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For Trans Candidates, Even Losing Is Winning

Politics in Transition: Dana Beyers

After Danica Roem’s historic win last year, becoming the first out trans person to win a state legislative race and be seated — and the wins of seven other transgender candidates elected across the U.S. — a record number of trans candidates threw their hats in the ring.

“It’s become a cliché within our community, but it’s still fair to say that if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” says Dana Beyer, a retired surgeon and longtime LGBT rights activist who ran for Maryland’s state Senate. “Getting any minority group finally into office is not the be-all and end-all, but ... [things] slowly grow from there. The trans community is only getting started; remember, the first out trans legislative candidate was Amanda Simpson in 2004.”

Beyer was the first trans person to run for office in Maryland. This was her fourth bid for a public office. When she first ran in 2006, “all the media cared about was ‘trans this and trans that.’ It got me front page coverage in The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post, but it wasn’t about my campaign. Today, post-Roem, the trans issue is an afterthought throughout the conversation.” Beyer was contending for the seat being vacated by out gay state Sen. Rich Madaleno, who was running for governor. Both lost their primaries.

“We came up short, but in the tradition of American politics, which is, unfortunately, seriously threatened today, everyone gave it their best,” says Beyers, who was thanked on election night by a woman she mentored — Sharon Brackett, the first trans woman to be elected to a public office in Maryland (for the 46th District Democratic Central Committee).

Other trans candidates vying for office included Chelsea Manning, who ran as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate in Maryland but lost in the primary, and transgender lesbian Alexandra Chandler, a 40-year-old former Naval Intelligence analyst who is hoping to be the first out trans person elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Chandler is running in Massachusetts, in a primary battle that will be decided September 4. Chandler transitioned in 2006 while serving in the Navy under the George W. Bush administration, and told Bustle about people applauding when a colleague publicly suggested she should be fired.

“And you know what I did?” Chandler asked rhetorically. “I showed up to work the next day. And the next day, and the next day, and the next day, for 11 years. And got promoted four times and ended my career as a division chief. So I can be tough.”

The majority of the trans candidates running this year are women, but a handful of trans men are vying for office too — like Finnigan Jones, the Democratic candidate for District 94 of the Texas House of Representatives (unopposed in the primary he faces a Republican in November) and La Don Henry, an African-American trans man who’s running for the Nevada Assembly and garnered 10 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary.

Of course, not all (or even most) of the trans candidates will win. Like Henry, Brianna Westbrook — who’d hoped to become Arizona’s first out trans member of Congress — lost her primary bid.

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