Retired doctor hopes to bring a new facet to House: herself

May 29, 2006|By RONA MARECH | RONA MARECH,SUN REPORTER

Takoma Park -- Dana Beyer is a novice candidate, but she's having no trouble schmoozing.

A cadre of political players turned out for a Takoma Park fundraiser in honor of a local candidate so Beyer showed up to pay respects and stump on the side for her own campaign. A retired eye surgeon from Chevy Chase, Beyer is running as a Democrat for the open House of Delegates seat in District 18 in Montgomery County.

Beyer only joined the race a few weeks ago, so she doesn't have campaign paraphernalia, but she's making do, shaking hands, greeting acquaintances and gabbing proudly about her sons between sips of sparkling water. Though it's one of her first outings in her new political role, it proves to be a low-key, pleasantly ordinary evening.

But in a way, it is quite extraordinary that Beyer is here at an event titled "Celebrate Remarkable Women." Just three years ago, she went through a gender transition, and if elected, political observers say, she would be the country's first openly transgender public official to hold a state office.

Beyer's foray into politics places her in a small but growing company of transgender people who are running for office - and getting elected - here and abroad. New Zealand has had a transgender member of Parliament since 1999, and a transgender woman was elected to the Italian Parliament in April. In this country, Michelle Bruce, a transgender woman, joined the City Council of Riverdale, Ga., in 2004, and Jessica Orsini was recently elected to the Board of Aldermen in Centralia, Mo.

In 2004, seven transgender delegates attended the Democratic National Convention, compared with one delegate in 2000, said Mara Keisling, the executive director Washington's National Center for Transgender Equality.

"Transgender people are becoming more and more visible in a lot of ways, and this is one of them," said Keisling. "We live in a pluralistic society, and that only really works when lots of different kinds of people are willing to come forward and participate."

More transgender people are running for office because "frankly, we're feeling a bit more comfortable in coming out and participating. ... We're not quite as closeted as we were even 10 years ago," said Orsini, the alderwoman from Centralia, a town of 3,500.

People cast some "pretty hairy eyeballs" after she ran and lost two years ago, Orsini said. But she was subsequently appointed to and served on the city's planning commission, and becoming better known has changed perceptions. "At this point, people are much more concerned about whether or not we can get the street fixed," she said.

Many miles away, in Montgomery County's 18th District, Beyer said she has long been interested in public service but for years, lacked the confidence for it. "I never had the courage to put myself out publicly, because I wasn't comfortable with who I was," Beyer, 54, said at her suburban home. Her 100-pound Labrador thumped about as she spoke and her teenage son wandered in and out of the conversation. "Three years after my transition, that all changed."

An opportunity arose when Del. Richard S. Madaleno Jr., a Democrat, recently announced plans to run for the state Senate. Only two candidates in addition to Beyer have officially filed with the Maryland State Board of Elections - Alfred C. Carr Jr. and Daniel E. Farrington. But a rumored half-dozen other Democrats might eventually join the fight for the seat. Two incumbents, Dels. Ana Sol Gutierrez and Jane E. Lawton are also seeking re-election.

In this traditionally progressive district, Beyer is running on a prototypically progressive platform. The "prescription" for Maryland, she spells out on her campaign Web site, highlights health care, public education, finance reform and the environment. She supports universal health care, says taxes shouldn't be considered a "bad word" and favors marriage equality for gay men and lesbians.

Beyer's political experience mostly amounts to advocacy work - she is active in Equality Maryland, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights group and teachthefacts.org, a sex education organization - but she shrugs off her relative greenness. "I'd like to think there is a place for the citizen legislator," she said. "We need more engineers, physicians and teachers and fewer lawyers in politics."

Lisa Beyer, the candidate's cousin and a political consultant who is helping with the campaign kickoff, says Dana Beyer's transgender identity is just "one of a million bullet points" under who she is. Nonetheless, it is a bullet point, and Beyer is not shy about telling her story.

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