For the first time in American history, an out transgender woman has a fighting chance to become a U.S. senator. If the 31-year-old from Utah is successful, she will unseat one of Congress's most vocally anti-LGBT members.
Misty K. Snow made history Tuesday when she became the first transgender woman to win a major party's nomination for the U.S. Senate. Snow handily secured Utah's Democratic Senate nomination by defeating fellow Democrat Jonathan Swinton, with 59.5 percent of the vote to Swinton's 40.5 percent.
Snow will face incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Lee in November's general election. Lee, a close friend of failed presidential candidate and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, has coauthored several anti-LGBT bills, including one seeking to invalidate nationwide marriage equality, and another attempting to enshrine a so-called right to discriminate against LGBT people into federal law.
Despite her opponent's long history of anti-LGBT rhetoric, Snow says she's not worried about attacks from the Tea Party or other right-wing groups targeting her gender identity. But if those forces decide to make her trans status a campaign issue, Snow says she and her team are ready for it.
While Lee is widely expected to hold his seat in the conservative state, Snow appears undeterred by the odds. She believes her connection with the progressive Democratic movement, energized by Bernie Sanders's bid for president, could help her garner support and donations locally and from around the country. Snow describes herself as a Sanders-style Democrat and plans to focus sharply on income inequality in the general campaign and, if she's successful in defeating Lee, in Washington.
Her experiences as a trans woman from a working-class background give her essential perspective, she says, and an ability to advocate on behalf of marginalized people in Congress that many current U.S. lawmakers are lacking.
She sees increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour as one the most critical issues, stressing that the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is simply unlivable for anyone working full-time anywhere in the country. She believes there's broad popular support for raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour nationwide.
"People are living in poverty or close to it, barely scraping by," she says. "Look at who's making low wages: It's women, people of color, and the LGBT community. Raising the minimum wage is a good way to help those groups."
Snow also identified paid maternity leave as a major priority, along with further expansions of Medicare and Medicaid to help close gaps in access to health care. She also plans to prioritize clean energy initiatives and federal level LGBT nondiscrimination protections, she explains.
Snow hails from Salt Lake City, where she works as a grocery store cashier. Prior to coming out as trans in 2014, she tells The Advocate, she was reluctant to engage with others and mostly kept to herself. But since coming out, she has been an active member of her local and state-level Democratic Party, and is currently a member of LGBT group Stonewall Democrats.
A self-described progressive, Snow says her interest in politics has been lifelong — she's made a point to vote in every election since she was 21. She has a passion for news and political affairs, and keeping up on current events accounts for upwards of 30 hours of her schedule each week, she estimates.
Although she's never run for political office before, Snow seemed undaunted by the challenge of seeking such a prestigious title in her first bid for public office. She explains that her local district, in downtown Salt Lake City, is currently represented by a team of progressive Democrats, who she says she had no interest in challenging.
"[But] in the Senate race, the other candidate, my primary opponent was a self-described conservative Democrat who was against Planned Parenthood and wanted an investigation [into alleged wrongdoing]," she says. "He also wasn't in favor of same-sex marriage, and I thought that was really troubling. So I filed my paperwork to run against him."
Despite the current socio-political backlash against trans people and trans rights, Snow says her gender identity was not a central component of her campaign. The fact that her trans identity was rarely brought up throughout her campaign is "pretty encouraging," she says.
She suspects that people some people may not vote for her because she's trans, but so far she hasn't "gotten a lot of hate" for her gender identity, she explains.
Even her Democratic challenger in the primary, Jonathan Swinton, declined to focus on her trans status in his unsuccessful bid to defeat her. He did attempt to cast himself as the "electable candidate," Snow notes, which could have been a veiled jab at the fact that she is trans. But even though a few of Swinton's supporters were verbally aggressive toward her, "it certainly wasn't near as bad as some people were telling me it was going to be," she says. "I've heard far worse in other situations."
Snow says that the LGBT community has been incredibly supportive of her during her campaign in person and in social media, and that many of her campaign volunteers were local LGBT people.
Ever-collected, Snow seemed unfazed by the sharp uptick in media attention in the wake of her historic victory. She's done more than a dozen interviews since winning the primary, and she believes the media spotlight is helping with her name recognition. She says the number of people following her on Twitter has quadrupled, while traffic to her Facebook page has tripled since the end of the primary. At press time, more than 3,000 people had "liked" her official campaign page on Facebook.
Snow is joined in making trans political history this election cycle by Misty Plowright, who captured the Democratic nomination for Colorado's Fifth Congressional District in Tuesday's primary, becoming the first trans woman to be nominated by a major party for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.