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Transgender delegates talk visibility on day of first DNC trans speaker

Sarah McBride is the first-ever trans speaker—and this year there are 28 trans delegates—at the DNC.


Mary Emily O'Hara


Posted on Jul 28, 2016   Updated on May 26, 2021, 9:21 am CDT

On Thursday evening, Human Rights Campaign’s national press secretary Sarah McBride will address the 2016 Democratic National Convention—becoming the first-ever transgender DNC speaker.

But McBride’s speech isn’t just notable in itself. It’s also representative of an incredible transformation pointing toward full LGBT inclusion within the Democratic Party— this year, there are 516 LGBT delegates, making up 11.5 percent of the overall delegation. And 28 of those are transgender.

At Tuesday’s LGBT Caucus, the Daily Dot spoke with one in the historic crop of transgender delegates—Tiffany Woods of California.  

“When I was voting this morning at our California breakfast, I started tearing up,” said Woods, explaining that she voted for Hillary Clinton. “Because I was voting for my mom and my sister, my wife, my daughter…and my ancestors, my grandmother.”

Woods said that California delegates frequently note their “greatest strength is our diversity,” and her own identity—as a woman, a transgender person, a married lesbian, an HIV prevention activist, and a parent—is a reflection of the myriad intersections of today’s Democratic Party.

The 2016 convention is also the first time many of the transgender delegates have actually met in person. Woods told the Daily Dot that she was familiar with the work of Melissa Sklarz, the first trans person elected to office in New York state; Babs Siperstein, New Jersey superdelegate and member of the DNC Executive Committee; April Spilker, at-large delegate in California; and Laura Calvo, former co-chair of the Southern Oregon LGBT Political Caucus; among others. But it was her first time getting to spend time with them.

So how are the trans delegates coordinating convention activities? Via a private Facebook group, of course.

“The [gossip] is more in the LGBT group,” Woods joked about the two Facebook groups—one for the 516 LGBT delegates and one for the 28 trans delegates.

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“This delegation is showing that it is our time for leadership,” Woods told the Daily Dot. “Without transgender, gender-nonconforming, and nonbinary leadership at the legislative level, at the national level, at the DNC, we’re not going to be able to effectively address all the anti-LGBT legislation that the Republicans and the conservatives have thrown out there.”

Transgender people weren’t just present as delegates to the convention, but also as nonprofit leaders (like McBride, who is expected to address the DNC at 5pm Thursday) and as candidates. This June, two transgender women won Democratic primaries in Utah and Colorado in Senate and congressional races. Misty Snow and Misty Plowright, who drew media attention for their identical names in addition to being trans, are the newest faces of the LGBT rise in politics that also includes more women than ever before.

Traditionally, much of the LGBT presence in the political realm has consisted of white gay men. But over the years, more and more lesbians, queer women, and now transgender women have either jumped in or been drafted. 

Notably, as Rep. Mike Honda invited trans delegates onstage at Tuesday’s LGBT Caucus, the vast majority of them were women—apart from maybe one trans man in the group. It stood as a reminder: 2016 isn’t just the most LGBT-friendly convention in history. It’s also powered by women working their asses off to elect Hillary Clinton as the nation’s first female major party candidate—and, they hope, America’s first woman president.

“It’s time for us to take our seats,” said Woods. “And my motto is, if there’s no table for you to sit at…then you build your own damn table.”

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*First Published: Jul 28, 2016, 4:26 pm CDT