Political Notebook: Transgender Nurse Eyes CA Governorship
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Buoyed by the historic wins last month of transgender candidates across the country, Veronika Fimbres is aiming to become the first transgender governor of California. But first, the hospice nurse and Navy veteran has to get her name on the June primary ballot by the March 9 filing deadline.
Running as a Green Party candidate, Fimbres in recent weeks has been collecting signatures and raising money to qualify for the race, where the top two vote-getters regardless of party affiliation will advance to the November general election.
"I hope to be governor. You see, right now the time is right," Fimbres, who dropped her bid for a San Francisco supervisor seat in 2004 due to a lack of support, told the Bay Area Reporter during an interview earlier this month.
Fimbres, 65, who lives in San Francisco's Sunnyside neighborhood, is currently between jobs and has been focused on ramping up her gubernatorial campaign since pulling papers earlier this fall. She faces seemingly insurmountable odds of surviving the state's jungle primary June 5.
Recent polling shows Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (D), the former mayor of San Francisco, continues to have a commanding lead in the governor's race with both likely and registered voters, while former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (D) has a comfortable edge for second place ahead of the two Republicans - attorney John Cox and Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) - and two other Democrats in the race: state Treasurer John Chiang and former state superintendent of public instruction Delaine Eastin.
As for Fimbres, her name doesn't make the list of gubernatorial candidates voters are being asked about by polling firms. Nonetheless, she is undaunted about running for the political office.
"Once my name is on the ballot, I will get the momentum I need," said Fimbres, the first out trans person appointed to a city panel, when she served on the Veterans Affairs Commission under the Board of Supervisors and former Mayors Willie Brown Jr., Newsom, and Ed Lee.
"Someone on my Facebook page said, 'You don't stand a chance.' I feel like the little Green that could, like the engine," said Fimbres. "The climate is right for something different. Once I get my name on the ballot, I think the resources will open up for me. Then things will change and people will realize I am for real. If I don't get on the ballot then I will be an also-ran."
In order to qualify for the ballot, Fimbres would need to pay a filing fee of nearly $4,000. She could collect 7,000 signatures from registered voters by February 7 in lieu of the fee.
Should she become an official candidate, Fimbres would make history as the first known transgender person to run for statewide office in California, as well as the first person living with HIV to do so. To date, only three gay men are known to have sought one of the state's eight elected executive offices, with the latest being state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens).
Expected to win his race for insurance commissioner next fall, Lara would make history as the first out statewide elected leader. So far Lara and Fimbres are the only LGBT candidates in the Golden State running for statewide office in 2018.
"Friends of the LGBT community and LGBT people should be behind me," said Fimbres. "I am not an also ran."
Fimbres, who transitioned in 1978, grew up in Detroit, the oldest of four siblings. Her father, who is deceased, was a musician and worked for the U.S. Postal Service, while her mother, who remarried and is now retired, was a nurse. Her two brothers are also deceased, while her sister still lives in Detroit.
A Navy corpsman prior to her transition, Fimbres served at Coronado Amphibious Base and worked at Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego during the early 1970s. Fimbres, who is African-American, experienced both racism and sexual abuse during her service, as she recounted in an interview with the B.A.R. last year.
"There was a great deal of sex that went on in the Navy and not all of it given willingly. I am still being treated for PTSD for sexual abuse while in the Navy," she recalled, referring to post-traumatic stress disorder.
After serving in the Navy for close to three years, Fimbres received an administrative discharge and left San Diego for New York City where her mother and stepfather where living at the time. Fimbres became a "high-price call girl," she said, and started freebasing crack cocaine. Though she always used a condom with clients, she believes she contracted HIV due to one time when the condom broke.
She ended up homeless and slept in a van on the bank of the Hudson River before moving to Evansville, Indiana where her mom and stepdad had relocated after he retired from his job with New York Life Insurance Company. Unhappy there, and arrested for writing bad checks, Fimbres decided to move to San Francisco in 1996.
Once in town, she volunteered at several local AIDS agencies and later was named to the local council that oversaw the city's federal HIV funds, on which she pushed for the inclusion of transgender as a choice for one's gender in addition to male or female. The city's Office of AIDS hired her as a contract compliance officer prior to her becoming a nurse.
Fimbres, who identifies as a heterosexual woman, married in June 2013, the same year she served as a grand marshal in the city's Pride parade, but her husband died the following year. Currently single, Fimbres said she is committed to running for governor and should be seen as a serious candidate.
If given the opportunity, Fimbres believes her life story as a woman of color, veteran, long-term survivor of HIV, and a health care worker will resonate with the state's voters.
"Because I am easygoing and light, people don't take me as having depth or knowledge," said Fimbres. "They say, 'Veronika, she is funny.' But I am also very serious and determined."
To donate to Fimbres' gubernatorial campaign online, visit https://rally.org/f/aFxrakqFMat