In 1992, Althea Garrison, a black woman, became the first transgender person ever elected to a state legislature in the United States with her rise to the Massachusetts House of Representatives. (To our knowledge, the first openly transgender person to hold elected office of any kind in the nation was Joanne Marie Conte (1933-2013) who served on the Arvada, Colo., City Council from 1991 to 1995). Just before Garrison began her sole term in office, Garrison drew national attention for answering “no” when a disreputable reporter for the Boston Herald asked her if she was ever a man. The Herald's transphobic outing of Garrison stands as a prominent reminder of the knee-jerk hate toward trans people that is only now gradually abating in electoral politics.
Garrison was correct when she answered “no” to the Boston Herald reporter's question about her gender identity. Trans women like her do not, in the truest sense, ever understand themselves as male regardless of how the world may classify them. But without the literacy around trans issues that continues to grow today, Garrison’s answer and the “hatchet job” story itself resulted in the end of her political career. This was a shame. Even though she was a late entrant to the Republican Party, Garrison’s votes in her one term in office reveal her consistently outstanding advocacy for the rights of workers and disenfranchised people.
Since Garrison’s historic tenure, just a handful of trans politicians have been elected to office in the United States, and few openly trans people currently hold elected positions (Alameda County, Calif., Judge Victoria Kolakowski, for instance, is among these few). Yet there are several standout cisgender (nontrans) allies for transgender equality across the nation. In their efforts to better the lives of trans people, these politicians bear witness to Vice President Joe Biden’s 2012 contention that the battle against anti-transgender discrimination is "the civil rights issue of our time." These are 18 of our greatest allies for transgender equality currently in office. —Cleis Abeni