By Becca Damante
California State Senator Toni Atkins didn’t always know she wanted to run for office. In fact, she credits out trailblazer Christine Kehoe for encouraging her to run for San Diego City Council, a position that Kehoe previously held with Atkins as her aide.
More than twenty years later, Atkins is the California Senate President pro Tempore and the first woman and the first openly LGBTQ person to hold that position. Before joining the Senate in 2016, Atkins served on the California State Assembly for six years, first as the Majority Leader and then as Speaker. Atkins was the first lesbian to become Speaker and is now the third person in California history to lead both houses of the Legislature.
Atkins says she never planned on achieving any of those firsts. Her goal was simply to get elected to make a difference in her community and provide “for women, for the LGBTQ community, for people who were born poor, blue-collar, working class . . . because that’s where I come from.” And that’s certainly what Atkins has done in her time in office, working on issues from affordable housing and climate change to healthcare access and reproductive rights.
Some of her biggest accomplishments include authoring a bill to create a permanent source of funding for affordable housing and creating the earned income tax credit in California. In 2013, she also authored the state’s law to expand abortion access by allowing nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and certified nurse midwives to perform the procedure.
At the end of the day, Atkins is extremely proud of her work, but she says it’s less about her personal accomplishments and more about “what it means for women, the LGBTQ community, and San Diego.”
She’s also happy to be a role model and a mentor for the next generation of LGBTQ leaders. “If we’re really to make sure that the gains our community has worked for, has fought for, and died for are to remain, we have to have even more LGBTQ leaders,” says Atkins. “If [our] rights are to be expanded, then we have to be at the table offering our perspective.”
By Sondra Morris
Few of us are born knowing what we want to do with our lives. For Representative Brianna Titone, she had an idea, but the details were a little fuzzy.
“I always dreamed of doing something that would be great for society, but I didn’t know what or how,” she tells Tagg. The journey to living her truth in Arvada, Colorado—where Titone currently serves as a member of the Colorado House of Representatives from the 27th district—eventually gave her the direction she needed.
Titone’s love for community service began after taking a role as a volunteer firefighter at sixteen. She pursued a career in science—earning bachelor’s degrees in Geology and Physics and master’s degrees in both Geochemistry and Information and Communications Technology—and thought her service might come in the form of a scientific discovery.
As Titone continued on this career path, she also became an activist. Coming out as trans opened her eyes to all the ways in which the LGBTQ community was struggling. “We needed champions,” she says. So, she began to rally others around causes important to the community.
Her activism caught the eye of the county Democratic party chair, who suggested she run for office. Titone says, “I was like, ‘Wow, really? But how am I supposed to win? I’m a trans person. Nobody I know of has ever won an election as a trans person.’”
Seeing others break that barrier in 2017 emboldened Titone to take the leap. “I needed courage to run and the only way to find that courage was to look at other people who had done it before,” she says, referring to out trans politicians like Andrea Jenkins, Danica Roem, and Philipe Cunningham.
Titone’s campaign team was made up of only five people and they had no help from the Democratic Party. “They wanted to put their people behind someone who could actually win,” Titone says. So, they knocked on doors… A lot of doors: Her team of five had the third-highest number of door contacts in the state. The race was closer than anyone expected, and after waiting 48 hours for the final votes to come in, Titone celebrated success with 50.4 percent of the vote.
Now she works to provide the leadership she once needed to others. “I have two jobs,” she explains. “One is to serve the people of the 27th district as their representative and the second is to be a trailblazer and role model for trans and non-binary kids.” While the second job takes a lot more time and effort, the representation Titone provides gives others a peek at what’s possible. In following her own path, Titone has found a way to do something great for her community like she dreamed.
By Kate Rue Sterling
Mauree Nivek Rajah Salima Turner (they / them/ theirs) is the elected State Representative for Oklahoma’s 88th House District. They’re queer, non-binary, Muslim, and all-around not the type of person we normally see in government. They have a long history of community service for racial justice, prison system reimagining and rebuilding, as well as 2SLBGTQ+ advocacy (the “2S” is added to the beginning of LGBTQ+ to intentionally honor the Two-Spirit community). But they didn’t expect to get into politics at all. Their dream was to be a veterinarian and take care of animals. Even though community service was important, it wasn’t necessarily on their radar. “I’m not a people person,” they say. “Everyone in my family is in the medical field, and I love animals, so it made sense to me that I would be a veterinarian.”
