The Out for America 2020 report from the LGBTQ Victory Institute, an organization that follows and advocates for LGBTQ+ American political candidates, celebrated a 21% increase in the number of out LGBTQ+ elected officials in the United States over the last year. In total, 863 U.S. elected officials are members of the LGBTQ+ community — but only 5% of those were transgender.
That story could change this year. Annise Parker, president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund ,who served as the openly lesbian mayor of Houston from 2010 to 2016, tells Mic that “we have an unprecedented opportunity to grow trans representation in public office across the country in 2020.”
“LGBTQ Victory Fund [endorsed] candidates alone can more than double the number of transgender state legislators and bring representation to six states that have never elected an out trans official,” Parker says. “The continued success of transgender candidates proves that vicious transphobia from the right-wing is backfiring.”
Over 50 openly transgender candidates ran or are running for office in 2020, but about half have already lost their primary races, dropped out, or are otherwise no longer running. Four already won elections earlier in the year. That leaves 21 running for office. (There will be 22 names of transgender people on November ballots, but, sadly, one of them — Melina Rayna Svanhild Farley-Barratt — passed away Oct. 14.)
Only 0.009% of elected officials in the U.S. are transgender, and there has never been a single openly transgender member of Congress, despite there being an estimated 1.4 million transgender adults in this country.
There has been a steady increase every year in trans officials; in 2016 there were only six and now there are 43. Mic reached out to all 21 candidates who come from different regions, generations, and parties, but who are all working to make sure that number keeps increasing, in 2020 and beyond.
Running for: New Hampshire House of Representatives, Rockingham-18 (incumbent)
Current residence: Exeter, New Hampshire
New Hampshire state Rep. Lisa Bunker first wanted to run for office after the 2016 election, but assumed that it would be impossible as an out trans person. But after Danica Roem, an out trans woman, won her election to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2017, Bunker “realized it was possible after all” and filed to run shortly after, she told Mic in an email. She was elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 2018 for a two-year term and is now up for re-election. Four Democrats and four Republicans are running for the four available seats to represent her district, Rockingham-18.
Bunker is also an author of two young adult novels, and her psychologist wife is a writer as well. “I have always felt called to public service,” Bunker told Mic over email. “For many years I expressed that calling through my work in community radio. Now that I'm self-employed as a writer, serving in the legislature gives me a way to continue to stay engaged and contribute to the greater good in my town.” Bunker works on gun violence prevention, increasing the minimum wage, and stopping voter suppression, and she plans to introduce a bill protecting the rights of trans school athletes next legislative session.
Running for: Kansas House of Representatives, District 86 (open seat)
Current residence: Wichita, Kansas
Stephanie Byers taught in Wichita Public Schools for nearly 30 years before her retirement last year. “During that time I watched as Kansas repeatedly failed to meet its constitutional mandate to adequately fund public education,” Byers told Mic over email. “I want to be a voice for fully supporting education.” Originally from Oklahoma and a member of Chickasaw Nation, Byers and her wife run a diversity consultancy.
“The people of Kansas House District 86 are concerned with how their representative will speak for them on expanding Medicaid, on finding safe ways to re-open Kansas, on fully supporting public education and fighting for fair and reasonable taxes,” Byers wrote in an email to Mic. She believes she can be the candidate to speak for her neighbors in Topeka. She is running against Republican Cyndi Howerton for an open seat, as Democrat Jim Ward is not running again in District 86 after 17 years in office.
Running for: New Hampshire House of Representatives, Strafford 18 (incumbent)
Current residence: Somersworth, New Hampshire
Gerri Cannon became one of New Hampshire’s two first openly transgender state legislators in 2018 when she was elected along with Lisa Bunker to the state’s House of Representatives. Now Cannon is one of three Democratic incumbents running to keep their seats representing New Hampshire’s Strafford 18 district. They are facing three Republican challengers.
If re-elected, Cannon will reintroduce a bill that she attempted to pass in her first term, one that would allow transgender and nonbinary people to change their birth records to reflect their correct gender. “I have had to fight for disenfranchised people in our community,” Cannon told Mic over email. “I know what it means to be fired from my 31 years in the computer industry for being different. I know what it takes to create and run a small carpentry business. I know what it means to drive and live in the cab of a tractor trailer during hard times. I am a fighter and survivor!”
