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Trans and Nonbinary Candidates Win in Minnesota and Montana

Finke Zephyr Howell Kozlowski

They represent more significant firsts for the LGBTQ+ community.

Clockwise from top left: Leigh Finke, Zooey Zephyr, Alicia Kozlowski, and SJ Howell. Finke, Zephyr, and Howell courtesy LGBTQ Victory Fund; Kozlowski via Facebook.

Minnesota and Montana have elected their first transgender state legislators. Minnesota has also elected its first nonbinary one, and a nonbinary candidate appears headed for victory in Montana as well.

Trans woman Leigh Finke was elected to the Minnesota House to represent District 66A, which includes St. Paul and several suburbs. A Democrat, she bested Republican Trace Johnson 81 percent to 18 percent. The incumbent, Democrat Alice Hausland, retired after three decades in the legislature.

"In the last two years, we've been seeing just a marked increase in the coordinated attacks against trans people and trans communities in the United States and in Minnesota," Finke told Twin Cities TV station WCCO. "I just felt like it was absolutely essential to have someone from our community in those rooms."

Finke "is ready to disrupt the status quo and fight for real change on behalf of her community," Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which had endorsed her, said in a press release. "From safeguarding abortion rights to addressing societal inequities, she has a vision for the future that voters are clearly enthusiastic about. Her win is a clear and deafening rebuke to the transphobia currently sweeping our communities and her success will inspire other trans people to step up and run. When our rights are on the ballot, we cannot stay silent. Leigh proves we must continue running for office in record numbers because when we run, we win."

Alicia Kozlowski, a Two-Spirit, nonbinary person of Indigenous and Latinx heritage, was elected to the Minnesota House from District 8B in Duluth. She is also a Democrat and beat Republican Becky Hall 71 percent to 29 percent. There was no incumbent in the race. Kozlowski had Victory Fund's endorsement.

"Just standing here, this moment is like everything that we've been building for with this community and that I've been building for my whole life," Kozlowski told the Duluth News Tribune. "It's emotional. I'm taking it all in, because of what we've done. And blazing trails is just a thing I do, shattering barriers, and I'm soon to become the first nonbinary elected state representative is an enormous gift and responsibility."

In Montana, Democrat Zooey Zephyr, a bisexual trans woman, won the District 100 seat in the state House, defeating Republican Sean McCoy. Incumbent Andrea Olsen, a Democrat, resigned to run for state Senate and won. The Missoula district was once represented by gay Democrat Bryce Bennett, Montana's first out legislator, who resigned last year to join advocacy group Vote Early Day in Washington, D.C.

Zephyr's victory "is a resounding win for Montana and for trans people across the country," Parker said in a statement. "From tackling the housing crisis to securing affordable health care, Zooey is ready to enact policy founded in equity and fairness. Montana, like so many other communities, has seen a deluge of transphobia and bigotry this year. Zooey courageously ran despite this divisiveness and her win is a deafening rebuke to hate. We are confident she will be a skilled, powerful legislator and an inspiration for trans people across the country."

Nonbinary candidate SJ Howell was running for an open Montana House seat from District 95, also in Missoula. The race has not been officially called for Howell, but as of Wednesday, Howell had a strong lead over Republican Lauren Subith. Howell had Victory Fund's endorsement as well.

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