Danica Roem, a Democrat from Virginia, will become her state’s first openly transgender legislator after clinching a House of Delegates election victory on 7 November 2017. She beat a 13-term incumbent who introduced a bathroom bill that would have restricted trans bathroom use.
But contrary to some observers’ statements about her being the “first transgender person elected to ANY state’s legislature,” in reality, the first trans state legislator in the U.S. was elected a quarter of a century ago.
Althea Garrison was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives as a Republican in 1992. However, she did not openly identify herself in public as a trans woman. Her gender identity was outed to the public by a story in the conservative Boston Herald newspaper. The reporter who outed Garrison, Eric Fehrnstrom, would go on to work as a campaign strategist for 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
Garrison served one term until, in 1994, Democrat Charlotte Golar Richie halted her bid for re-election. Since then Garrison has mounted several campaigns for office as not only a GOP candidate, but a Democrat and an independent. The same night Roem won her race in Virginia, Garrison lost in her efforts to win an at-large seat on the Boston city council.
In 2012 another trans woman, Stacie Laughton, was elected as a Democrat to the state House of Representatives in New Hampshire. During her campaign, she said:
I don’t want being transgender to be a focal point. I want to stand on the issues … because of who I am, I believe I can work between party lines and not let political partisanship hold us up when it comes to the important matters before us at the Statehouse.
But Laughton never served a day in state office; she resigned amid concerns over her eligibility for office. Laughton had been convicted concurrently of conspiracy to commit credit card fraud and falsifying physical evidence prior to undergoing gender reassignment. Her sentences were reduced to one year, and later suspended on the condition that she exhibit good behavior for 10 years after being released.
But critics contended that because the sentence was suspended, it violated a state law barring convicted felons from running for office until they had received a “final discharge” from prison. After initially reconsidering and entering the race to fill her vacated seat, Laughton withdrew after state Attorney General Michael Delaney sent a letter to Secretary of State Bill Gardner stating:
The court has retained jurisdiction over [Laughton] and her sentences have not been fully discharged under the law.
In March 2015, Laughton was arrested after admitting that she called in a false bomb threat to the Southern New Hampshire Medical Center.
Besides Roem, three other transgender candidates won their respective local races on 7 November 2017: Andrea Jenkins and Lisa Middleton were elected to their respective city councils in Minneapolis, Minnesota and Palm Springs, California; and Tyler Titus was elected to the school board in Erie, Pennsylvania. A day later, Philippe Cunningham, was confirmed as the winner of another seat on the Minneapolis city council.