Running for: Pennsylvania House of Representatives, District 199 (challenger)
Current residence: Newville, Pennsylvania
The current Republican representative for Pennsylvania’s District 199 “does not represent the people,” Janelle Crossley told Mic in an email. “So I decided after listening, it is time for change. ... I’ve heard people say that they want someone in office who will really listen to them, and act on their concerns. I will be that person.”
Crossley, who lives with her wife and has a daughter and two grandchildren, says she will work to strengthen environmental protections, prioritize mental health resources for youth, and advocate for racial justice and LGBTQ+ equity. Additionally, she says she will work for nursing home reform that increases staffing and improves care for the most vulnerable patients. “As a health care facility manager of 25 years, I know how this system works and where changes need to be made,” Crossley wrote to Mic.
Running for: Coroner, Randolph County, Indiana (open seat)
Current residence: Winchester, Indiana
The incumbent county coroner may have retired, but Ian Dent says that his race is “a bit of an uphill battle” because his opponent has been the deputy coroner for 12 years.
“I'm running because people need to know [transgender people are] normal people,” Dent told Mic over email, “especially in small towns where change is slow to come, and things can be very insular and old fashioned.” He says there’s “a lot of bigotry” in his “small conservative area,” but that many people are cheering him on. A fan of horror movies, gardening, and Scandinavian culture, Dent says he wants “every person to be given dignity in their final interactions with fellow humans.”
Running for: South Dakota House of Representatives, District 32 (challenger)
Current residence: Rapid City, South Dakota
Toni Diamond calls herself a “fighter,” an apt description given she is a former Marine. “I will fight every day for the people I represent,” Diamond told Mic over email. She hopes to fight especially for health care and economic growth if she is given the chance to be one of two candidates who are elected to represent South Dakota’s District 32. As one of four candidates on the ballot, she has a fight ahead of her.
“My choice to run was inspired by the lack of representation for minorities and the LGBTQ community,” Diamond wrote to Mic. “I chose to run to help bridge the gap between all people. We need to overcome our fears and ignorance and work together.”
Running for: Sheriff, Cheshire County, New Hampshire (challenger)
Current residence: Keene, New Hampshire
Aria DiMezzo answers to many labels: anarchist, Satanist High Priestess, libertarian ... and now Republican nominee for sheriff of Cheshire County, New Hampshire.
DiMezzo’s Sept. 8 primary win made international headlines because, as she told Mic over email, “I’m definitely not a Republican. I just identify as one. ;)” In fact, her campaign slogan is “F the Police.” Her Sept. 11 blog post acknowledged that the over 4,000 Republicans who voted for her may be feeling like they were tricked, but she says she was completely upfront about her beliefs and that voters just didn’t do their research: “They all filled in the circle by my name despite knowing absolutely nothing about the person they were nominating to the most powerful law enforcement position in the county. That’s a level of recklessness of which any decent human being should be ashamed.”
DiMezzo says she wasn’t running just to make a statement on voters researching their candidates, she is running to win. She explains on her website that she does believe the police are not bad people, but that the system is the problem.
“As sheriff, I and my deputies will respond only to crimes where there are actual victims. We will not fight the war on drugs, the war on sex work, or the war on people who came here without the Proper Government Hallpass,” DiMezzo wrote to Mic, apparently referring to illegal immigration. “My deputies will police the police, respond to actual crimes, or sit in the office and play video games or whatever.”
Running for: Texas House of Representatives, District 17 (challenger)
Current residence: Bastrop, Texas
Madeline “Madi” Eden is an anti-gerrymandering advocate, and founded the non-profit Register2Vote in 2018. “Every 10 years Texas politicians get to choose their future voters, instead of the other way around,” Eden told Mic over email, alluding to the decennial process of drawing congressional district lines. “Our democracy is stronger when more voices are heard.” Eden believes that gerrymandering is a root cause of current elected officials’ pandering to special interests.
“I decided to run against the incumbent candidate who has consistently authored or sponsored legislation that legitimizes discrimination against women and the LGBTQ community under the guise of ‘religious freedom,’” Eden wrote of five-year Republican incumbent John Cyrier. “I feared for the health and safety of my family if he was allowed to remain in office.”
Eden wants to help get access to health insurance and broadband internet for her district’s residents. “My gender identity hasn’t been a primary focus for my campaign, but it’s certainly given the opposition something to talk about at their Friday night Confederate monument flag ceremonies,” Eden quipped in her email. “The reality is that we need more equitable representation for LGBTQIA+ Texans (as well as for so many others), and a lot less discriminatory legislation coming out of our capitol.”
