Will Alexandra Chandler Be America's First Transgender Congresswoman?

"Yes, I’m trans. And that means that I have to be tough and stand up for myself, so I’m gonna stand up for you and your family."

The November elections saw several transgender candidates around the country voted into local and state offices. And 2018 could continue that trajectory, with more trans candidates vying for Congress.

One of them, Alexandra Chandler, has a pretty impressive pedigree: She's a former intelligence analyst who spent more than a decade analyzing threats of weapons of mass destruction for the Navy.

Still, in many ways, Chandler, 40, is a typical middle-class American—She and her wife, Cathy, are raising two sons young in Haverhill, Massachusetts, a suburb about 35 miles outside Boston. She's had her share of family tragedy, too: Her father, who suffered from alcohol and drug addiction, succumbed to M.S. when she was just 17. The debilitating nature of his illness and addiction made full-time employment difficult.

"I’m someone who doesn’t need a think tank to understand these issues," Chandler tells NewNowNext. "I'm not disconnected from them—I’ve lived them, both growing up and as an adult."

A graduate of Brown and Brooklyn Law School, she decided to pursue public service after Cathy, her girlfriend at the time, narrowly avoided the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center.

Chandler worked as a civilian intelligence analyst for the Navy for 13 years. She came out at work as a trans woman in 2006 and began transitioning, even though she had no legal protections at the time. But coming out didn't thwart her career: In fact, she continued to climb the ranks, in many cases as the first woman on her team, let alone the first lesbian or trans person.

Chandler says she had the support of superiors throughout. When a coworker called her a "drag queen" and questioned the Navy's decision to keep her on, her captain defended her: "My chain of command stood up for me, despite a lot of pressure," she says. "It taught me so much about leadership, and about how much better this country is and Americans are than we often give ourselves credit for."

She was at her desk in the Pentagon last summer when Donald Trump tweeted about banning trans people from the military.

It was "horrible," she recalls: She remembers getting a phone call from a colleague asking if Trump's tweet meant she was fired. ("The Department of Defense does not do policy by tweet," she's quick to clarify.) But the incident, she says, "definitely propelled my activism forward."

Now she wants to serve her country in a different capacity, representing Massachusetts' 3rd District in the House of Representatives.

"It’s a labor of love," she says of her candidacy, "I will say it’s not harder than [analyzing] weapons of mass destruction. I’m not having to deal with Syria or terrorism on a daily basis, so it makes everything a little bit lighter."

It seems almost fated: In August, when the district's current congresswoman, Niki Tsongas, announced she wasn’t seeking reelection, Chandler and her wife had already decided to leave their jobs in D.C. and return to Massachusetts. "I had no plans to run for this seat," she admits. "And then—and this is very typical of women candidates—I had to be asked. I had people come to me and point out what I could bring to the table."

What Chandler does have is experience: She's a Massachusetts resident, a former intelligence leader, and ran Washington D.C.'s Whitman-Walker LGBT health center. Her core campaign issues are ones she knows inside and out: health care, opioid addiction, and underemployment.

"I’ve lead intelligence delegations to other countries as a transgender lesbian. I think I can deal with House Republicans and find a way to get things done."

She’s received a flood of supportive messages from around the country and can count the hate mail on one hand. ("I don’t read the comments [online] though!" she says with a laugh.)

Chandler is proud of the progress trans candidates like Danica Roem, who was elected last year to Virginia's state legislature, have made: "There’s this phrase that’s becoming cliche: 'If you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu.' And trans people have [historically] been on the menu. It was an impressive moment for trans people in 2017; what I’m looking forward to in 2018 is women, working and middle-class people, immigrants, people of color, all of us, elbowing up to that table."

She's not the only trans woman running for Congress this year, either: Whistleblower Chelsea Manning is running for Senate in Maryland, and Brianna Westbrook is running for an open House seat in Arizona's 8th District. (The spot has been vacant since December 2017, when representative Trent Franks resigned.)

Chandler truly believes anybody can make a difference in their community and encourages other trans people to become politically active on the local level.

"Focus on the issues that are relevant to your neighbors," she advises. "And if someone brings up that you’re a trans person, simply tell them, 'Yes, I’m trans. And that means that I have to be tough and stand up for myself, so I’m gonna stand up for you and your family.'"

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