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    Transformative Victories: Giving Thanks for Our Transgender Candidates

    By Andrea Shorter–

    Something for which we should all give thanks? The record numbers of transgender people elected to offices across the country earlier this November!

    From Danica Roem’s masterful win of a highly contested seat in the Virginia House of Delegates against self-described “chief homophobe” and veteran Delegate Robert Marshall, to the series of local city council and school boards won by transpeople in Minnesota, California, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, the wins were hard fought and rightly won.

    Why should we be so thankful? First and foremost, let’s be very thankful for the fortitude and urgency with which each of these candidates worked to present their authentic selves and the valuable experiences of transpersons in our LGBTQ and broader communities. By running campaigns focused on addressing the real-life issues facing real-life voters, voters could see their way through the divisiveness and derision often casting transpersons as the new gay threat to America, towards empowering capable persons—regardless of gender identity—to represent their values and interests in public office.

    Danica Roem’s historic victory in Virginia was especially sweet. Make that sweeeeeet!

    She out-organized a homophobic, segregationist, unapologetically proud son of the Confederacy, who is steeped in the cultural wars and dog whistle rhetoric of the day (and yesterday) and who refused to respectfully acknowledge, let alone debate, a transgender candidate. Danica instead pressed forward to actually address issues that really matter to voters—infrastructure, jobs, teacher’s salaries, commuter traffic—and proved to be the winning ticket.

    Apparently, for a good portion of Virginia voters, public bathroom segregation based on gender identity was not at the top of their minds after all. 

    Note to the GOP: Enough already with the silly and harmful anti-trans policies, posturing, and just plain ugly antics. It is not a good look and does not make America great.

    Note to Dems: When we support the full LGBT spectrum of potential state and local candidates, we strengthen our big “D” Democratic party.

    Most importantly, we elevate our greater democratic values, which hold that any qualified citizen—regardless of race, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation—should be able to fully engage in free democratic elections as voters and candidates for public office.

    Finally, a note to the Victory Fund: Thank you, VictoryFund.org!

    Thank you for your grassroots and grass-tips support for this term’s slate of talented, qualified, in-it-to-win it candidates across the nation. Your support for returning and embattled candidates like LaWana Mayfield of the Charlotte City Council of North Carolina—who led the passage of the non-discrimination ordinance regarding transgender access to public facilities heard ‘round the world—and the new slate of trans-identified brothers and sisters fighting for elected seats at the table elsewhere is much appreciated. This year’s annual Victory Institute’s International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in Washington, D.C., in December for over 500 elected and appointed officials should be a time of great celebration, as well as a time to continue sharpening tools and resolve for the battles ahead.

    We have a long way to go towards electing more qualified LGBT candidates into office, but we’ve come a long way since Stonewall or even the Lavender Sweep of yore in San Francisco.

    If we’ve learned anything since the days of Harvey Milk, we know that LGBT candidates cannot be elected solely by LGBT voters. There just aren’t enough of us. Working within and building cross-currents of coalition-based support and movement forge the only path towards electoral victory.

    Through coalition-driven movement, our unique issues as LGBT people become less marginalized and vilified. The “gay agenda” for fair and equal treatment becomes accounted for as a key tenant in related causes for equality and inclusion. From all accounts, these vital lessons towards winning full LGBT liberation were well in play in these campaign efforts.

    This calls for keeping the lessons of building much-needed coalition and inclusion of T-people within the historically GLB-centric political ranks. If this past election teaches us anything, we cannot, and should not, under-estimate the political power and vital contributions of the T in LGBT. 

    Yes, transgender people have always been at the forefront of the modern-day movement for LGBT liberation since and before Stonewall. However, the days of dishonoring their place in our own collective political history by throwing our trans-brothers and sisters under the bus for political expediency are over. When you’ve been thrown under the bus, or relegated to the back of the bus, you eventually reach for and grab hold of the driving wheel of the bus.

    If Virginians can get with that program, surely we will continue to emerge from whatever coastal blue enclaves (or delusions) in which we reside. In this Trumpian era, the political ascension of transgender candidates is the best expression of #Resistance. The elections, and re-elections, of the growing ranks of out and proud transgender persons—in purple and red state districts—is the better example of what really makes America great: inclusion and diversity. 

    The welcome expansion and inclusion of more trans-folks inspired by these and other forbearers, who dared to break through our own historically LGB-centric “pink ceiling” and beyond, are poised to prove positively transformative. For that, we should all be thankful.

    Andrea Shorter is President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights, and marriage equality. A co-founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.