Growing up, Turner’s mother worked three jobs, and both their dad and grandfather were in prison throughout their childhood. They were born and raised in small-town Oklahoma in a predominantly Black, Brown, Hispanic, and Indigenous neighborhood. If they were missing school, it was because they were at a conference on HIV/ AIDS awareness or 2SLGBTQ+ support group. Then, right out of college, they got a job offer to work for the ACLU. “I got the call while I was in India on a study abroad program and started work the day after I got back from overseas,” they explain. “I’ve been working ever since.” They hit the ground running with the ACLU and started helping to rebuild the organization’s image.
Around the same time, they began to ask people why they weren’t running for office when they had such great ideas about how to address the issues in their area. “[The people who are typically in office] don’t have to worry about food stamps or the roof caving in on their home,” they say. “None of them are living paycheck to paycheck. I was tired of people who didn’t live like us making decisions for us.” And eventually, it made sense for them to put their own name out there and run for office.
They ran in 2020 but didn’t expect to get the seat in the House. “Political science tells us that your first election is just about getting your name out there,” they said, “and your second election is where you’ll probably win it. So, I was shocked.”
Their main goals have to do with reimagining and rebuilding the prison industrial complex, because that touches many of the other issues affecting Oklahoma residents. But they also care deeply about 2SLGBTQ+ issues and want to work to resolve the trauma that Oklahoma has—and continues to—implement on the community. “For example,” they say, “in the 1980s, if someone found out you were gay, they would dox you in The Oklahoman, a state-wide publication. Nowadays, the only difference is that you get to choose your publication.” Names must also be published if they’re being changed, which can be dangerous for transgender and non-binary people, as well as those escaping a domestic violence situation.
It’s because of this and various other reasons, Turner hopes to be a role model for the next generation of Oklahomans.
State Representative, District 86, Kansas House of Representatives
Location: Wichita, Kansas
Why did you run for office? I began living authentically in 2014. With my coming out, I also accepted a responsibility to move beyond being an ally and become an advocate for the LGBTQI+ community. On October 8, 2019, I stood in front of the US Supreme Court building, speaking on behalf of LGBTQ students, teachers, and school staff, at a rally supporting recognition of gender identity and sexual orientation in the Bostock v Clayton Co. case. At that moment, with SCOTUS behind me and the US Capitol dome in front of me, I decided I could do more than just make speeches, I could be in the room where those decisions are made and have my voice heard in those spaces.
What are you most proud of? I was privileged to direct bands and orchestras for 32 years—28 of which were at Wichita High School North—one of the largest high schools in Kansas. I got to teach people about living in community, working in harmony, and the interconnected responsibilities that we have toward each other. Over 5,000 students came through my classroom during those years.
What three people, living or dead, would you invite to dinner? Kristin Chenoweth, Piomingo, and Albert Einstein.
Who is your biggest influence? Outside of family, Leo Buscaglia, Lev Vygotsky, and Leonard Bernstein.
What do you hope to accomplish in 2022? Stop hateful, anti-transgender legislation that targets and bullies trans kids. Add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Kansas Act Against Discrimination.
NYC Council Member, District 22 (Astoria, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Woodside, Rikers Island)
Location: Queens, NY
Why did you run for office? As a former public defender, but also as a queer Latina raised in an under-resourced, overpoliced community, I have seen the devastating effects that our system of surveillance, prosecution, and punishment have had on the health, safety and well-being of poor and working class New Yorkers – especially Black, brown, queer and those with disabilities. I ran for office to change our city’s priorities, away from policing and incarceration, and toward public health, economic justice, community resources, and basic human rights like nutritious food, dignified housing, and quality education.
