are just 13 out trans elected officials in the entire nation — at any level of government — and those numbers will increase only slightly this year. Yet much like Harvey Milk inspired a generation of gay and lesbian Americans to run for office and be the change, Christine Hallquist and Danica Roem are trailblazers who will undoubtably inspire more trans American to pursue careers in public service and be a voice for their community.
This is now unstoppable. From Burlington to Birmingham, from Buffalo to Berkeley, LGBTQ people and our allies are fighting back by running for office in every corner of this country. Victory Fund candidates are maintaining the momentum that we need for 2018, for 2020, and for long after this regressive chapter in American history comes to a close. Presidential tweets, hostile policies, and anti-trans legislation will only accelerate the inevitable, because trans people will not stand by as their lives and livelihoods are threatened. Christine and Danica have proven voters care more about higher-paying jobs, better health care, and a good education than the narrow-minded divisiveness of our opponents. With more trans candidates will come more trans elected officials. It is their voices in the halls of power that will transform America and the world.
ANNISE PARKER is the president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund and the former mayor of Houston.