• (Left to right) Brianne VanDyke, intern, student at U of M; Natalie Joaquin, field organizer; Rachel Hood, candidate; Danielle Williams, finance director; and Jex Judd, campaign manager, political consultant. Photo courtesy of Odessa Judd at Riverside Park

Jex Judd Talks Evolution of Gender Politics

Drew Howard
By | 2018-06-26T14:42:06+00:00 June 20th, 2018|Election 2018, Kalamazoo, Neighborhoods, News|

Candidate Rachel Hood Hired Michigan’s First Openly Queer Non-Binary Campaign Manager

It’s safe to say that one cannot sustain a long-term career in politics without making some sort of compromise — both with one’s own values and one’s constituents — that can raise questions if one will be the same person coming out of the arena as they were going into it.

For someone like Jex Judd, a queer, non-binary individual who has worked in politics and advocacy for the past 17 years, the game of compromises has always been heightened, bringing along with it more tangible and even greater stakes. But in 2018, Judd says they’ve reached a place in life professionally where the idea of compromising personal values for a political endgame no longer feels like a looming threat.

In April, Rachel Hood hired Judd on as Campaign Manager in her run for state representative of Michigan’s 76th District. This makes them the first openly queer, non-binary individual to work in a paid role for the Michigan House of Representatives, Judd said.

“She might be one of the best candidates I’ve ever worked for – her values speak to mine, not only in how she speaks about them but also how she lives them,” Judd said. “That might be a first for me. I don’t have to be anybody but who I am … that’s movement.”

Hood’s run for state representative is based around “four main pillars,” which include protecting affordable healthcare, creating economic opportunities, promoting educational opportunities and protecting the Great Lakes. Additionally, Hood said she made it a priority from the get-go to assemble a campaign team representative of diverse and marginalized voices in the community.
And while Judd fit the bill, so to speak, Hood said their professional qualifications made the decision a no-brainer.

“First and foremost, I’m thrilled to have someone with as much experience as Jex,” Hood said. “To have someone with 17 years of experience in campaign work and policy development as well is just really unusual. And for me, when someone as qualified as Jex arrives, there wasn’t any question about it.”

Judd’s work in policy development goes all the way back to their undergraduate years at Saginaw Valley State University, where they helped create the university’s first Gay-Straight Alliance in addition to fighting for inclusive policymaking decisions alongside SVSU’s president. From there, Judd enrolled at the University of Michigan where they earned a Master’s degree in public policy.

The past 17 years of advocacy work has seen Judd work under such high-profile names in politics like Jennifer Granholm, Debbie Stabenow, former Illinois Governor Pat Quinn and St. Louis Senator Claire McCaskill. Judd eventually landed back in Michigan in 2015 where they served as a consultant for Equality Michigan and Fair Michigan and later founded the progressive activism group ProKzoo in Kalamazoo alongside their spouse Odessa.

With a resume like theirs, Judd has had a front-row seat to watch the slow but steady growth in the relationship between politicians and LGBTQ issues. While Judd is confident that Hood’s vocal support for inclusiveness will match her actions, they couldn’t always say the same about other political players in the past.

“As an example of how things have changed, I was working on a race in Michigan where the candidate would ask me to come to a fundraiser, and other times I wouldn’t be asked to come,” Judd said. “I was directly asked to come for some, and then for others, they’d say ‘it’s best you don’t come to this one.’”

In other professional experiences, the pushback against Judd’s queerness was less direct. “I worked for Granholm, and at the time she would say she only believed in one man and one woman – that’s public knowledge,” Judd said. “That was kind of rough as someone who is queer. Working for people who will say to your face they don’t mind you, but then turn around and may vote for a policy that is completely against me.”

Such scenarios were “emotionally taxing,” Judd said, and often led them to create excuses for the candidates and the political game at large. “At the same time, I understood the political climate,” they said. “Intellectually I understood, but emotionally I didn’t if that makes sense.”

“Something non-binary and trans people go through a lot is this idea that whatever space we’re in, we have to play a game and know the issues surrounding it,” Judd added. “What can we do? Was I not supposed to work? The reason I did a lot of advocacy work was because candidate work was difficult. It was hard on me emotionally.”

Judd doesn’t resent Granholm over her actions, though, or for that matter any political candidates who’ve changed their tune on LGBTQ issues for the better over the years. Progress is an unfortunately slow but steady process, they said, which is why marginalized people will sometimes need to settle for less if it means society is ultimately taking one step forward.

“It’s a position of privilege where one talks about the purity test,” Judd said, referencing the idea that candidates need to match a voter’s values 100 percent. “That happens in progressive circles. It’s a space of privilege, this idea that candidates have to fit everything they think … it’s kind of ridiculous.”

“That’s where I was coming from when I chose to work for people who may not stand behind me in a packed room. But they’ll listen to me. They’ll see me work, see what I can produce, and see the person.”

Working under Hood, Judd says they haven’t had to make a single compromise yet.

“Being gay is one thing, but for someone who is non-binary, like I am, it’s a little – well, most politicians would run from that,” they said. “Rachel didn’t flinch at all. It wasn’t an issue.”

Since announcing the decision to hire Judd on as Campaign Manager, Hood says she’s yet to hear any negative feedback, at least publicly.

“We haven’t seen it visibly,” Hood said. “I’m really proud of the way Jex has been welcomed. I really haven’t received anything but positive feedback,” Judd said. “I think folks are excited we’ve sort of broken a glass ceiling. I’m the first openly non-binary queer person to serve in a paid role for Michigan House. There’s excitement about that.”

Together, Judd and Hood hope to not only win the seat, which looks to be leaning “slightly” Democrat but also play a role in the bigger movement to flip the House. Hood said that a Democrat-controlled House is especially critical in advancing certain policies, including Elliott Larsen.

“Even though we had a win in the Civil Rights Commission as it relates to equal protections under Elliott Larsen, we still need a legislative fix,” she said. “The war isn’t quite fully fought.”

“To gain control of the House, we’ll be better positioned to move on Elliott Larsen, move on school funding, roads funding, and move on all the issues that are so critical to a successful state,” she added.

To learn more about candidate Rachel Hood, please visit hoodforthehouse.com.

About the Author:

Drew Howard
Drew Howard graduated from Grand Valley State University in 2017 with a B.S. in multimedia journalism. His work has been featured in Gazette Media, Forbes, LearnVest and NPR station WDET 101.9.