Votes for Diversity are Votes for Progress

Last week, Andrea Jenkins became the first black transgender woman ever elected to public office.

Staff Writer

The day after Election Day 2016 was crushing. The day after Election Day 2017 was invigorating.
All across the United States, historic victories were achieved, proving that the people want progress and will mobilize to enact change. The voters have spoken, and in doing so, they have disrupted the same old white, cisgender, heterosexual, male images that have been so predominant in government, especially now on Capitol Hill.
Victory #1: Andrea Jenkins, the first black transgender woman elected to public office in America, won a seat on the Minneapolis City Council. Jenkins has been an advocate for transgender equality, and believes that the blind hatred of some is outweighed by the strength and support of others.
“As an African-American trans-identified woman, I know firsthand the feeling of being marginalized, left out, thrown under the bus,” said Jenkins in her acceptance speech. “Those days are over. We don’t just want a seat at the table, we want to set the table.”
Victory #2: Danica Roem, a transgender woman, was elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates. She is the first ever openly trans person to hold a position in a United States statehouse. What makes this even better is that she beat out Robert G. Marshall, a long-time incumbent and self-declared “chief homophobe.” Marshall had also proposed a bill earlier this year to restrict the rights of transgender individuals using the bathroom of their choice, and he also refused to use Roem’s proper pronouns. In the wake of her victory, Roem declared “Discrimination is a disqualifier,” and that her constituents have shown Marshall what the consequences of bigotry are.
Victory #3: Many communities have elected their first African-American women in specific leadership positions: Sheila Oliver, lieutenant governor of New Jersey, Vi Lyles, mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, Yvonne Spicer, first ever mayor of the newly declared city of Framingham, Massachusetts, Mary Parham Copelan, mayor of Milledgeville, Georgia, and Mazahir Salih, the first Sudanese-American of the Iowa City Council.
Victory #4: African-American men enjoyed several historic victories as well. Justin Fairfax, lieutenant governor of Virginia and the second African-American to win a statewide election there. Several cities have elected their first black mayors: Melvin Carter of St. Paul, Minnesota, Jonathan McCollar of Statesboro, Georgia, Booker Gainor of Cairo, Georgia, and Brendon Barber of Georgetown, South Carolina.
Victory #5: Two winners from last week’s elections were refugees. Wilmot Collins of Helena, Montana came to America 23 years ago from Liberia. He will become the second ever black mayor of both the city as well as the state of Montana. Kathy Tran became the first Asian American woman elected to the Virginia House of Delegates, and she came to America as a Vietnamese refugee when she was a baby.
Victory #6: Four Latina women became the firsts for their respective positions. Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala, Virginia House of Delegates. Janet Diaz, city council member in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Cathy Murillo, mayor of Santa Barbara, California.
Victory #7: More victories for the LGBTQ+ community. Lisa Middleton was elected to the city council of Palm Springs, and she is the first transgender person in California to be elected to a non-judicial office. Tyler Titus became the first transgender person ever elected in the state of Pennsylvania. He was elected to the Erie School Board. Jenny Durkan of Seattle, Washington will become the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. Further, she will be the first female mayor in almost a century.
Victory #8: More shattering of the glass ceiling. Though the city of Manchester in New Hampshire has been around for 266 years and is the largest city in the state, there has never been a female mayor until this year when Joyce Craig won the election. Also, Nassau County, New York has elected Laura Curran, its first female county executive.
Victory #9: Hoboken, New Jersey elected Ravinder Bhalla, its first Sikh mayor. His opponents used darkly prejudiced flyers against him that accused him of being a terrorist.
On Nov 8 of last year, many Americans felt a deep sense of dread when they saw the headline of who would be our next president. Nov 8 of this year is proof that progress has not died in spite of the troubling words that continuously pop up in our New York Times notifications.
Diverse voices in politics are what this country desperately needs right now, and these elections have brought us closer to that goal. There is not much we can do about the homogenous nature of the extreme White House at the moment, but bringing diversity to a local level is vital and will be beneficial. It proves that America is not an oligarchy, and that Washington DC only has so much influence. Just look back at how many local judges blocked Trump’s Muslim ban, which proved that a community’s opinions do not have to conform to those of the President. If he will not support diversity, then we, the voters, can, as we proved last week.
Americans need representatives who actually represent who we are. The majority of us aren’t upper class, able-bodied, cisgender, heterosexual white men. Why should they be the majority of the ones who make decisions for us when they’ve never seen half of what we have seen? This is not to suggest that we overthrow every member of the government who falls under that category. But it’s time we take action to vary it up. Diverse voices will bring new issues to light in the government and provide new insight on old issues.
When cisgender people talk about bathroom rights, they don’t have that first-hand experience of being denied access and therefore cannot fully grasp the significance of allowing or forbidding transgender individuals to exists freely in a public space. With representatives like Jenkins and Roem in the discussion, more depth will be added to the topic and ideally, more progress will be made. White politicians don’t have the proper agency to discuss racism and come up with policies among themselves: people of color must lead those conversations, and now that many cities have elected more nonwhite officials, these discussions can take place and be more productive.
Outside of productivity, though, diversity in politics gives underrepresented people hope. Finally, communities see themselves reflected in the government. The power dynamics of whiteness and maleness in control over non-whiteness and non-maleness cannot survive when the roles are reversed. Even in local areas, minority figures in power sends a message that power can also look like this. Power can be black. Power can be gay. Power can be Latina. Power can be transgender. Power can be female. Power can be any combination of these and more.
A little over a year ago, when Hillary Clinton became the first female candidate of a major political party, I cried because someone like me was fighting the patriarchy in the biggest way possible. Even so, she did not represent all of me. She was still a heterosexual, upper class person. Furthermore, she didn’t represent my fellow Americans in the transgender community, women of color, non-Christians, or people with disabilities. This does not make her an inherently bad person or a threat to progress, but it is vital to remember that one status-quo-breaking quality does not equal the solution to the lack of diversity. We need teams of diverse people, not one token minority in a room of majorities, and we need people who fall under multiple minority categories to foster an intersectional approach to government.
Tuesday’s election results should be undoubtedly celebrated, but as landmark as these victories were, they are not yet enough. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was once asked when she believed that there would be enough female Supreme Court Justices, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, to which she responded, “When there are nine.” She emphasized that there have been nine male justices and no one batted an eye, so the shock value rendered by her answer proves the double standard. Opening this up to all minorities, there will only be “enough” of them represented in office when they are on truly equitable ground with the non-minority representatives.
As much as the firsts of this election have proved that Americans are ready for change, it also proves how dreadfully long we have operated under sameness. Let’s continue to challenge the norms, but let’s try harder than we ever had before so the majority figures will have no choice but to accept the beautiful diversity that comprises our country.

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