If 2014 was, at least according to Time magazine, the year of the transgender tipping point, perhaps 2017 is the year of the transgender political candidate. While trans Americans still face barriers to equality — from the Trump administration and elsewhere — and a horrendous level of violence, many are taking up the fight for progress in the political arena.
“Victory Fund is working to make 2017 the year of the trans candidate — and we have already endorsed more trans candidates this year than ever before,” says Aisha C. Moodie-Mills, president and CEO of the political group, which works to elect out LGBT people to office. “While trans equality is under attack by anti-LGBTQ forces in state legislatures and the federal government, trans candidates are fired up and running for office to defend the community and ensure our voices are included in the halls of power. Trans lawmakers are the antidote to the anti-trans bills being introduced across the nation — so Victory Fund is fighting to elect more of them.”
On this and the following pages, meet the six trans candidates endorsed by Victory Fund so far this year.
Danica Roem, Virginia House of Delegates
There’s much notable about Danica Roem’s candidacy for the Virginia House of Delegates in District 13. She has the endorsement of both Victory Fund and EMILY’s List, which works to elect pro-choice Democratic women. And if she wins her June 13 primary, in the November 7 general election she will face incumbent Republican Bob Marshall, who is perhaps the state’s most anti-LGBT lawmaker and is known in Virginia as “Sideshow Bob.”
Roem, who names traffic, jobs, and education as her legislative priorities, says Marshall has ignored these matters in his 11 terms in office in favor of backing anti-LGBT measures, including a “bathroom bill” just this year that would require teachers to out trans kids to their parents, and a ban on same-sex marriage.
“Marshall has had 25 years to fix Route 28 [a major area thoroughfare] and his legislative priorities have been more concerned about where I go to the bathroom,” she tells The Advocate. Most of his bills, she notes, have been defeated.
Roem is a lifelong resident of Manassas, the historic northern Virginia town that is the seat of Prince William County; most of the county is in District 13. She was a reporter for the county’s Gainesville Times newspaper from 2006, shortly after she finished college, until 2015, when she joined the Montgomery County Sentinel in Rockville, Md. She left the Sentinel at the end of last year to run for office.
Her experience as a resident and journalist has given her intimate familiarity with issues important to District 13 citizens, she says. “I have the public policy knowledge, the local roots,” she says.
Improving roads and mass transit is crucial for the district, which is part of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Transportation, she adds, is an economic development issue and a social justice issue — people have to be able to get to their jobs.
And she’ll be standing up for LGBT rights and other social justice causes too, she says. She notes that she has rebutted Marshall’s testimony before the Prince William County School Board, which is considering a trans-inclusive nondiscrimination policy.
Marshall, she says, has called trans people “gender-confused,” to which she responds, “Transitioning is an act of certainty. Coming out is an act of certainty.”
She has three opponents in the Democratic primary: businessman Mansimran Kahlon, former prosecutor Steven Jansen, and Army veteran Andrew Adams. But she believes she’s best suited to take Marshall on.
So do the people at EMILY’s List. “EMILY’s List is proud to endorse Danica Roem because she is a passionate leader who has been on the front lines with members of her community and knows firsthand the challenges Virginians face,” says the group’s president, Stephanie Schriock. “If we are going to drive change, we need public servants like Danica working at the local level to stand up for justice and fight against discrimination. We are thrilled to be fighting alongside her.” She is not the first trans candidate to receive the group’s endorsement, but she is the first openly trans candidate ever to run for office in Virginia.
Roem also has the endorsement of Virginia’s List, which supports progressive women in the state, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Equality Virginia, and Women Under Forty.
Lisa Middleton, Palm Springs City Council
Lisa Middleton is running to become the first transgender member of the Palm Springs, Calif., City Council, and the first trans person elected to a nonjudicial office in California. Council members in the LGBT-friendly desert city are elected on a citywide, nonpartisan basis, and there are two seats up for election November 7; Middleton is one of seven who have declared their candidacy so far.
Endorsed by Victory Fund and Equality California, she is a member of the Palm Springs Planning Commission, chairwoman of the Organized Neighborhoods of Palm Springs (ONE-PS), and a member of the boards of directors of the Desert Horticulture Society and the Desert LGBTQ Center. In 2014, she was the center’s interim executive director.
She retired after serving 36 years with California’s State Compensation Insurance Fund, where at her retirement she was the senior vice president of internal affairs with executive responsibility for internal audit, fraud investigation, public records, and governance.
“Palm Springs is the best place that I have ever lived and I pledge to work to keep it that way,” Middleton says on her campaign website. “My foundation is our neighborhoods. I know the people of this city and have the leadership ability to get things done. As Chair of ONE-PS and a Planning Commissioner, I have built coalitions and brought people together on a multitude of issues — ranging from the revitalization of downtown to sustainable development projects to neighborhood safety — that have improved the city for all of us.”
“Our city and our city government have been through a trial,” she continues, apparently a reference to the scandal that brought down former Mayor Steve Pougnet, who has been charged with bribery. “We have a choice — will it divide us or make us stronger? I have spent my adult life in government and I know how to make it work. I am committed to a city government that reflects our best and, from a 36-year career in public service, have the experience to make our control systems and review processes stronger and more effective.”