Running for: Wisconsin State Assembly, District 15 (challenger)
Current residence: West Allis, Wisconsin
Last year, Jessica Katzenmeyer woke up in a hospital. Three days earlier, she had been rushed there after collapsing on the floor at her friend’s house, unable to breathe. She fell into a coma. “When I woke up, I found out I nearly died from a staph infection in my lungs,” Katzenmeyer told Mic over email. “I was in the hospital for a week, and if I didn't have health insurance, the bill to save my life would have been $80,000.”
“No one should ever have to fear of going into debt or filing for bankruptcy over life-saving medical treatment,” she wrote. “The health care system is broken, and we need to fix it.”
Katzenmeyer decided to run for office when she got out of the hospital. She’s running against Republican incumbent Joe Sanfelippo, who has won re-election three times since assuming office in 2013 and has sponsored multiple failed bills attempting to restrict abortion access this year alone. Katzenmeyer is endorsed by the AFL-CIO, two Wisconsin chapters of NOW, the Sierra Club, and the Service Employees International Union. “I know and believe we can do better,” she told Mic.
Running for: U.S. House of Representatives, 2nd District, Connecticut (challenger)
Current residence: Willimantic, Connecticut
Cassandra “Cass” Martineau is a self-described outsider through and through, highlighted by being the third-party candidate in a three-way race to represent Connecticut’s 2nd District in Washington, D.C. But Martineau sees this as the very reason why she’s the best candidate for the job: “Experiencing marginalization, I believe I have a needed perspective on how systems work, for whom they do and do not work,” she explained to Mic over email.
She describes herself as the only “non-corporate” candidate in the race, as she is only accepting donations from individuals. Her platform reads like a progressive wishlist: Green New Deal, Medicare-for-All, overturn Citizens United, $15 minimum wage. A lifelong social justice activist, Martineau says on her website that the Democratic Party has “steadily shifted to the right” over the last 40 years and explains that she is challenging 14-year Democratic incumbent Joe Courtney because she doesn’t think he is taking issues like climate change, income inequality, and health care seriously.
“I didn't have any public trans folks to look up to growing up, and the courage I have given others propels me onward through adversity and fear,” Martineau told Mic over email. “The trans youth who have come to me after I speak, amazed to see an out transperson public and proud, has touched me more than I can say.”
Running for: U.S. House of Representatives, Maryland, District 1 (challenger)
Current residence: Frederick, Maryland
Mia Mason served her country for 20 years in the Navy, Army, and National Guard, earning multiple medals for her valor. She completed five combat tours in Afghanistan and Iraq and served in Hurricane Katrina relief, among other service, but none of that mattered to the Armed Forces when she was forced out in 2014 simply for being transgender. She was able to get reinstated, but told Mic over email that she “saw the writing on the wall after the inauguration of Trump.” In 2018 she spoke out at the Women’s March, saying it was “déjà vu” when President Trump’s policy to discharge transgender soliders ended her career.
After winning the Democratic primary against two other candidates, Mason is running against nine-year Republican incumbent Rep. Andrew Harris whom she believes is “just as bad as Trump, if not worse,” she wrote to Mic. (The LGBTQ+ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign inducted Harris into its 2014 “Hall of Shame” as one of the 19 most anti-LGBTQ+ members of Congress, noting that he “has gone out of his way to sponsor nearly every anti-LGBT bill introduced in the House.”)
“Maryland's 1st District is rural, so it comes with a lot of problems that all rural districts run into: lack of affordable health care, lack of broadband internet, lack of jobs,” Mason explained to Mic over email. “That is why I am running on Medicare-for-All (M4A), so that all of our communities can receive health care as a right.” She says that after being at war for the United States overseas, she won’t stop fighting in Congress until her constituents’ lives are improved.
Running for: Delaware State Senate, District 1 (open seat)
Current residence: Wilmington, Delaware
Sarah McBride is no stranger to being in the spotlight as an activist for LGBTQ+ rights, especially as the current national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign. She was the first openly trans woman to work at the White House in 2012, the first openly trans person to address a major party political convention when she spoke at the Democratic National Convention in 2016, and is the author of a 2018 book with a foreword by Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and a recommendation from vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris.
