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'Another Glass Ceiling Has Been Broken'

A conversation with California’s first openly transgender city councilwoman.

Lisa Middleton


On November 7, Democrat Lisa Middleton was elected to the city council in Palm Springs, becoming the first open transgender woman to hold the position in any city in California—even San Francisco. In fact, according to LGBT activist group Equality California, Middleton is the first openly transgender person to be elected to any non-judicial office in the state of California. We caught up with Middleton to ask how it felt to make history—and what she plans to do now. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

San Francisco: You were just elected to the city council in Palm Springs, making you the first open transgender woman in that position in any city in California—even San Francisco. How does it feel?
Lisa Middleton: Like another glass ceiling has been broken. I will tell you a story. About six weeks ago, I was doing a fundraiser in San Diego hosted by good friends of mine, and at that fundraiser a mother came up with her daughter. She was seven years old and very shy and wearing pigtails. When she put out her hand she said, “Hi, I’m Lori, and, like you, I am transgender.” To be an example for children like Lori is absolutely humbling. No one plans to be an example. You find yourself in that position, and then you have a responsibility.

How did the feeling on election night this week compare to the presidential election night last year?
That election night was the most frustrating that I have ever spent—and I lived through the 2000 election. We wanted to wash the taste of last November out of our mouths with a victory this time, and it felt really good that we did. One of the comments I made during my victory speech was “tonight feels nothing like last November did.”

In Virginia, Republican Bob Marshall, the author of that state’s discriminatory bathroom law, lost to Danica Roem, a transgender woman. What would you say to him?
Every action has a reaction. These harsh and regressive policies are going to backfire.

Of course, in terms of LGBT acceptance, Palm Springs is not Virginia.
Our current city council is three gay men, a straight man, and a lesbian [...] I realized upon moving to Palm Springs that this was a city in which I would be evaluated on the merits of my campaign and my character, not on an accident of my birth.

What issues are you planning to focus on in office?
We're going to focus on homelessness, making sure that we build a budget that is sustainable over the long haul, that we’ll address the pension issues that Palm Springs. Personally, I am going to make a major effort at making Palm Springs a the national leader in renewable energy. Palm springs is blessed with 350 days of sunshine—some pretty intense sunshine—and we also have at the north end of Palm Springs some of the best land on this planet for wind energy.


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