Mel Wymore, New York City Council
Mel Wymore is running for the New York City Council; if elected, he would be the first trans person elected to office in New York State and in any major U.S. city. He is running in District 6 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side against incumbent Helen Rosenthal, a fellow progressive Democrat who barely beat him in the party primary in 2013. In the 2013 race he had the endorsement of The New York Times.
Donald Trump’s election as president motivated Wymore to try again, he recently told the New York Daily News. “I’m running because Trump won and that was a big wake-up call for us. And for me that means we have to do better,” Wymore said. “And I wouldn’t run if I didn’t think we could do better here on the Upper West Side.”
Wymore has served as executive director of TransPAC, which works to elect progressive candidates in New York State. In addition to advancing LGBT rights, he plans to work for more affordable housing, create a better environment for small businesses, and improve constituent services.
He is a longtime activist. When he moved into his Upper West Side apartment 25 years ago, he discovered terrible conditions in a neighboring building. He organized his block and started a food and health care program that provided services to that building for 20 years. Since then, he has cofounded or chaired more than 30 organizations and civic groups and served two terms as chair of his local community board, where he fought developers to win construction of two new public schools, permanent affordable housing, a new recreation center, and the expansion of Riverside Park.
Kristen Browde, New Castle Town Supervisor
Kristen Browde could also win the distinction of being the first trans elected official in New York State. She is running for town supervisor, a position equivalent to mayor, in New Castle, located in New York’s Westchester County. A Democrat, she will face Republican incumbent Robert Greenstein in November.
Browde says she knows her trans status makes headlines — she transitioned last year — but it is less important than how she’ll govern. “Yeah, people are going to be focused on that, but I’ve got to tell you this: My gender isn’t going to balance the budget,” she told local paper The Journal News in April. “My gender isn’t going to fill a pothole or get the streets plowed of snow. My gender isn’t really going to be the factor that makes people’s lives in New Castle better. But what I do in office? That will.” Browde said her priorities include enhancing local public schools; one of her two sons is a student there.
But she won’t shove her trans indentity into the background either. “People say, why can’t you just be quiet and blend into society and nobody’s going to know that you’re trans, and that’s probably true,” she told The Journal News. “But a friend of mine put it greatly, and it’s a line that I use all of the time. It’s that I don’t hide my past, because in not hiding my past, I might help someone else to not hide their future.”
Another thing that will make headlines is that if she wins, she will have two very famous constituents — Hillary and Bill Clinton. Chappaqua, where they live, is a “hamlet” within the boundaries of New Castle. Browde leads a Democratic slate, which also includes Town Board candidates Ivy Pool and Gail Merkels, called Up2Us; it grew out of Chappaqua Friends of Hillary. Browde campaigned for Hillary Clinton in North Carolina.
Browde is an attorney and former CBS News reporter and anchor who won Emmys and other plaudits as a journalist. She moved to New Castle in 2004 and served as secretary of the town’s Board of Ethics from its inception, resigning earlier this year when she agreed to run for office. She still serves both on the Chappaqua Central School District’s Financial Advisory Committee and the town’s Inclusion and Diversity Committee.
She is a member of the board of trustees of the AFTRA Pension Fund, serving on its investment committee, a member of the board of directors of the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York, and a founding member of the Transgender Bar Association.
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.”
Andrea Jenkins, Minneapolis City Council, Ward 8
The trans woman running for Minneapolis City Council is Andrea Jenkins, seeking election in Ward 8. The seat opened up with the retirement of Elizabeth Glidden, and Jenkins was the only candidate until Terry White declared his candidacy in April. While the races are officially nonpartisan, council candidates do seek party endorsements, and Jenkins has received the endorsement of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, the Minnesota affiliate of the national Democratic Party.
Jenkins was a policy aide to Glidden and a previous Ward 8 council member, Robert Lilligren. In this capacity she worked to revitalize the neighborhood with small businesses and arts venues, and helped organize a Trans* Equity Summit. She emphasizes, however, that revitalization must not come at the expense of poor people.
“Because of the society that we live in, there’s always a race and class analysis that has to be made as we are navigating everyday life, because of the inequities that are present where a very few people control all of the resources. It is, in my opinion, detrimental to a fair and equitable society. That is what I am working on,” Jenkins said at an event on “equitable development,” according to the Planet.
Jenkins is now is a historian with the Transgender Oral History Project at the University of Minnesota. She is a poet, prose author, and performance artist who has received numerous grants for her work. If she is elected to the council, she plans to work to support minority artists alongside her key causes of developing affordable housing, raising the minimum wage, and addressing youth violence as a matter of public health.
Like some other progressive politicians, she cites the Trump administration as a motivation for her to seek office. “Our world is shifting to some very right-wing directions, and our country is chief amongst them in being led by a cabal — I think is a very accurate term — of right-wing extremists who are hell-bent on destroying all of our safety nets, all of our environmental protections, all of our investments in young people and education, all of our cities in terms of gutting the Housing and Urban Development agency,” she told the Planet. “We as cities have to stand up and fight back. And I definitely want to be on the front lines of that battle.”