With her run to become a state senator, she is making headlines yet again. After winning her primary on Sept. 15 by over 80 points, she is now the Democratic nominee to represent Delaware’s heavily-Democratic 1st District. With 44-year Democratic incumbent Harris McDowell’s retirement, the seat is open and McBride is expected to become the first openly transgender state senator in the country on Nov. 3 — the highest-ranked elected position any openly transgender person will have ever held.
“With all that's happening at the national level, it’s easy to become tired and dispirited. Too often, it feels like our politics must be so broken that we can no longer do big things,” McBride told Mic over email. “But this can’t be the time for sitting on the sidelines. This is a time to redouble our efforts and to show what neighbors can accomplish when we work together.”
Running for: Palm Springs City Council, District 5 (incumbent)
Current residence: Palm Springs, California
Lisa Middleton is running unopposed for her re-election to the Palm Springs City Council, but when she first ran in 2017, the fact that she would be the first transgender person elected to political office in California garnered international media attention. But Middleton is quick to note that “potholes don’t have a gender,” referring to her call for increased street repair funding. In the years since her election, she’s worked on the city’s response to the COVID-19 crisis and increased the use of renewable energy, along with other initiatives.
While she has been the subject of transphobic remarks, she tells Mic over email that the frequency of those attacks has diminished. “Thanks to the support of my friends and community, not a one of those transphobic remarks had any lasting impact whatsoever,” Middleton wrote. The council Middleton sits on became the first all-LGBTQ+ city council in the country, and she told Mic that she believes her “election is a reflection of the strength and unity of the LGBTQ community.”
Running for: Connecticut House of Representatives, District 39 (challenger)
Current residence: New London, Connecticut
Erycka Ortiz is a singer who loves to combine her art and activism. At only 21 years old, she is the Green Party’s candidate to take on Democratic incumbent Anthony Nolan and Republican challenger Kat Goulart. “We’re constantly having conversations about young people, but never bringing them into the room,” Ortiz told The Day in early September. “Elections are a great time to remind them they have a voice.”
Ortiz describes herself as a “young Black Latinx visible Trans womxn.” She hopes to give her community a voice in Hartford next year, with a mission to create a world that “makes space for and empowers” everyone. “I feel so empowered to be a part of such a beautiful, beautiful community and I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Oritz told Teen Vogue in June. (Ortiz did not respond directly to a request from Mic to participate in this story.)
Running for: New York State Senate, District 54 (challenger)
Current residence: Geneva, New York
“I am a liberal, activist Democrat in a rural, very conservative, Republican area,” Shauna O’Toole told Mic over email. O’Toole is taking on two-term Republican incumbent Pamela Helming in November, hoping to continue her years of service: “I serve my community and nation through the Civil Air Patrol, the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. I believe service is a fundamental part of citizenship.”
She hopes to help small businesses stay afloat through the coronavirus crisis and provide all New Yorkers with health care. Currently working in a grocery store as a “very out and very proud” trans person, O’Toole says that “everything that can be said, has been. I just say, ‘Bring it on.’”
Running for: Texas House of Representatives, District 83 (challenger)
Current residence: Snyder, Texas
Republican Dustin Burrows co-sponsored a “bathroom bill” in the Texas House of Representatives that would have allowed discrimination against transgender people who used public accomodations that corresponded with their gender identities. A five-year incumbent, he beat his Democractic challenger in 2018 by 54 points. None of that intimidates his 2020 challenger, Addison Perry-Franks.
For her, the race is personal. She had her own run-in with an assistant store manager who harassed her when she tried to use the ladies’ room last year. “I made reports, publicized it in local newspapers, and in turn, this got the corporate office in Iowa to send the [company] president down to retrain the employees and make the store more LGBT-friendly and welcoming,” Perry-Franks told Mic email. After her success with creating local change, she decided, with her wife’s support, that she could make a difference at the state level.
Win or lose, Perry-Franks’s campaign has changed minds already: “As I went door to door throughout the district, I was able to explain and educate the public [about] the misconceptions and the misinformation that they had heard” about transgender people, she wrote to Mic. The cost of being publicly transgender in her area of Texas is steep: Perry-Franks says she has received multiple death threats. But despite the frightening attacks, Perry-Franks says she only responds with education. “I am running for everyone to help them with the economy, health care, and to make sure our future kids get a good education,” she explained over email. “So please don't judge my campaign simply because I am transgender, but judge it for my platform and what I can do for you.”
