As transgender candidates make history in Minneapolis, some see trend emerging

Two trans candidates won seats on the Minneapolis City Council on Tuesday.

ByJohn Verhovek
November 10, 2017, 6:06 PM

— -- In Minneapolis, a diverse, progressive stronghold, two African American transgender candidates were elected to the city council on Tuesday — a night of many firsts for LGBTQ and minority candidates across the country and amid a wave that some see as a rebuke of Trump-era policies.

Andrea Jenkins became the first openly transgender African American woman elected to a city council in a major U.S. City, and Phillipe Cunningham, a black, openly transgender man, also won a seat on the council representing northwestern Minneapolis.

Elsewhere, Danica Roem, a transgender woman was elected to the Virginia House of Delegate. And Seattle elected its first lesbian mayor, Jenny Durkan, and first openly gay school board member, Zachary DeWolf.

While LGBTQ groups say they are still vastly underrepresented in local and federal governments, they also are optimistic that this week’s wins mark a turning point.

“We really see 2017 as being a banner year for LGBTQ candidates and really sets us up for 2018,” said Eliott Imse, communications director for Victory Fund, a political group that supports LGBTQ candidates at the federal, state and local level, “We're thrilled about our victories across the country and think that it shows that the country is really embracing LGBQT candidates.”

Minneapolis' election of two transgender candidates of color is especially notable.

Cunningham said that Tuesday's results means that Minneapolis, a city that is also home to a large Somalian immigrant population, among other groups, has a city council that reflects its values.

"We're seen as whole and complete people rather than just a series of differences," he said. "Minneapolis is just full of folks who...just see us — see marginalized people as full and complete people and operate from there."

Cunningham, who ousted the city’s sitting council president, a 20-year incumbent, said that his victory shows that the LGBTQ community is finding its political voice.

“I think that Tuesday night is just the beginning of us really building our voice as a community,” Cunningham told ABC News, “On the local level, we're just a neighbor. We're just the person who lives next door who helps you find your dog, we're the people who look out for your house when you go out of town.”

Jenkins said she hopes her victory can serve as as a message to all LGBTQ people, and a signal that their voices matters in the American political system.

"I hope that my message resonates with people. We can live our authentic lives, we can be our authentic selves and we can still contribute and participate in leadership roles and opportunities in every field of human endeavor," Jenkins told ABC News in an interview, "I believe that representation matters and that we have to be involved in these decisions and policies that impact us every day. If we aren't we're going to continue to be placed in oppressed situations and I refuse to accept that."

Jenkins agreed that Minnesota can be a beacon of change and progress for the LGBTQ community, but added that there are still many barriers the community faces in today's society.

"LGBT people can still be fired from their jobs, can still be denied health insurance if their employer thinks that they don't deserve it," Jenkins said, "We still have a long way to go and a lot of work to do, and I want to be a part of making that change."

Tuesday’s elections happened almost a year to the day after the election of Donald Trump, and there are signs that LGBTQ candidates have and will continue to be a stronger presence at all levels of government in future elections, experts say.

“Trump did not alter in any way or stop the momentum of integrating gay and lesbian, transgender legislators and citizens into the mainstream of American society,” said Howard Lavine, a professor of political science and psychology at the University of Minnesota, “There are definitely fewer barriers in liberal Democratic constituencies pertaining to sexual orientation or race. That's been the trend for 20 years on the Democratic side.”

Imse said that while the 2016 election did inspire a large number of LGBTQ candidates to run for office, there is still work to be done to ensure equal governmental representation.

“LGBTQ people were fired up across the country after the last election in 2016 and LGBTQ people are running like never before. That said, we remain severely underrepresented in government at all levels,” Imse said.

At the federal level, there are just six openly gay members of the United States House, and one openly gay U.S. Senator, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin.

But those numbers may change if more LGBTQ candidates run.

“These victories at the local level can always inspire and help with recruitment of those candidates, and there are a handful of LGBT candidates mounting congressional runs in 2018,” said Leah Askarinam, a reporter and analyst at Inside Elections, a nonpartisan publication that analyses Senate, House, governor and presidential races. “Tuesday was also a good day for female candidates in general, and within that women of color and LGBT candidates.”

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