What are you most proud of? I’m most proud of the public safety platform I put forward in my city council campaign, which will form the basis of my legislative agenda in office. In court, I represented thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers whose freedom was threatened by a criminal punishment system that had no actual solutions to the trauma, poverty, and violence that make conditions unsafe for our neighbors. Advancing a vision of a system that would keep actually people safe and healthy is my life’s work, and I can’t wait to win tangible victories that substantially improve the lives of my fellow New Yorkers.
What three people, living or dead, would you invite to dinner? Mariame Kaba, Audre Lorde, and Camonghne Felix. Living and deeply admired, deceased and revolutionary, and a close personal friend and brilliant thought partner. What a conversation!
Who is your biggest influence? Honestly, my biggest influences have been movements for resistance and liberation. I’ve learned my most important lessons from the lives and stories of everyday people coming together in struggle for extraordinary victories.
What do you hope to accomplish in 2022? We are entering the new year with an extremely polarized city government, and I am excited to break through the noise and confusion to identify and advance majoritarian solutions scaled to the size of the multiple crises our city faces.
Georgia State Representative (District 58)
Location: Atlanta, GA
Why did you run for office? I ran for this seat because I represent what is lacking at the Georgia Capitol. Women are dramatically underrepresented. We make up 54% of the state’s population yet are only 23% of the elected officials. The statistics involving African American women are even worse.
What are you most proud of? I’m proud to be the Representative for Georgia House District 58, which encompasses a diverse cross-section of 20 neighborhoods within Atlanta. There is not one District 58 – there is a rainbow of experiences and needs. There is not one Georgia – there is a sea of working families and small businesses that need a voice. And I am glad to stand for them in their struggles and challenges.
Who is your biggest influence? Biggest influence is my mom–she’s a strong black woman who taught me everything I know! #MamasGirl
What do you hope to accomplish in 2022? It’s imperative that we all use our intersectional identities to address systemic barriers for success. I vow to keep knocking on doors of injustice, but I need y’all with me! Together we need to find that door, crack that window, or build that bridge to make life better for someone in need.
Why did you run for office? I grew up in mobile home parks throughout rural Arkansas. Our family didn’t have access to affordable health insurance or child care. My mother worked multiple jobs just to pay the bills. I ran for Congress to make lives easier for folks facing those same challenges in communities like the one I grew up in. I started thinking about running for office in 2012 during the campaign to defeat a Minnesota amendment that would have banned marriage between same-sex couples. During that campaign, I saw what a passionate and dedicated group of people were capable of when they came together to improve their communities and make our country a more inclusive place to call home.
What are you most proud of? I’m proud of our ongoing work to expand access to and lower the cost of health care, especially our efforts to enact drug pricing reforms that could save Americans billions of dollars every year. I won’t be intimidated by Big Pharma and their endless supply of attack ads if it means lowering costs for my constituents. My single proudest moment in Congress was presiding over the House floor during debate before the Equality Act was passed. That experience reaffirmed my belief that those of us fortunate enough to serve our country in Congress have a responsibility to fight for the equal rights of every American – no matter who they are or who they love.
What three people, living or dead, would you invite to dinner? My grandmother, who helped raise me. She passed away before I was elected to office; Brandi Carlile and her wife Catherine Shepherd because it would make my wife, Cheryl, so happy to meet them; and Michelle Obama, who has lived such an interesting life and would also be an amazing guest for my wife to spend time with.
Who is your biggest influence? My wife Cheryl is the biggest influence in my life. She is the most passionate, compassionate, and vocal supporter of what is right and wrong in our world – and she is my compass in both life and service.
What do you hope to accomplish in 2022? In 2022, I want to help get our schools, businesses, and lives back to normal as we continue working our way through this pandemic. I want to fix the damn roads and enact the Build Back Better Act to lower the cost of health care for my constituents, establish a paid family leave program for every family in this nation and make child care more affordable for working families.
