What It’s Like to Be a Trans Politician in 2023
Across the country, trans legislators are being shouted down and shut out. Minnesota State Rep. Leigh Finke tells us how she keeps hope alive.
This may be the year we fully establish the limits of trans representation. The past few election cycles have seen an unprecedented number of openly trans lawmakers elected to office — Danica Roem; Sarah McBride; etc. — and it has also seen an unprecedented number of bills aimed at rolling back trans rights. State-level trans lawmakers are on the ground, fighting it out bill-by-bill, but they’re doing those jobs while fending off vilification, scapegoating, and harassment that lawmakers from more privileged backgrounds would never have to face.
The most famous recent example is Rep. Zooey Zephyr, of Montana, who was banned from speaking on the House floor after she said that supporters of a ban on gender-affirming healthcare had “blood on [their] hands.” This language, despite being common to the point of banality, was deemed uncivil by Montana’s far-right Freedom Caucus. Zephyr is suing the state of Montana for violating her First Amendment rights, as well she ought.
Yet Zephyr is not the only trans legislator facing this problem. Just over a month before Zephyr was silenced, non-binary Oklahoma Rep. Mauree Turner was censured, stripped of all committee assignments, and accused of “harboring a fugitive” after they allowed the spouse of an arrested trans rights protester to sit in their office. Turner, who is Black and Muslim as well as non-binary, told 19th News that being an elected official had resulted in “continual death threats” and that they did not feel physically safe in the statehouse.
Meanwhile, I heard about the Turner case while speaking to yet another trans lawmaker being inundated by harassment — Minnesota state Rep. Leigh Finke, who was targeted by Gays Against Groomers, FOX News, and some of her fellow lawmakers after she removed what she calls “dead language” from a Minnesota human rights bill. Finke is a long-time Internet friend, and I took the opportunity to ask her what it’s like to be a trans politician at this moment in history.