This month, let's applaud LEAHNORA ISAAK, a trans woman who overcame the odds to start planning her campaigns for Oregon City Council, State Legislature, and even Congress!
Leahnora Isaak has big plans. She has spent most of her life working on political campaigns and now the time has come for her to stand on the other side of the podium. She plans to run for City Council in 2016, State Legislature in 2020 and Congress in 2024.
Leahnora recently told me “I want to be the first openly transgender congresswoman.” If anyone can do it, Leahnora can!
Leahnora’s story was not always a happy and confident one. Being raised in a Mormon household within a larger conservative community, she thought for a long time that there was something wrong with her. She thought she was a "freak" because she couldn’t control her desire and dreams to dress like and be a woman.
As a child, Leahnora used to bury her female clothes in the woods so she wouldn’t be discovered. She also had a small stash of clothes hidden in her room. Her mother found her stash once. She was kind about it, was secretly supportive, and even bought her girl undergarments. Her father, however, found her stash of clothes once and became wild with rage and insults.
Into adulthood Leahnora tried to hide her desire to be a woman for fear of what people might say. She even hid it from her wife the first seven years of their marriage. Once she came out to her wife as a transgender woman, her wife humiliated Leahnora and made her live in the basement. With no support or love she lived in this way, in the basement, for 18 years.
Finally one day, at age 49, she realized she had nothing left to lose and decided to come out. Leahnora said, “After 25 years, I came out and she divorced me.” By the next year, at age 50, Leahnora transitioned full-time to female, and moved from a fairly conservative community of Akron, Ohio to Portland, Oregon.
Around the time Leahnora moved to Portland, Basic Rights of Oregon (BRO) was campaigning for a marriage equality bill. They needed people to collect money and signatures. This was a natural transition for Leahnora who had worked on political campaigns for most of her working career.
In the past year and a half that Leahnora has worked for BRO she has personally raised over $100,000. In this time, as an organization BRO has had three big wins: (1) The marriage equality bill, (2) A bill that forbids businesses from discriminating or refusing service because of how an LGBTQ individual identifies, (3) A bill that allows the Oregon Health Plan to cover top and/or bottom surgery for trans people, particularly if an individual is a suicide risk without the surgery.
There have been many recent successes with LGBTQ issues everywhere. There has also been an increase in government support of LBGTQ issues in recent years. However, Leahnora believes it is not enough. She feels that there needs to be more done for transgender rights. Being out there openly as a transitioning female doing door-to-door advocacy and campaign work has been hard. While Portland is generally a relaxed, open-minded community it is not without it bigots and haters.
Further, Leahnora sees that Portland in particular has a number of excellent programs for transgender youth, but also sees that there are not enough advocacy and support services available for transgender adults. Leahnora has decided she needs to help fill this gap, and has plans to start a non-profit called Gender Justice League of Oregon.
I asked Leahnora if she had any advice for LGBTQ youth who feel isolated like she once did. She said “Find a statewide campaign on LBGTQ issues, or find a political candidate who is pro-equality, and you will find like-minded individuals. Go to your local LGBTQ center and volunteer. If you don’t have one in your community work or volunteer for school board and city council members who you know are sympathetic or pro-equality. And make sure to learn everything you can so someday you can take THEIR JOB.”
Thank you, Leahnora, for all you do! I will be looking out for you on the ballot in 2016.
Photos courtesy of Leahnora Isaak