I was celebrating with every trans person around the world in November 1999, when I heard the news that New Zealand’s Georgina Beyer became the first open trans person elected to a national legislative body. She served as a Labour Party MP from November 27, 1999 until February 14, 2007.
In 2003, Aya Kamikawa became the first trans person elected to public office in Japan when she won a place on the local assembly for Setagaya, one of Tokyo’s biggest local government areas. She was reelected in 2008
That groundbreaking achievement was followed up by Italy’s Vladimir Luxuria, who, in the Italian General Elections of April 2006, became the first open transgender MP elected to a European parliament. The Communist Refoundation Party member was defeated in an April 2008 reelection bid and has stated that she has no desire to reenter politics at this time.
The success of Beyer, Luxuria and Kamikawa caught the attention of trans people in the United States and elsewhere in the world – people who, like myself, have contemplated running for political office. It gave us evidence that the psychological barriers to voters putting a qualified trans person in office may be coming down. It also gives us hope that some of us can personally run, and win.
For now, Karen Kerin attempted to make history by running for Vermont’s sole US House seat in 2000 as a Republican, but lost to independent Bernie Sanders. Transgender people in the United States have models in not only openly gay US representatives such as Barney Frank (D-MA), Tammy Baldwin, (D-WI) and Jared Polis (D-CO), but have the history of African American Congressional representation to serve as a guide.
Only five years after emancipation from slavery, on January 20, 1870, educator and minister Hiram Rhodes Revels (R-MS) became the first African American to serve in the US Senate when he was appointed by the Mississippi Legislature to fill the unexpired term of former Confederate President Jefferson Davis during the 41st Congress. Also joining Revels in the 41st Congress was the first African-American US representative, Joseph H Rainey (R-SC) who served from 1869-1878.
While trans people such as Michelle Bruce, the first open transgender elected official in Georgia, have been successful in getting elected to small town city councils, success in cities over 250,000 in population and in statewide legislative races has eluded us. That’s important, because getting elected to large city councils and statewide legislative races is generally the springboard to building the name recognition you’ll need to become a viable and successful candidate for a US congressional race.
It’s not like we haven’t tried. Monica Barros-Greene lost a runoff election for an open seat on the Dallas, TX city council. Two years later, Pamela Bennett narrowly missed getting elected to the Aurora, CO city council and is making another run at it this year.
In 2005, Arizona’s Amanda Simpson became the first trans person to be nominated by a major party for a state legislative seat and win a primary election, though that success didn’t carry over to the general election. In 2006, Dr. Dana Beyer ran for an open seat in the Maryland state legislature but was denied as well. Dr. Beyer is making another run for office in 2010.
In Oklahoma, Brittany Novotny has a major challenge on her hands in trying to unseat incumbent Republican state representative Sally Kern. Kern has earned the ire of GLBT people in her state and across the country with this March 2008 quote in which stated,
“I honestly think [homosexuality is] the biggest threat our nation has, even more so than terrorism or Islam – which I think is a big threat, OK? Cause what’s happening now is they are going after, in schools, two-year olds.”
Perhaps both Kern and her raging bigotry will lose out, in the end.
In 2006, Kim Coco Iwamoto made history by winning a seat on the Hawaii State Board of Education. In doing so she became the highest ranking open transgender office holder in the United States. She has yet to declare whether she will run for reelection in 2010.
What are the prospects for a trans person being elected to the House of Representatives? I believe it will have a better chance of happening once we see trans people getting elected to state legislatures and more statewide elective positions.
It will also take the right candidate with a good message, strong financing, a dynamite campaign strategy, and probably a little bit of luck as well. Yet the positive trends have politically astute trans people in the United States feeling that it’s a matter of when, not if, that we will be tuning in to C-SPAN and watching one of our own giving a speech from the floor of the House of Representatives.