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Transmissions: November hope

by Gwendolyn Ann Smith

On Election Night, I watched a miracle unfold.

The first big news dropped during dinner November 7. I watched on my phone as news that Danica Roem was leading Bob Marshall in the race for a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates quickly changed to word that she was victorious. It was a huge win, given that Marshall was a 26-year incumbent, as well as an anti-LGBT Republican who sponsored the state's bathroom bill, and Roem is a transgender woman who would be directly impacted by same.

Just like that, Roem rode a blue tide into power in Virginia, with a campaign that rebuffed Marshall's attempts to bait her for being trans. Roem did address being a transgender woman, but was wise enough to move quickly beyond being simply "the transgender candidate" and focus on bread-and-butter issues that she intended to handle.

Soon after, I read about Andrea Jenkins' win in Minneapolis. Jenkins, an African-American trans woman, won a spot on the Minneapolis City Council. A short while later, trans man Tyler Titus won a seat on the Erie School Board in Pennsylvania, while Stephe Koontz, a trans woman, was victorious in her bid to be on the Doraville City Council in Georgia.

I was ecstatic. In a matter of hours, four transgender people had been elected. While none were the first trans people to be elected to office - there have been many before, both out and otherwise - the night was nonetheless a watershed moment and many of the candidates made history in their jurisdictions. We weren't done at only four, however.

After the polls closed in Palm Springs, California, Lisa Middleton, a trans woman, won a seat on the City Council. As more late results trickled in, Gerri Cannon, a trans woman, got onto the Somersworth, New Hampshire School Board, and Phillipe Cunningham, a trans man of color, took a second spot on the Minneapolis City Council.

Surely seven was far more than anyone could have hoped for, and yet we still weren't done: Raven Matherne finished out Election Night with her win on the Stamford Board of Representatives in Connecticut.

Eight transgender people across the United States were elected. They were joined by a number of other diverse voices, including the first openly intersex public official, Betsy Driver, in Flemington, New Jersey, the first Sikh mayor, Ravi Bhalla, in Hoboken, New Jersey, and many others. It was a big night for democracy, for diversity, and a positively huge time for transgender people.

The following night, November 8, marked the 40th anniversary of Harvey Milk's historic victory in San Francisco, becoming the first openly gay man elected in California. It felt as if he was smiling on us all that evening, as we moved forward.

I'm usually the first to talk about how bad things are right now for transgender people. And it does seem vital that we keep fighting. We need to respond to all these attacks, and keep moving forward. I'd be lying if I said I think any of those, at least in the short term, will be easy.

We're being cast as the big enemy right now, and facing an onslaught of rights rollbacks under the current administration. We're still seeing anti-transgender murders in the United States every two weeks or so. If I'm pessimistic, there are plenty of reasons for it.

At the same time, we can take this one moment, this one night, and get a bit of hope from it. As hard as our battles are, we can gain traction. It wasn't that long ago that no candidate would have even championed transgender causes, let alone been out as transgender themselves. Such would have been the death knell of candidacies in even liberal-leaning locations.

I would like to think I need not remind anyone what Milk had to say about hope, but it seems relevant to note at this point.

"So if there is a message I have to give, it is that I've found one overriding thing about my personal election, it's the fact that if a gay person can be elected, it's a green light," said Milk. "And you and you and you, you have to give people hope."

On November 7, 2017, the transgender community, in the wake of so much hatred, was given hope. We can be elected, and that is no small thing - especially in the wake of the Trump administration and so much awfulness focused on transgender people.

That night, transgender people young and old got some hope. There may be a transgender kid out there who, until that night, was thinking of ending their lives - and now they might some day join Koontz, Cunningham, Cannon, Roem, Matherne, Jenkins, Middleton, Titus, and other transgender elected officials. They now know that they can live out of the shadows, and be not only accepted within their communities, but represent them.

There will be more coming up; Kim Coco Iwamoto announced her campaign for lieutenant governor of Hawaii (she previously served two terms on the the Hawaii Board of Education, having been elected in 2006), while Martin Rawlings-Fein and Mia Satya are both running for seats on the San Francisco school board. I am sure that there are other candidates out there that I don't know about.

So let us etch this one night when those of us who are transgender were victorious in the face of so much adversity and made a name for our community and ourselves. Let's hold onto that hope, and let it guide us through these difficult times and into a better future for us all.

Gwen Smith is pondering running sometime, too. You'll find her at www.gwensmith.com.

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