transgender, election

Meet 6 Transgender and Gender-Nonbinary Politicians Who Broke Ground in 2020

Despite the fraught nature of the 2020 presidential election results, victories at state levels put at least six transgender and nonbinary individuals in legislative positions. These small but significant gains for transgender visibility in politics came just before Transgender Awareness Week, which celebrates transgender people from Nov. 13–19 before Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20, which memorializes victims of transphobic violence. Here’s a look at some transgender and gender nonbinary politicians who won elections in 2020.

Sarah McBride: U.S. Senate, Representing Delaware

McBride, a Democrat and LGBTQ activist from Delaware, became the first openly transgender state senator and highest-ranking transgender official, but this election wasn’t the first time she made history. The 30-year-old attended American University and made headlines when she stepped down as the student body president and came out as transgender in a column in the university’s newspaper. Under President Obama, McBride also served as an intern, becoming the first openly transgender person to work at the White House. When she took the stage at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, she was the first openly transgender person to do so.

McBride defeated Republican Steve Washington for the seat for Delaware’s 1st district and ran on a campaign of affordable healthcare, expanding family paid leave, passing universal pre-K and reforming the criminal justice system.

Upon winning the election, she tweeted, “I hope tonight shows an LGBTQ kid that our democracy is big enough for them, too. As Delaware continues to face the [COVID-19] crisis, it’s time to get to work to invest in the policies that will make a difference for working families.”

Taylor Small: Vermont House of Representatives

Taylor Small

Small, who ran as both a Democrat and Progressive became the first openly transgender person to be elected to the Vermont legislature. The 26-year-old will represent the Chittenden 6-7 district along with Democrat Hal Colston. She currently serves as the director of the Health & Wellness program at the Pride Center of Vermont. Her community activism also expands into her hobby of drag performance. As her drag persona, “Nikki Champagne,” Small has participated in Drag Queen Story Hour in Vermont libraries, a program that brings drag performers to libraries to read books to children in an effort to teach them about LGBTQ acceptance. The University of Vermont alum ran on issues including funding for progressive education, expanding mental health and addiction resources and a plan to divest the state from fossil fuel infrastructure.

Mauree Turner: Oklahoma House of Representatives

Turner is the first gender non-binary and first Muslim person to win a state seat in the traditionally red state. Turner — who identifies as queer and uses both she/her and they/them pronouns — represents the 88th District in the state House, where they beat out Republican Kelly Barlean, winning about 71% of the votes according to Oklahoma State Election Board unofficial results. In June 2020, they beat incumbent Rep. Jason Dunnington in the district’s Democratic primary. The 27-year-old is a community organizer who has fought for issues including immigration rights, racial justice and criminal justice.

Turner won the campaign on a platform that included issues like raising wages, improving public education spending, reforming the criminal justice system and establishing integrated healthcare and further resources to mitigate the opioid epidemic.

Stephanie Byers: Kansas House of Representatives

Byers, a member of the Chickasaw Nation and former public school music teacher defeated Republican Cyndi Howerton for the 86th District seat in the Kansas House of Representatives. The 57-year-old is now the largely red state’s first elected transgender official.

“For a lot of folks, if Kansas, the big red Republican state, can elect a trans person to a state legislator, the doors open up in a lot of other places for people,” Byers said in an interview with The Wichita Eagle. “And it helps those people who are transgender to reinforce that they are people who matter, they are people who are important and they’re people who can be successful in their lives.”

In 2018, Byers was named the National Educator of the Year by GLSEN, an organization that advocates for an end to harassment and violence against LGBTQ students. Byers also leads a diversity consulting company called Gender.Training along with her wife, Lori Haas, where she works to educate about gender diversity.

Byers won on a platform including increased funding to public schools, expanding Medicaid and ending employment discrimination.

Brianna Titone: Colorado House of Representatives 

Born and raised in New York, Titone serves in her second term as Colorado’s first openly transgender legislator representing the state’s 27th District. She has worked as a volunteer firefighter, a web application developer and substitute teacher but her career as a geologist led her to Colorado. In 2016, she joined and later became the secretary and treasurer of the Jefferson County LGBTQ+ Caucus. In 2018, she flipped a Republican seat in the Colorado House of Representatives.

She was targeted in anti-LGBTQ campaign ads during her re-election campaign, which included tasteless robocalls saying she was a “transsexual state representative who wants to force a radical sexual agenda on every Coloradan,” and Facebook ads and campaign flyers deadnaming the name she was given at birth. Her colleague, Republican state Rep. Stephen Humphrey, voiced additional hate-filled robocalls, saying she “supports policies that force your wives and daughters to share bathrooms with biological men who identify as female.”

Regardless of the harassment piled on her campaign, Titone won her second term on issues including equity and equality in the areas of housing and wages; LGBTQ-, women- and minority-rights; and fighting homelessness. Her work as a geologist also informs her environmental advocacy, which includes working toward implementing 100% renewable energy and achieving new water conservation efforts in Colorado.

Lisa Bunker: New Hampshire House of Representatives

Democrat Bunker was re-elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives to serve the state’s 18th Rockingham County district, which includes the city of Exeter. Aside from her political career, she is also well-known for her work as an author. In 2017 and 2019 respectively, she published two novels that starred transgender characters: Feliz Yz and Zenobia July. She also worked in noncommercial broadcasting for 30 years where she centered stories on people who were underrepresented in mainstream media.

Her platform included immigrant rights, fair elections, affordable housing, wages, renewable energy, environmental protection and small business innovation. According to her website, she also plans to address gun violence — respecting the Second Amendment but also placing stricter restrictions on gun ownership.

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