State Senator of Nebraska Legislature
Location: Omaha, Nebraska (District 8)
Why did you run for office? In 2015, my local public school district was considering a new comprehensive sex education curriculum to educate students about sexual health, consent, and healthy relationships. I became deeply involved in this effort because I want kids to receive education informed by the best possible science and research. [As a mother], I want our children to grow up supported in their own identities and be able to thrive without shame or judgment as they navigate relationships. Our efforts worked; our school district updated the curriculum and our STD/STI rates declined. When we had this win with the human growth and development curriculum, I started to see my potential differently.
What are you most proud of? I’m most proud of what I have accomplished as a single parent to my kiddo. Some days can be difficult, but it’s a huge privilege to be able to model strength, entrepreneurship, and courage to my 11-year-old every day by advocating for other people in our community, growing a business, and just holding our life together. I have struggled over the years with debilitating anxiety and depression, debt, financial insecurity, and there were some very dark days. But figuring out a way to push through that darkness and “do it anyway” is something I am very proud of.
What three people, living or dead, would you invite to dinner? Audre Lorde, Oprah, and Roxane Gay. Honorable mention for Britney Spears. She should be there too.
Who is your biggest influence? My most influential mentor is Senator Ernie Chambers, Nebraska’s longest-serving State Senator and an absolute icon who is worth a Google deep dive. I often ask myself what he would do. That usually means identifying what I can and can’t change and not worrying about anything out of my control. He would say, “Success, to me, is doing what is available for me to do.” If we have done our best, how can anyone ask any more of us?
What do you hope to accomplish in 2022? I hope to bring proactive legislation around reproductive justice and prevent anti-trans legislation and an abortion ban from passing in Nebraska. I hope to continue to address the effects of the pandemic, including housing issues, food insecurity, unemployment insurance, childcare access, and fair wages. I hope to be re-elected to the Legislature for four more years. And I hope to continue to improve my physical and mental health.
Florida State Representative and Attorney
Location: St. Petersburg, Florida
Why did you run for office? Running for office was a natural step on this journey for racial, social, and political equity for our communities. As an attorney, I represented Markeis McGlockton’s family after he was murdered and our fight for justice became a national conversation around Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. It reaffirmed to me that justice and change needed systemic approaches and solutions. As an attorney, my parameters are existing laws and as a legislator, I get to help make them. I am running for office to be the next Congresswoman in Florida’s 13th Congressional district to bring national awareness and solutions for the problems the American people are facing every day while bringing my experiences to influence systemic changes.
What are you most proud of? Personally, I am most proud of my marriage to my wife Bianca. The recently passed bell hooks said that moment we choose to love, we begin to move towards freedom and to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. I think that is particularly important through this work and being strong enough to hold space for others too. I am thankful for our love and deeply grateful for Bianca’s companionship. Professionally, standing with the family of Markeis McGlockton was a moment I hold dear to my heart and I am so proud to have played a role in getting his family some justice.
What three people, living or dead, would you invite to dinner? [I would invite] my father who played a substantial role in my relationship building and diplomacy, my grandmother (on my dad’s side) who was my first best friend and is still my north star, and Shirley Chisholm. Congresswoman Chisholm made history and broke barriers for folks who look like me to be a part of making change. As far as living guests go, I would choose First Lady Michelle Obama, Arlan Hamilton, and Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw.
Who is your biggest influence? My biggest influences are my mother and Black women.
What do you hope to accomplish in 2022? I am looking forward to bringing home solutions to our residents from Tallahassee and funding for our various community needs and projects. There is a lack of affordable housing, rising environmental threats and inequity across the board which exacerbates issues for our Black and Brown communities. I also hope to have a successful outcome in this journey to be the next Congresswoman and the first Black representative in this seat and keep District 13 blue so that we can address our most pressing issues on a systemic level in Congress too.
Mayor of Madison, WI
Location: Madison, WI
Why did you run for office? I ran for mayor because everyone in Madison deserves the opportunity to thrive, and for that to happen, we need to build more affordable housing, provide better transit, prepare for climate change, and address racial disparities in wealth building and opportunity. My career working with mayors all across the country, and my service on the Madison Common Council, prepared me well for the mayor’s office.
