The best way to gain political power is to win elections, and to win elections you have to run for office.
The first time Dani Pellett tackled the bathroom question was years before the issue of transgender access to restrooms would become a matter of political debate — and more than a decade before Pellett would enter the political realm herself.
Pellett was in her early twenties then, a University of North Texas student just two months shy of seeking a commission as an Air Force pilot. But “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was still in effect, and she knew that to receive a commission she’d have to hide her gender dysphoria. Pellett ultimately dropped out of air force training, transitioned, founded a support group and began to advocate for gender-neutral bathrooms on campus. Eventually, the group was successful.
“Did we just win? Oh, I think we did!” Pellett recalls thinking. The political victory got her hooked.
Thirteen years later, Pellett finds herself challenging U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Dallas Republican. Sessions’ North Texas district overlaps with State Senate District 8, where Pamela Curry is planning to run as a Democrat for a rare open seat.
Both women are among a tiny group of transgender Texans who have run for office in recent years, partly in response to Republican leaders’ support for laws that target the transgender community. The Texas Legislature devoted part of this year’s regular legislative session and a special session this summer to proposals that would restrict transgender individuals’ bathroom use in public buildings. No bathroom bills made it to the governor.
Pellett and Curry intend to be on the ballot in 2018, and two other transgender candidates ran for local offices earlier this year. Johnny Boucher made an unsuccessful bid for Grand Prairie’s school board and Sandra Faye Dunn lost her bid for a seat on the Amarillo College Board of Regents.
Four people in two years are hardly a speck in a state of nearly 28 million, but that number means Texas currently has more transgender candidates than any other state, according to Logan Casey, a Harvard researcher who studies LGBTQ representation in politics. And it’s a disproportionately large group — Texas carries just under 9 percent of the country’s population, but about 14 percent of its current transgender candidates.
Casey said the political debate over measures targeting transgender Texans has galvanized that community.
“When you use a group as a political tool the way the bathroom bill has been used in Texas, that has effects on the marginalized group that is being used,” Casey said. “It’s not surprising to me that, given the hyper politicization of LGBTQ issues and particularly trans issues in Texas in the last couple years, that there are a lot of people — proportionately — running for office in Texas.”
See here for more on Jess Herbst. Dani Pellett is in a crowded field in CD32; she had a modest finance report for Q2. I’d say Pam Curry has a better shot at being the nominee in SD08 than Pellett does in CD32. Neither she nor Brian Chaput had raised any money as of July, but that’s a two-person race, and Curry will get some earned media, which ought to help. Whoever does win the nomination in SD08 will be a much bigger underdog than the candidate in CD32, but at least we have someone, and who knows, we could have the best year ever. Win or lose, participation matters. The more people see transgender candidates run for office, the more normal it will be. I wish Pellett and Curry the best of luck.