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New Hampshire Democrat James Roesener on Tuesday became the first out transgender man elected to a state legislature — joining only a handful of trans elected officials across the United States. Roesener now holds the highest elected office that an out trans man has ever held in this country, according to the Victory Fund, which helps LGBTQ+ candidates run for office.
This was his first campaign, he told The 19th. Two key factors that motivated him to run for office were the need to protect trans kids in his state, and to push for more protections for abortion procedures in New Hampshire.
He says he doesn’t feel too much pressure from his historic position.
“I feel like I’m in the right place,” Roesener said. After announcing his candidacy this summer to represent New Hampshire’s 22nd state House District, Ward 8, Roesener met other local trans men who said they had also considered running for office. Those moments excited him and reaffirmed to him that more trans men do want to run and should take the plunge — even if a lack of representation may still be holding some back.
“Part of it is a fear that you’re not going to be taken seriously as a trans person or that you’re going to be attacked. And those things, unfortunately, do happen,” he said, noting that he personally did not experience moments of discrimination during his campaign. “But it’s not a reason to shy away from the community that you can build into the change that you can make.”
Roesener, 26, lives in Concord with his wife and cat. A high school graduate, he has volunteered for seven to eight years at the Equality Health Center in Concord, which provides reproductive health services and abortion services to people of all genders and sexualities.
His priorities as his district’s representative are to support encoding abortion protections into state law, since New Hampshire does not have a state-specific legal basis for the right to an abortion, although the procedure is legal up to 24 weeks after the last menstrual period. Roesener also wants to push to repeal the state’s 24-week restriction.
He’s concerned about Republicans in his state introducing bills that would affect trans students, like a recently failed bill that would have required school staff to report students who are transgender or questioning their gender identity to their families. Chris Sununu, the state’s Republican governor who just won his reelection bid, opposed that bill, as did the state’s attorney general’s office at the time.
Part of why advocating for abortion access matters to Roesener is that the issue affects him personally — as it does for other trans men and nonbinary people, who are among the most vulnerable groups affected by the loss of federal abortion protections. Trans people should be able to go through a pregnancy without discrimination, he said, as well as be able to terminate that pregnancy without experiencing discrimination.
“For me personally, the right to an abortion or to birth control is very important, because I know if I were to become pregnant I would definitely consider suicide,” he said. “I would not be in an OK place … and I don’t want anybody to have to face that.”
There are currently six trans men holding elected office in the country, per the Victory Fund’s count prior to the midterm elections — while 39 trans women hold elected office, and 11 nonbinary people hold office.
Kylar Broadus, founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition, is not surprised that so few trans men have been elected into office, due to the broader lack of societal resources and support for them. More support is needed for employment and in medical care, he said, as well as political support, plus support within the LGBTQ+ rights movement.
“Historically, resources and news about trans men have always been on the back burner,” he said. LGBTQ+ organizations should dedicate more support to trans men, he said, and diversity within the movement should be prioritized — including supporting candidates of color across all gender identities.
Forty-four of the 56 trans and nonbinary candidates currently holding office are White, per the Victory Fund’s pre-midterms count — which now includes Roesener.
Jamison Green, a former president of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health who has written extensively about the lives of trans men, said over text that he is glad to see Roesener take office, and he hopes more young people will follow suit.
“I’m very proud and happy to see this young trans man take office,” he said, adding that trans people can appeal to voters by being honest about who they are while not making their transness the focus of their campaign. “Trans men can successfully campaign and win.”
Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said over text that seeing representation of trans people in office sends a positive message to trans students and their families, who have been targeted by a record level of anti-trans state legislation.
“It’s a reminder that they aren’t alone and that there are other people like them who are accomplishing great things and who are supported by their communities,” he said.
For Roesener, deciding to run for office meant taking a leap of faith — and he hopes that other trans people, especially trans men, do the same.
“I think if you have a calling to do it, you should,” he said.