Brianna Titone was expecting her Colorado State House election to be close—but not this close. When her Republican opponent Vicki Pyne conceded to her over the weekend, the political newcomer was ahead in the count by less than 400 votes, as the Colorado Sun reported.
After the election results are formalized by the Secretary of State later this week, Titone, formerly a geologist and software developer, will be set to become the first openly transgender member of the Colorado State House—and one of only a handful of transgender state legislators nationwide. She also set that precedent while flipping a district that went Republican by a margin of 53 percent to 40 percent in 2016.
“It’s definitely been a busy week this week,” Titone deadpanned in an interview with The Daily Beast the day after Pyne’s concession call.
Danica Roem, the first openly transgender person to be elected and seated to a state legislature, won her election to the Virginia House of Delegates last year—and helped mentor Titone through her campaign this year.
Titone previously told The Daily Beast that Roem’s historic 2017 victory was an “aha moment” because she realized it was possible for a transgender candidate to win, even in a “really tough district.”
“It’s a unique situation for any trans person to run because there’s only been one successful openly trans person to win,” Titone told The Daily Beast. “So it’s kind of like she’s the authority on what to do and what not do.”
Roem’s chief advice? “Go knock on the doors.”
Titone estimates that her campaign knocked on about 32,000 doors, with campaign literature going to an additional 8,000. The candidate herself appeared at many of those doors.
She was aware of the fact that she might very well be the first openly transgender person that many of her potential constituents would be aware of meeting. According to Pew, a little over a third of Americans report personally knowing a transgender person.
“But I really just had to put my own identity aside and just be the candidate,” Titone explained. In fact, because Titone is self-conscious about the pitch of her voice, she welcomed the opportunity to meet her district in person, on their doorsteps.
“My voice is not very feminine,” she said. “It’s difficult talking to people on the phone more than anything. But at the door, I have an appearance that’s very feminine and people don’t really respond negatively.”
Titone, who previously told The Daily Beast that she was getting accustomed to the negative messages transgender candidates tend to get on social media, says that she had “very few people” be “blatantly rude” to her in person.
“I think that the anonymity of the internet gives people the ability to say nasty things,” she said. “But when you have them in front of you, they’re reluctant to do that.”
Even so, Titone recalls one particularly belligerent person she met while canvassing who laughed at her, making demeaning and misgendering comments like “Look at you, dude,” “You look like crap,” and “Look at yourself in the mirror.”
A few doors prior, though, Titone had met a young woman with a transgender sibling who was thrilled to meet her—and the positivity of that interaction helped to blunt the insults.
“Had I not had an experience as positive as I had a few doors before, it would have made that a lot worse,” Titone told The Daily Beast.
Following in Roem’s footsteps, Titone recognizes the importance of the precedent she is setting but also remains squarely focused on issues like education and transportation funding.
Like Roem, Titone doesn’t want to get “pigeonholed” as the transgender candidate while still serving as an LGBT role model.
Draft legislation is due in a month so she is getting to work reading up on all the legislative rules—which she playfully describes as “drinking from a fire hose”—and conferring with the Democratic caucus to see what they can accomplish now that they will have a “trifecta” of Senate, House, and gubernatorial control.
The Colorado Senate turned blue this year and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Polis, who is openly gay, won his race, too.
Polis, Titone says, donated to her campaign and helped with canvassing. “He called me a few days after the election to tell me I ran a heck of a campaign and I did a great job and he’s looking forward to working with me.”
In addition to Titone, two other transgender candidates have won state legislative elections this year: Gerri Cannon and Lisa Bunker, who both ran for seats in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
Christine Hallquist, the Democratic candidate for governor of neighboring Vermont, would have become the highest ranking openly transgender elected official in United States history, but she lost to the Republican incumbent, leaving the lavender ceiling in place at the state legislative level.
At this rate, Titone believes it will be a long time before transgender people see anywhere near proportional political representation. During the aftermath of the midterm elections, in fact, she did some disheartening back-of-the-envelope math: Estimated to be about a half of one percent of the country, transgender people will only occupy about four out of its approximately 7,400 state legislative seats—which amounts to about 0.05 percent of them.
“We’re not even close to where we need to be in terms of representation,” she said.
There has yet to be an openly transgender member of Congress—although Democratic candidate Alexandra Chandler competed in a primary for a Massachusetts seat earlier this year.
Titone is hopeful that, as more and more transgender candidates win at the state level, the federal-level precedent will get set soon.
“Now with all the people that have won, I think it’s possible,” she said. “I think it’s just going to be good timing and a little bit of luck and hard work is really going to do it. The more times you try, the more likely you are to win.”
To that end, Titone has already indicated that she’d be willing to serve as an “adviser to the next phase of people who want to take this on,” as she told The Daily Beast. “We need to stick together.”
She will also be focused, of course, on keeping her own seat come 2020. Titone isn’t counting on the same Democratic momentum that flipped the House this year carrying over into state-level races two years from now, which means she has a lot of work to do winning over the constituents who didn’t vote for her.
“With the very small lead that I have exiting this election, I still have more people to win over for the next time around,” she said. “I have to prove myself now to make sure that the people in the district know that I have their best interests in mind.”
Next time, ideally, she’d like to win by a bit more than 400 votes.