Running for: Vermont House of Representatives, Chittenden-10 District (challenger)
Current residence: Milton, Vermont
A lifelong and multi-generational Vermonter, Ember Quinn moved with her spouse and two kids to the town of Milton four years ago, while residents were dealing with two incidents of racial discrimination in the Milton Town School District. “As a parent and activist I became directly involved in the public discourse that led to the resignation of the school superintendent and three-fifths of the school board members,” Quinn told Mic over email. “I remained active as the school board was replaced. One of the newly elected members whom I supported, Emily Hecker, decided to run for state representative this spring and asked me to join her.”
Now Quinn and Hecker are the two Democrats on the ballot attempting to unseat one or both of the two Republican incumbents, John Palasik and Chris Mattos. Quinn is fighting for an expansion of affordable housing, deductible-free premium-free health care for all, and increasing worker wages. “Being transgender has given me a platform that honestly makes anything I do more noticeable,” Quinn told Mic. “The haters could not hate me anymore, but my supporters support me even more, I think because they've gotten to know me and they see how much I care. I've expanded their understanding of what it means to be trans.”
Running for: Circuit Court Judge, Cook County, Illinois (open seat)
Current residence: Chicago, Illinois
“I'm running for office because there is a dearth of LGBTQ+ judges, particularly transgender judges, in the country and the world,” Jill Rose Quinn told Mic in an email. “Ours is a viewpoint that is necessary in the legal decision making process.” Quinn was inspired by some of the very first openly transgender judges to serve in the U.S., including one who personally urged Quinn to run for their community’s visibility. “I always wanted to be a judge, and Judges Frye and Kolakowski showed me that I could,” Quinn explained to Mic, referring to Phyllis Frye, the first openly transgender appointed judge in the country, and Victoria Kolakowski, the first openly transgender elected judge in the country.
A practicing attorney, Quinn has handled over 4,000 cases over her multi-decade legal career. She lives with her partner, Stephanie, and has been endorsed and recommended by over a dozen organizations, including the Women’s Bar Association of Illinois.
Running for: Idaho State Senate, District 13 (challenger)
Current residence: Nampa, Idaho
Melissa Sue Robinson clearly has policies she wants to see enacted; she has run for mayor, city council, and state senate before. In her current run for state senate, she faces Republican four-year incumbent Jeff Agenbroad.
According to the Idaho Press, Robinson is running to "fight against anti-trans and LGBT legislation that the Republican-controlled legislature introduced.” Robinson, a Michigan State University graduate, ran unopposed in the Democratic primary and has previous experience working at corporations like General Motors, SBC Communications, and Century Link Corporation. (She did not respond to Mic for a request to participate in this story.)
Running for: Vermont House of Representatives, Chittenden-6-7 District (challenger)
Current residence: Winooski, Vermont
Her name may be Taylor Small, but she’s also known by another name: Nikki Champagne, her drag persona. As Nikki, Small has provided drag queen story hours across Vermont, promoting local libraries and youth literacy. She’s also hosted fundraisers to help support the state’s non-profit organizations.
After advancing as one of two candidates from a three-way primary in August (with more votes than any other candidate, including the incumbent), Small is on her way to Vermont’s House of Representatives, given that the district will elect two candidates and she is one of only two on November’s ballot.
“Being an out trans candidate has allowed me to be a mirror for my community; showing a future in which we, as marginalized people, can be truly represented within positions of power,” Small wrote to Mic in an email. “It has increased participation from those in my community who had never engaged in local politics before.” Small hopes to pass a Green New Deal for Vermont once she reaches the statehouse.
Running for: Colorado House of Representatives, District 27 (incumbent)
Current residence: Arvada, Colorado
Colorado state Rep. Brianna Titone won her 2018 election to become the first openly trans state representative in Colorado by a nail-bitingly narrow margin: 24,957 votes, compared to Republican Vicki Pyne’s 24,518 votes. In November, Titone faces Pyne again, along with Libertarian candidate Cory Schaeffer.
“I listen to every one of my constituents, whether they voted for me or not,” Titone told Mic over email. The call to service has been with Titone since she became a volunteer firefighter at the age of 16, and she says her activism after coming out as trans helped lead her to running for office. Now she is focused on public education, the rising cost of health care, and the environment, because that’s what she says she’s learned her constituents are most concerned with based on her conversations with them. “The people of my district know that they can come to me with any concern,” she wrote to Mic, “and I will do everything in my power to address it.”