Katie Scott is just one of the hundreds of openly-LGBTQ candidates across the nation who ran for public office for the first time this year, but not all of them can say they won every single precinct up against a 14-year incumbent opponent in the primary on their very first bid.
Scott’s win this August marks the first time an openly-lesbian candidate has been appointed to the Washtenaw Board of Commissioners. It just so happens, that if she wins Nov. 6, Scott will be joining alongside the board’s first openly-gay male member, Jason Morgan, when they are sworn in this January.
And while such a leap for diverse leadership is certainly cause for celebration, Scott says her and Morgan’s feat has been too long in the making.
“In the times of Obama, I didn’t think this would become such an issue again, but it is,” Scott said. “We’re seeing pushbacks for LGBTQ rights.”
To play a role in the “rainbow wave” this election cycle was both surprising and exciting, Scott said. It’s reported that more than 400 LGBTQ candidates ran for office this year, most of whom are Democrats.
But a brief glimpse at Scott’s campaign website shows that her LGBTQ-status largely takes a backseat to other issues. Like a heterosexual candidate, Scott never felt the need to bring her sexuality to the forefront, or twist it into a campaign bullet point.
“I didn’t highlight it,” she says about her sexuality. “If people knew that was fine, and I was really proud to complete the questionnaire in Washtenaw for county candidates. I was really happy to let people know I’m out, but I want to represent my community as a whole – not just the LGBTQ community, but the whole community.”
One of Scott’s top priorities as a new board member is to increase government transparency. One way Scott proposes to do this would be to actively publicize agenda items coming before the board to the general public ahead of meetings.
“When there’s a lack of transparency people become less engaged,” she said. “If they know the issues ahead of time and know the avenues for change, they’re more likely to get involved … the community is better-served when more people get involved.”
This lack of interaction between citizens and the Washtenaw Board of Commissioners came into clear focus on the campaign trail, Scott said, as evidenced by the No. 1 question she received from potential voters:
What do the Board of Commissioners do?
“The Board of Commissioners is the conduit between state and local government,” Scott said. “When I was looking at different places in government, the board seemed like a good fit because so much of what the county does is behind the scenes to make daily life go on. It’s just like what I do as a nurse.”
Also at the top of Scott’s list of priorities is improving community mental health. Scott is currently a professional registered nurse at the University of Michigan Health System where she works in the Intensive Care Unit, and since 2016 has served as a board member on the Michigan Nurses Association.
The pivot into politics feels more like an extension of her duties in nursing field, she said, as her career and board member status holds her accountable for advocating on behalf of both patients and her fellow nurses.
Scott plans to use her medical background on the board to combat the opioid epidemic affecting “all corners of Washtenaw county.” To do so, Scott argues the county government needs to stay updated on the latest research in addiction behavior while leveraging resources to support ongoing care for patients.
“Paying workers in this field a livable wage is part of the solution,” her website reads. “We have to make it financially viable for those who work with the most vulnerable in our society to continue this important work and forge the bonds necessary with their patients to facilitate functional and recovered living.”
Scott is equally passionate about opening up a dialogue on affordable housing in Washtenaw County. In particular, she’s concerned with the growing disparity in home prices between the east and west side. Having lived in Ann Arbor for the entirety of her professional career, Scott has seen firsthand the effects of rising home prices on the area workforce. “Ann Arbor is pretty affluent, and it’s growing more and more,” Scott said. “This is reflected in home prices.”
“I bought a house 10 years ago and back then Ann Arbor was on the edge of affordable,” she said. “I recently appraised my house to refinance … I was amazed (at) the value. It’s fabulous, but on the other hand I thought, ‘This is horrible.’ This pushes people out of Ann Arbor.”
In the House Affordability and Economic Equity Analysis for Washtenaw County that was completed 2015, the author writes that Ann Arbor “will become more costly, and less affordable,” a side effect that will especially impact non-student renters and aspiring buyers. Creating a barrier to entry will work against the area’s commitment to diversity and difference, Scott said, a value that’s has made Ann Arbor the community it is today.
The Victory Fund, a national organization dedicated to electing LGBT candidates, recently gave Scott their candidate stamp of approval. She describes the endorsement as “empowering,” and a reflection of what she’ll do for her community once sworn into office.
“It helps because my primary motivation for running was around issues such as affordable housing, labor and good government – not necessarily on an LGBTQ platform,” Scott said. “In fact, the other openly gay commissioner didn’t even know I was gay! But I know these issues are issues that impact our community and I will be proud to the be the first open lesbian serving on the Washtenaw County Commission. I can’t wait to work for everyone in our community and the endorsement from the Victory Fund is gratifying.”
Despite Ann Arbor’s reputation for progressive politics, Scott said there are still pro-LGBTQ policies to be fought for. First and foremost, Scott wants to work toward developing new and inclusive language protecting LGBTQ county workers.
“Labor unions have always worked to create equity among men and women,” she said. “Now we’re seeing language being formalized – I want to see county contracts have that same language.”
“There’s no language about protecting trans employees, language that says you will use the pronoun someone wants or the name someone chooses,” Scott said. “To have that protection is something I’m working for.”
And, if nothing else, Scott can say she’s helped forge a path for aspiring LGBTQ people in politics.
“We’re seeing pushbacks for LGBTQ rights,” she said. “To stand up and say, ‘I’m proud, it’s made me who I am,’ it helps the community. I think about the kids who see that, how it changes the framework. … I didn’t see openly gay candidates and politicians as a kid. The more you see that, it normalizes it and makes it feel less othered.”
Connect with Katie Scott on Facebook facebook.com/voteKatieScott/ or follow her on Twitter @greenkate.