Updated: Wednesday, November 8, 2017, 1:06 PM
An openly transgender person was elected to office in Pennsylvania for the first time Tuesday, making him one of several transgender candidates across the nation to emerge victorious — and giving hope to an American community that has felt under attack by the Trump administration.
“It’s history-making, especially in light of the present regime,” said Deja Lynn Alvarez, a transgender activist who works at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. “A large part of the country is tired of the hate, whether it’s with transgender people or other people.”
The Pennsylvania victory came in Erie, where Tyler Titus, a professional counselor, won one of four seats on the city’s school board. The Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, a political action committee that supported Titus and other LGBT candidates, hailed the victory and said it would resonate beyond Pennsylvania.
“Trans people remain severely underrepresented in our politics and government,” the fund said in a statement. “And now more than ever we need trans voices like Tyler’s in the halls of power.”
Voters in other states embraced transgender candidates. In Virginia, Danica Roem defeated 13-term incumbent Robert G. Marshall — who had sought to limit transgender people’s access to bathrooms — for a seat in the legislature.
In Minnesota, Andrea Jenkins was elected to the Minneapolis City Council — becoming the first transgender woman of color elected to public office in a major U.S. city.
Transgender candidates have run for office before. Henry McGregor Sias, a Philadelphia lawyer, sought to become the nation’s first transgender male judge when he ran for Common Pleas Court this year. He was defeated in the primary.
Despite that outcome, Sias said he believes Philadelphia is ready to have transgender people in leadership. Tuesday’s victories show young transgender people in particular can grow up to be embraced and successful, Sias said.
“Our status as trans people,” he said, “is no longer disqualifying.”
Being transgender means identifying with a gender different from the one in which you were born. Although some people opt for surgery, it isn’t required to make a transition, and neither is hormone therapy, which would result in a more gradual process.
The Trump administration has repeatedly singled out the transgender community: The president vowed in July to bar transgender people from serving in the military. The Justice Department — reversing the Obama administration’s policy — also said last month that federal civil rights law does not protect transgender people from workplace discrimination.
Alvarez, the Philly activist, called the actions “extremely harmful” to an already vulnerable community. But Tuesday’s victories are a sign to keep fighting, she said.
“That should definitely help,” she said, “to give hope back to people that were starting to feel lost.”