The US elections were engulfed by a rainbow wave, with more transgender politicians elected than ever before, and in Europe a trans woman is now the deputy prime minister of Belgium.
Around the world, trans kids can now see their adult selves represented on the political stages. More and more trans people are being elected to public office at every election.
And, while the numbers are still low, the impact of seeing trans men, trans women and trans non-binary people in positions of actual power will be lifelong. This is true for trans youth, but also for trans adults – many of whom have never seen people with their lived experiences walking among those wielding power.
Some countries still have a long way to go. Many, like the UK, have never elected any openly transgender politicians. But a look at trans people in politics in 2020 reveals that, for trans political representation in some parts of the world, change is on the way.
1. Petra de Sutter, deputy prime minister of Belgium.
Petra De Sutter became the first transgender deputy prime minister of Belgium on October 1, and is also the most senior trans politician in Europe.
The Green politician was also Belgium’s first openly trans MP when she was elected in 2014. De Sutter is a gynaecologist and fertility expert, known for her activism around sexual and reproductive health and on trans issues.
De Sutter was appointed as one of the country’s seven deputy prime ministers in October, when Belgium ended a 16-month period without a government by forming a new coalition, which brings together liberals, socialists, greens and Christian democrats from seven parties under new liberal prime minister Alexander De Croo.
After she was sworn in on October 4, De Sutter tweeted: “I am proud that in Belgium and in most of the EU your gender identity does not define you as a person and is a non-issue.
“I hope that my appointment as minister and deputy PM can trigger the debate in countries where this is not yet the case. #fighttransphobia”.
2. Erica Malunguinho, Sao Paulo state assembly.
Erica Malunguinho made history in 2018 as the first Black trans woman ever elected to be a state representative in Brazil. She ran for election amid a swirl of racist and homophobic campaigning from Jair Bolsonaro and his comrades, vowing when she was elected to change the political institutions who have historically excluded people who look like her.
Malunguinho is a member of the Socialism and Liberation party, and won over 50,000 votes on a progressive platform that saw her campaign to make political participation more accessible.
“We have a gigantic mission to recover the notion of politics for the people,” she told HuffPost shortly after her victory.
“Institutional politics was placed far from the people, mainly far from historically vulnerable groups. This distance is purposeful. Our mission is to make that rapprochement and humanise politics. That means to understand that our existence is political, the existence of our historically erased people — like Black and LGBTQ communities.”
3. Sarah McBride, Delaware state senator.
Sarah McBride, an LGBT+ rights champion and former national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, was the first trans woman ever elected to a state senate.
McBride claimed a swift victory in her race for the Delaware senate on November 3, becoming the first trans person to ever hold office in a state’s upper chamber. She’s a former Obama White House staffer, who was thrust into the national spotlight in 2016 when she became the first transgender person to give a speech at the Democratic National Convention.
Her campaign had endorsements from figures including Joe Biden, who had strongly supported her move into politics and penned the foreword for her 2018 memoir.
Ahead of the vote, McBride told People: “I’m mindful of just how powerful it would’ve been for me as a kid to see the story pop up online of a transgender person being elected to a state senate and the message that it would’ve sent to somebody like me growing up worried that there wasn’t space for someone like me in this world.
“That’s a powerful message and that’s a powerful opportunity to provide a little bit of hope, and a little bit of comfort, to a young person here in Delaware or somewhere else in this country, that our democracy is big enough for them too.”
4. Brianna Titone, Colorado’s 27th House District.
Colorado transgender lawmaker Brianna Titone won re-election with an increased majority, despite Republicans launching vile transphobic ads in a bid to unseat her.
“The voters have spoken and selected me to continue to serve the people of House District 27. Thank you!” Titone said.
“It has been my honour to serve you the last two years and it is my honour again to serve for you the next two years. I will always do my best to represent the district to the best of my ability, to listen to views that differ from my own, and apply science and logic to the decisions that we face in governing the great state of Colorado.”
5. Diane Marie Rodríguez Zambrano, National Assembly of Ecuador.
In 2017, Diane Marie Rodríguez Zambrano was elected the first ever transgender member of Ecuador’s National Assembly.
