Rebel Girls: These 6 Queer and Trans Trailblazers Made Political History

Hello, just as an introduction: Still not over the whole Hillary Clinton being the Democratic nominee for president situation. Has the magnitude of it set in, or maybe the incredible realization of how casual it is right now that a woman is running for president on a major party ticket? I hope so! Because we’re starting from there.

I’ve been seeing a lot of conversations online in the last two weeks about the women who shaped the path Hillary Clinton is now charting new ends to. There was Shirley Chisholm, who ran for president. There was Geraldine Ferraro, who was a VP on a major party ticket. I mean, I wrote an entire post about the women who had run for president throughout time, including Eileen F*cking Myles, because women running for the highest offices in the land is kind of my bag.

But it’s not just those women and firsts that matter. Women taking up space in politics means women taking up space at every level of the political world and in every branch of government, in every state and in every city. That’s what these six queer and trans women did. In my last installment of Rebel Girls, I briefed you on some of the badass glass ceiling crashers currently serving in office who are queer as f*ck. These six women came before them.

In what we all know by now is a sea of straight white men, these women dared to be out, loud, and proud when they were elected or appointed to office. And in doing so, they made history. These women were firsts on a national level. These women should be in history books. These women should be your new heroes.

Let’s do this thing. (As always. in ABC order.)

Althea Garrison

Sid Limitz/Election Ciddy

Sid Limitz/Election Ciddy

Althea Garrison was the first trans person ever elected to a state legislature. She was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1992 as a Republican and served one term there. If she had it her way, though, she would have served a hell of a lot longer: Garrison ran in 1982, 1986, and 2000, 2006, and 2010 for State House; ran for Boston City Council seats in 1991, 2003, and 2005; ran in 2001 to be Boston’s mayor; and ran in 2002 for State Senate.

Deborah Batts

via NYTimes

via NYTimes

Deborah Batts currently serves on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, but she made history in 1994 when she became the first-ever openly LGBT African-American federal judge. (Bill Clinton appointed her to a vacant seat in 1989.) Her major cases include a toxic air pollution case related to the 9/11 attacks and also an unauthorized sequel to Catcher in the Rye, because that shitty book haunts us all.

Elaine Noble

Elaine Noble

Racking up more LGBT history points for Massachusetts is Elaine Noble, who was elected in 1975 and then served two terms in the state’s House of Representatives — making her the first openly gay candidate ever elected to a state legislative body. She was an LGBT activist as well as a politician, and braved a lot for her historic win: destruction of her campaign office and car, harassment of her supporters, and even stray bullets hitting windows. In overcoming those adds, she took her place in LGBT history as the second ever LGBT person elected to office, period, and the third openly LGBT elected official of any sort — including those who had come out in office. She later sought a seat in the US Senate and a Cambridge city council seat, but both times was unsuccessful. Oh, right, and she dated Rita Mae Brown for a while, NBFD.

Joanne Conte


Joanne Conte, the first openly trans person to be elected to a city council in the nation’s history, served on Arvada’s City Council for four years. She identified as a “raging activist” and wanted to make government more accessible and transparent. Unfortunately, pressure put on her by a tabloid to out herself as trans ultimately scrapped her political career, although not for lack of trying: She fought like hell to appear on the ballot for the Colorado House in 1994 after initially being denied a spot, although she then lost the campaign. On the bright side, she was able to then dedicate herself to her activism again — and ultimately did a hell of a lot to pave the way for the trans women who would and still will come after her.

Kathy Kozachenko



Kathy Kozachenko won a seat on the Ann Arbor, Michigan city council in 1974, making her the first openly gay human to run for political office in the United States and motherfucking win win win no matter what. (Bonus points will be awarded for her party affiliation: the Human Rights Party.) Nancy Wechsler, who we will meet in a few seconds, served before her and came out while in office — but didn’t run as an out lesbian, whereas Kozachenko did.

Nancy Wechsler

via Old News

via Old News

Nancy Wechsler came out as a lesbian while serving on the Ann Arbor City Council in 1973 at the age of 23 after an anti-LGBT hot mess at a local business. She didn’t seek re-election after coming out, paving the way for Kathy Kozachenko who we met a few sentences ago, and instead became a professional lesbian writer. All of this is to say that I am very proud to announce that Nancy Wechsler seems like she could be my soul twin.

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Carmen spent six years at Autostraddle, ultimately serving as Straddleverse Director, Feminism Editor and Social Media Co-Director. She is now the Consulting Digital Editor at Ms. and writes regularly for DAME, the Women’s Media Center, the National Women’s History Museum and other prominent feminist platforms; her work has also been published in print and online by outlets like BuzzFeed, Bitch, Bust, CityLab, ElixHER, Feministing, Feminist Formations, GirlBoss, GrokNation, MEL, Mic and SIGNS, and she is a co-founder of Argot Magazine. You can find Carmen on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr or in the drive-thru line at the nearest In-N-Out.

Carmen has written 919 articles for us.


  1. Reading about these rad ladies definitely made my day better!

    Also glad to hear from a fellow Catcher in the Rye hater–that book can eat farts underground for the next million years I hate it sO MUCH

    • Yes! I was going to comment something similar (assuming that you were referring to Catcher in the Rye itself and not the sequel, Carmen?). It was one of those books that a lot of high school classmates liked, while annoying me tremendously. I just wanted Holden to get over himself, grow up, or shut up.

  2. Garrison wasn’t out when she ran, which is the usual standard for calling a pol a first from a community. Many, many gay people have served in day Congress over the last two hundred years who weren’t out. None were the first gay congressperson elected until one was elected while out.

    Garrison was outed by the Herald viciously – I think it was Howie Carr. I believe she never won a race after being outed.

    Joanne Conte’s story is similar to Garrison’s. Outed while serving in City Council – never elected afterwards. Wiki oddly lists her as the first out trans person in the US elected to City Council – then goes on to talk of her being outed while in that office & not reelected.

    Using that measure, there still hasn’t been an out trans person serving in a statehouse in the US. The woman who ran in NH a few years back resigned before serving.

    Hoping we’ll break this glass ceiling soon.

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