Transmission: November Hope

By | 2017-11-23T09:00:00+00:00 November 23rd, 2017|Opinions, Viewpoints|

by Gwendolyn Ann Smith

The 7th of November was the 40th anniversary of Harvey Milk’s historic victory in San Francisco, becoming the first out, gay elected official in the United States. It felt as if he was smiling on us all that night, as we moved forward.

On a night in November, I watched a miracle unfold. It was election night, the 7th of November.
The first big news dropped during dinner. I watched on my phone as news that Danica Roem was leading against Bob Marshall in the race for a place in the Virginia House of Delegates which quickly changed to word that she was victorious. It was a huge victory, given that Bob Marshall was a 26-year incumbent, as well as an anti-LGBT Republican who sponsored the states’ “Bathroom Bill” – and Roem is a transgender woman who would be directly impacted by same.
Just like that, Danica 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 transgender, but was wise enough to move quickly beyond being simply “the transgender candidate” and focused on bread-and-butter issues that she intended to handle.
Within minutes, 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, Pennsylvania School Board, while Stephe Koontz was victorious in her bid to be on the Doraville, Georgia City Council.
I was ecstatic. In a short period of time, four transgender people had been elected. While none were the first to be elected to office — there have been many before, both out and otherwise — the night was nonetheless historic. We weren’t done at only four, however.
Then Lisa Middleton won a seat on the Palm Springs City Council, Gerri Cannon got onto the Somersworth, New Hampshire School Board, and Phillipe Cunningham took a second spot on the Minneapolis City Council.
Surely seven was far more than any one could have hoped for, and yet we still weren’t done: Raven Matherne finished out the election 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 intersexed public official, Betsy Driver, the first turbaned Sikh mayor, Ravi Bhalla of Hoboken, New Jersey, and many others. It was a big night for democracy, for diversity, and a positively huge time for transgender people.
The 7th of November was the 40th anniversary of Harvey Milk’s historic victory in San Francisco, becoming the first out, gay elected official in the United States. It felt as if he was smiling on us all that night, 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 take 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 Harvey 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 the 7th of November 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 is in the running to become the Lieutenant Governor of Hawai’i, while Martin Rawlings-Fein and Mia “Tu Mutch” Satya are both aiming for seats on the San Francisco Unified School Board. I am sure that much like the night of the 7th of November, there are far more candidates out there that I don’t know of right now.
SO let us etch this one night down, as the day that 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.

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