Nonbinary people are making headway in politics, new report shows

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LGBTQ people are making progress in politics, but they still have a long way to go to achieve equitable representation.

Representation of nonbinary, gender-nonconforming, and genderqueer people in elected political office shot up 100% in the year between June 2020 and June 2021, a new report shows.

The LGBTQ Victory Institute, a national group focused on training and supporting LGBTQ political leaders, on Wednesday released "Out for America 2021: A Census of LGBTQ Elected Officials Nationwide." According to the report, the overall number of LGBTQ elected officials rose by 17%; 986 LGBTQ people currently serve as elected officials nationwide.

The data shows that the number of Black LGBTQ elected officials is growing at the fastest pace among LGBTQ elected officials of color, and the number of LGBTQ elected officials of color is increasing more quickly than the number of white LGBTQ elected officials.

The number of noncisgender elected officials grew more quickly than the number of cisgender elected officials. The total of transgender women and people in the category the LGBTQ Victory Institute calls "nonbinary/genderqueer" increased the most of this group.

"Nonbinary" is an umbrella term used to refer to people who do not identify solely according to one of the binary definitions of "man" or "woman." Some nonbinary people do refer to themselves as men or as women in addition to their nonbinary identities.

There is a great diversity of understandings of gender as well as of gender expressions within the nonbinary community. There are genderfluid nonbinary people whose understanding of their gender can change depending on the time, and there are agender nonbinary people who don't consider themselves to have a gender.

There are a variety of definitions of what it means to be genderqueer, but often the term means that people express gender in a nonnormative way. Some genderqueer people may not consider themselves nonbinary; others do.

The Two-Spirit identity is specific to North American Indigenous people's understandings of gender.

According to the LGBTQ Victory Institute's data breaking down the number of transgender and/or nonbinary people and intersex people who were voted into office in the past year, 36 transgender women, five transgender men, nine genderqueer/nonbinary people, 11 gender-nonconforming people, two people who are Two-Spirit, and four people in the category "other" have been elected.

In November of 2020, Mauree Turner made history as the first openly nonbinary state lawmaker in the country as well as the first Muslim legislator in their state.

Turner, who represents Oklahoma state House District 88, said on the Dec. 21, 2020, episode of the podcast "Gender Reveal," "Every day, I get like a jolt because I get another message of someone who's like, 'I didn't think I could be in politics or I never saw myself in politics in any kind of way, shape, or form, and so thank you for being this representation of us.' And that comes from folks inside of House District 88 as well as outside of House District 88. It's across the U.S. and sometimes across the world, which is really interesting."

They added, "And so that, I’m still trying to wrap my head around that in some aspects because it’s like growing up — I grew up in a space where I knew I wasn't going to always have representation — I think to be able to now be the representation I looked for as a child is really empowering."

Nonbinary, gender-nonconforming, and Two-Spirit people have also been elected to positions in local government. Lissette Espinoza-Garnica was elected to the Redwood City Council in California last year. They were the Bay Area's the first nonbinary city council member, according to the Bay Area Reporter.

Melissa Shuen-Mallory, who identifies as nonbinary, was elected to the governing board of the New Haven Unified School District in California last year.

Geo Neptune, who is Two-Spirit, won a seat on the Indian Township school board in Maine in 2020. They said of the victory, "To almost stand up and say that they're embracing me in this leadership role as a Two-Spirit was incredibly affirming. I feel very lucky that I live in a place where my community accepts me because a lot of trans people don't have that."

As more nonbinary people participate in political life, researchers are discovering more about how many nonbinary people live in the U.S. and how many LGBTQ youth identify as nonbinary. The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimated in June that 1.2 million LGBTQ adults identify as nonbinary, making up 11% of the adult LGBTQ population.

A research brief from the Trevor Project, which advocates for improving the mental health of LGBTQ young people, found that 26% of Generation Z is nonbinary.

Some transgender people in political life are advocating for less gendered language in politics to benefit nonbinary people.

Émilia Decaudin, a transgender woman, proposed changes to the New York State Democratic Committee's bylaws to be more inclusive of nonbinary people. The committee passed the proposal in 2019; its rules now state that, instead of requiring that an assembly district electing two members to the state committee select "one male" and "one female," it will select two people who do "not identify as the same gender."

"By passing this resolution, the New York State Democratic Committee has placed itself at the forefront of non-binary and gender non-conforming inclusion across the nation," Decaudin said after the measure was approved.

Decaudin was one of two transgender women elected Democratic Party assembly district leaders in New York City in 2020.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.