The Advocate July/Aug 2022
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Meet the People Making 2017 the Year of the Trans Candidate

05 Phiilipe Cunningham

Phillipe Cunningham, Minneapolis City Council, Ward 4

Two Minneapolis residents — one male, one female — are also seeking to become the first trans person elected to a major city’s governing body. Phillipe Cunningham is running for Minneapolis City Council in Ward 4, where he is one of several candidates challenging powerful incumbent Barbara Johnson, who is also the City Council president. Both he and Johnson are Democrats, but city races are nonpartisan, and there is no primary. The general election will be November 7.

“What I see is needed in the ward is someone who will lead in the community’s best interests for everyone … so that the constituents know that the city has got their backs,” Cunningham told Minneapolis’s City Pages in January. “Right now, I’d say there’s a huge lack of progressive values on the City Council. The ward has been changing. The community has been changing and it’s time for it to be reconnected to City Hall and for the community to feel like City Hall is accessible to everyone.”

The issues facing the ward and some other city neighborhoods are not matters of left versus right, he told the Twin Cities Daily Planet. “When we’re talking about being able to stay in your home, food deserts, a living wage, that’s not just ‘left.’ That’s basic rights,” he said. “I want to be at a place where we’re not debating the humanity of our residents.”

Cunningham, an Illinois native and former teacher in the Chicago public schools, has been Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges’s senior policy aide on youth success, education, LGBT rights, and racial equity since 2015. He is the primary coordinator for the local efforts of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, which focuses on improving the life outcomes of boys and young men of color, and is chair of Minneapolis’s Trans Issues Work Group, His priorities for the ward include developing small businesses, fighting crime, and improving relations with police.

Cunningham, who is biracial, grew up in the small Illinois town of Streator, which is predominantly white. He spoke with the Planet of the different ways he experienced racism as a woman and a man. “I spent 23 years of my life as a black woman at those gross crossroads of racism and misogyny,” he said. “Then one day I woke up, stepped out of my house and everybody saw me as a black man, saw me as myself. I wasn’t prepared to be public enemy number one. My experience of oppression really shifted.”


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