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Monika Nemeth Makes History as the First Transgender Person to be Elected to a City Position in DC

"I never envisioned that I could be an out trans woman and be a public figure."
Photograph via Monika Nemeth's Facebook.

It’s late, around 11 o’clock on a Wednesday night in Adams Morgan, and 53-year-old Monika Nemeth stands outside Pitchers Bar on 18th Street, Northwest, in the misty late-night rain. She’s wearing a marine blue top with bell sleeves and a small pin at her chest declaring “Feminist With a To-Do List” perched just above her “I Voted” sticker.

Nemeth pulls up the DC Board of Elections voting results for her precinct on her phone and scrolls down to the Advisory Neighborhood Commission to check the voting stats.

“Unless they’ve updated it…” she starts, preparing to give me the latest numbers—earlier in the evening the count looked promising. But she pauses instead.

“They’ve updated the numbers,” Nemeth says quietly. “It’s official.”

And with that, DC’s first ever openly transgender elected official gained a seat in ANC 3F, which covers parts of Forest Hills, Wakefield, Van Ness, and North Cleveland Park, where Nemeth lives just around the corner from incumbent Bill Sittig. Nemeth took home 56.6 percent of the vote against Sittig’s 41.5 percent. 

Earlier that night, Nemeth was at Muriel Bowser’s watch party, and she says many there—Bowser, Anita Bond, Brandon Toddrallied around her. Even now she can hardly get her mind around the fact that she’s making history.

It’s surreal. I’ve always had an interest in electoral politics,” says Nemeth. “I wished I could be able to run, but as a trans person I always thought, ‘Well, that will never happen.’ But you look around the country now and all of the sudden it’s not that unique: there are a lot of trans victories. As little as five years ago, to me that was unimaginable. And really: unimaginable.”

Nemeth is a short, warm woman with an auburn bob, glasses, and a maternal attentiveness not unlike that of a schoolteacher. For the past 18 years she has worked as a contractor for the US Navy and, for the past ten months, a program manager for the US Navy Marine Corps Intranet.

Nemeth moved to DC from New Jersey in 1983, when she was 17, to attend school at George Washington University. She finished at American University and eventually got involved with with local politics, working in the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on LGBTQ affairs, on the Board of Directors of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, and as an executive producer of Capital Pride and Trans Capital Pride. 

Wednesday’s midterm election wasn’t the first time that Nemeth has run for public office. She ran in November 2017, only to face a disheartening defeat: In her district sitting ANC council member Malachy Nugent resigned, and a special election was scheduled. The race came down to Nemeth and former Library of Congress librarian Sittig. Of the 1,435 registered voters in her district, 26 came out to vote that day, which was the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. Nemeth lost by 6 votes.

“To me that was not determinative. I decided that I wanted a determinative result,” says Nemeth. “And I got it.” 

Nemeth took that loss and turned it into resoluteness. She worked the polling centers from 7 AM to 7 PM yesterday, taking a short break once to grab lunch down the street at Popeyes. Otherwise she’s spent the entire day with her now-constituents, addressing topics like her goal to eliminate the reversible lanes on Connecticut Avenue and her support for DC’s Vision Zero plan to reduce traffic-related injuries and fatalities.

That being said, all the glad-handling and palm-pressing in the world might not have brought about this moment for Nemeth were it not for some larger trends. Namely, the wave of LQBTQ candidates storming the ballots in Tuesday’s midterm elections for whom Trump’s discriminatory rhetoric has proved a rallying cry. Last year brought a record number of trans people to public office with historic seats such as trans African-American woman Andrea Jenkins‘ nomination to Minneapolis City Council. But despite DC’s strong progressive base and reputation as a champion for LGBTQ rights, thus far District leadership hasn’t before seen a trans person win an office, according to a representative from the Mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Affairs. This time around, the vote was 400 for Nemeth vs. 298 for Sittig.

For Nemeth, policy comes first, and using her platform to empower the trans community is secondary. “I’m an elected official who happens to be a trans woman,” she says. “I didn’t hide it and certainly plenty of people knew, but I didn’t put it out front-and-center. Danica Roem ran and won because she was talking about Route 28 in Virginia. She was just talking about something that people cared about, and that was it. She also happens to be a trans woman.”

However, Nemeth also doesn’t subscribe to what she describes as the stealth philosophy in the trans community that believes “blending in” or “fading away” as a trans individual is the way forward. Though she understands—deeply—the reasoning, Nemeth intuits that it’s the anonymity of blending in that has allowed anti-trans bias to be emboldened under the current administration because the public doesn’t realize that their community of friends, family, neighbors, colleagues, and military include transgender people. Accordingly, Nemeth is a strong proponent of what she refers to as transvisibility (already a hashtag) and the #WontBeErased social media movement introduced by the National Center for Transgender Equality in October.

“I am successful in my career, I lead a good life, I’ve had a relatively easy transition as these things go… I’m not doing any favors by just fading away. I think it is important—to use a cliche—to be a role model,” says Nemeth. “The more these attacks on us intensify the more important I feel it is to stand up and say ‘No.'”

*Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Nemeth has been in the same role for 10 years. Nemeth has held the same position for 10 months.

 

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Hayley is an Assistant Editor at Washingtonian Bride & Groom and Washingtonian. Previously she was the the Style Editor at The Local Palate, a Southern food culture magazine based out of Charleston, South Carolina. She currently resides in Bloomingdale. You can follow her on instagram @wandertaste.