What are you most proud of? I’m proud of the progress we’ve been able to make, despite the pandemic, on housing. In particular, we’ve really transformed our approach to providing shelter to people experiencing homelessness. We’ve created new, temporary shelters, built tiny house villages, and we’re working on a permanent, full service, purpose-built shelter. I’m also really proud of how our clerk’s office has worked to make it easy and safe to vote, despite restrictive state laws, the pandemic, and constant attacks on their integrity. We dramatically expanded absentee voting options, installed ballot drop boxes, provided PPE and hazard pay for poll workers, and created outdoor options to register and vote.
What three people, living or dead, would you invite to dinner? Eleanor Roosevelt, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Ida B. Wells.
Who is your biggest influence? My mother, Anne Rhodes.
What do you hope to accomplish in 2022? First priority is to keep our community safe from the pandemic, by increasing our vaccination and booster rates. Next is to support our community’s recovery via community services, economic development, and violence prevention. After that, we need to keep moving on our top priorities – building housing, improving our transit system, fighting climate change, and promoting racial equity. We’re also going to keep focusing on defending democracy and making sure that everyone who is eligible can cast a ballot easily and safely.
Representative, 23rd District, State of Kansas House of Representatives
Why did you run for office? I, like so many others were shocked at the election of Trump in 2016. When he started his hate speeches about diverse populations, especially against Mexicans, it made me want to become even more involved in politics. My father immigrated to the US from Mexico and became a citizen. He always told us kids, “if you don’t like what is going on, vote them out”. He instilled in us, that it was our civic duty to vote and be an informed voter. I heard his voice in my head in 2018 when I considered running for office.
What are you most proud of? I am proud of being the daughter of a Mexican born immigrant father and a Texas born mother. I am most proud of being the first Latina, lesbian ever elected to the Kansas House of Representatives.
What three people, living or dead, would you invite to dinner? 1) Rafael Ruiz, my father. He would have a lot to say about our political climate; 2) Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz who was a nun from Mexico during the Baroque period. She is known as the Tenth Muse of Mexico. She was a philosopher, poet, and a theologian. She spoke Spanish and Nahuatl. Sor Juana had her own library and wrote about love, religion, and feminism; and 3) Carlos Santana. I turned to his music when I was in middle school. I was different from the other girls in my class and like so many gay kids, I joined the band. I was able to lose myself in the music of Santana.
Who is your biggest influence? My father was and still is the biggest influence in my life. He became a U.S. citizen and helped others do the same. Later in his life became a community organizer and was instrumental in bringing social justice to our predominately Latino and Black neighborhood. I later became a social worker because of his example of being a servant leader and I try to bring that into my political career.
What do you hope to accomplish in 2022? I see myself as representing the people in the 23rd district and all Kansans. Being a clinical social worker also compels me to want to pass legislation that will help to make people’s lives better. A few of my priorities include Medicaid expansion, [more] funding for public schools, cut the KS tax on food, ban conversion therapy, pass medical marijuana laws, and block anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
Mayor Pro Tempore
Location: City of West Hollywood
Why did you run for office? I ran for office to be a voice for the people, to implement progressive policies that create equity and to bring my unique diverse lens to the Council as an Iranian American lesbian, woman of color and immigrant.
What are you most proud of? The creation of our Social Justice Task Force made of BIPOC workers, resident and business owners who will be making policy recommendations to City Council that will help dismantle systemic racism.
What three people, living or dead, would you invite to dinner? Oprah, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and President Barack Obama.
Who is your biggest influence? My mom. She has always believed in me and encouraged me to run for office.
What do you hope to accomplish in 2022? In my first year in office, I passed close to forty policies. In 2022, I plan to guide them to fruition and pass more progressive policies. Some of these policies include measures that will re-imagine community safety in West Hollywood. We will also be implementing an ordinance that requires multi-stall gender neutral bathrooms, hosting an incredible inaugural WeHo Pride, and continuing to develop our 24/7 Mobile Behavioral Health Crisis Response Units. I look forward to forming our Business Recovery Task Force. My focus will also be on keeping our renters housed, helping fund services that help get people homed, keeping our community safe, and making sure our businesses and workers are thriving.