The Senate race in Utah is about to get a lot more interesting.
On Tuesday, Utah Democrats elected Misty Snow, a transgender woman, as their party’s Senate nominee. She’s the first out trans person to be a major party’s Congressional nominee — not just in Utah, but anywhere in the country.
She beat out her opponent, Mormon marriage therapist Jonathan Swinton, nearly 60% to 40%.
The 30-year-old Snow will face an uphill battle in the conservative state to unseat Sen. Mike Lee — one of the most conservative members of the Senate — in the fall.
On her website, she addresses her rare status as an out transgender person seeking office.
“There are some that claim that Utah is not ready for a candidate like me, but I strongly disagree. Utah is not only ready but in desperate need of a Senator exactly like me,” Snow writes. “We cannot wait for others to give us equality. We have to claim equality for ourselves.”
Utah is obviously one of the most conservative states (if not the most conservative) in the country, so its reputation on LGBT rights is anything but progressive.
State officials have been known to fight the increasing acceptance of LGBT people from marriage to student clubs to transgender identity. Around 60% of Utah residents are counted as members of the Mormon church, which has been one of the most vocal opponents of LGBT rights (though the church receives plenty of pushback from reasonable Mormons who do want LGBT people treated equally).
The state has also started making small legal changes in favor of LGBT people, but these come with their own loopholes. For example, last year, Congress passed a nondiscrimination law known as the Utah Compromise that extended protections to LGBT people, but also allowed for some pretty sweeping religious exemptions that some say negates the law’s benefits.
That’s just one of the reasons why Snow’s nomination could make such a major impact on trans visibility and acceptance, both in the national public sphere and in her own backyard:
Derek Kitchen, a member of the Salt Lake City Council, told BuzzFeed News that he’s met Snow previously a few times and was looking forward to her campaign.
“Her Republican opponent has a tight grasp on the senate seat, but Misty will hopefully bring a new kind of conversation to the table,” he wrote. “I’m so thrilled that gender and sexuality are an afterthought in Utah politics, and I look forward to watching this race unfold. This is a dynamic time in political history, that’s for sure, and I’m so proud to bear witness to the changes.”
Kitchen would know. An out gay man, he was one of the plaintiffs in the successful challenge to Utah’s marriage ban before running for and winning his council bid.
This is a huge moment for transgender people who have been locked out of the political system for too long simply for being who they are. With any luck (and some more hard work), by the next election cycle, out trans nominees will be nothing out of the ordinary.