A long-time LGBT+ rights campaigner, she has fought for – and won – several important legal changes for LGBT+ Ecuadoreans, including: suing for trans people to have the right to change their legal name; leading meetings with the government to make a public policy agreement in favour of the LGBT+ community; founding one of the first psycho-medical centres for LGBT+ people in Ecuador; recording data on murders of LGBT+ people from 1990 through 2013; and fighting for gay relationships to be legally recognised.
Made homeless as a teen when she came out as trans, Rodríguez is also a former sex worker. She was kidnapped in 2012 for her work as a defender of human rights. She says: “Even if I do not enjoy those rights, I continue so that other generations can live without discrimination and violence.”
6. Stephanie Byers, Kansas House of Representatives.
Stephanie Byers, a transgender teacher and member of the Native American Chickasaw Nation, is one of the few transgender people of colour to be elected to office anywhere in the United States. She is the first transgender representative in the Kansas state legislature, helping to bolster further representation.
Annise Parker of LGBTQ Victory Fund said Byers’ win “will reverberate well beyond the borders of the state”.
“Her victory will inspire more trans people to run for office because they see it is possible and understand these candidates are transforming how America perceives them,” Parker said.
7. Taylor Small, Vermont state legislature.
Taylor Small made history as the first ever out trans person to be elected to the Vermont state legislature, becoming the fifth trans state legislator in the whole of the US.
Small, 26, whose campaign included a focus on affordable, accessible healthcare and housing, setting a liveable minimum wage, the environment and defunding and reforming law enforcement, ran as both a Democrat and a progressive.
With 41 per cent of the vote, she will represent district Chittenden 6-7 alongside Hal Colston.
8. Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, Thailand’s first trans MP.
Tanwarin Sukkhapisit won a seat last year with the Future Forward Party, which dissolved in February this year, but was ousted from Thailand’s parliament in October 2020 “because she supports democracy“.
“I’m not surprised – I expected this to happen,” Sukkhapisit told AFP, adding she did not think the decision was related to her gender identity.
“I will continue my work fighting for better outcomes for the LGBT+ community.”
Thailand still has three transgender MPs.
9. Tamara Adrián, National Assembly of Venezuela.
Tamara Adrián, a lawyer and university professor, became the first trans member of Venezuela’s National Assembly when she was sworn in at the start of 2016.
She was forced to run for political office under her deadname, because Venezuela does not allow trans people to change their legal names. In 2014, Adrián had appealed to the Supreme Court for legal recognition of her name and gender but this still hasn’t been granted.
She uses her political influence to advocate for recognition of trans people, equal marriage and human rights.
“I am somehow the inspiration for many people who thought it was not possible to become involved in mainstream politics,” Adrián told the Washington Blade when her election was first announced.
10. Audrey Tang, Digital Minister of Taiwan.
Audrey Tang became the youngest ever minister in Taiwan in 2016, when at 35 they were invited to join the executive cabinet of the Taiwan government as a minister without portfolio. They swiftly became Taiwan’s first-ever digital minister.
They are non-binary and have described themselves as “post-gender”. Tang is a free software programmer and was a child prodigy, learning to programme computers at the age of eight, having mastered advanced mathematics aged six. They left school at 14 to self-educate.
Tang is known for the radical transparency of their political work: they take meetings with anyone who wants one, so long as the person is happy for it to be recorded and placed online, so the public can see the how and why of policy making. They also personally ensure that everyone in Taiwan has a broadband connection, which they see as a human right.
11. Marie Cau, the first transgender mayor in France.
A tiny village in France made history in May when it elected Marie Cau, the first ever trans mayor in France. Cau, 55, was elected almost unanimously by the council in Tilloy-lez-Marchiennes, with 14 votes in favour and one null vote.
She ran on a platform of environmental sustainability and building the local economy, according to the BBC.
Cau said she’s “not an activist” and would be focusing on municipal politics.
“People did not elect me because I was or was not transgender, they elected a programme,” she said. “That’s what’s interesting: when things become normal, you don’t get singled out.”