Erika Feinman made history this year upon being elected Student Association president at George Washington University. Feinman is the first gender non-binary person to be elected to such a role in the country to the best of their (Feinman prefers gender-neutral pronouns) knowledge.
It’s a significant distinction — each March, the entire student body of 27,000 is eligible to vote and endorsements, town hall meetings, speeches and more are held just like any campaign for public office. The Association advocates on behalf of the student body by passing legislation and working with administrators to improve the student experience. The university’s 500 student organizations receive nearly $1.4 million for their various programming and events.
Feinman says winning was an “indescribable, overwhelming feeling.”
“So much hard work went into the campaign and I actually wasn’t out about my gender identity when we kicked it off. I came out pretty publicly during our debate after there was much speculation around whether or not I was trans. I didn’t originally set out to make history, but throughout the campaign I realized that it would be wrong for the school to elect me without knowing all of me.”
Feinman arrived in D.C. for college in August 2013 and plans to graduate in the spring. The 21-year-old Slingerlands, N.Y., native double majored in women’s, gender and sexuality studies and political science and hopes to eventually become a professor of gender studies. Feinman says the GW campus has been welcoming overall.
“GW is known for being a really LGBTQ-friendly university but of course, there’s always room for improvement,” Feinman says. “I definitely get misgendered a lot, which can be hard, but I’ve found that it’s not often that someone does that maliciously.”
Feinman lives on campus in Foggy Bottom and enjoys cooking, singing, learning and “obviously” Netflix to relax.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
Two years. If I’m being completely honest, the hardest person to tell was myself. I knew my family would be accepting, but I was dealing with a lot of health issues for many years and was very focused on getting out of my small town and going to college. My sexual orientation and gender identity felt like the least important things for me to deal with so I just pushed it down until everything else felt like it settled down.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Alison Bechdel. I met her once. She gave me a high five and told me that the work I’m doing is important. That was one of my proudest moments.
What’s Washington’s best night spot, past or present?
I don’t like to go to the same place over and over, so really anywhere with good music and no cover charge. I went to the Madhatter for Halloween with a big group and that was really fun!
Describe your dream wedding.
My favorite season is autumn so definitely an autumn wedding. I don’t have an exact vision, but I want it to be beautiful with a focus on bringing together our two families and merging our lives.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
What historical outcome would you change?
Trump winning the election.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime
Beyoncé declaring she was not just a feminist, but a FEMINIST.
On what do you insist?
Be a good citizen.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
All of my posts and tweets are related to stuff happening on campus, but my latest re-blog on Tumblr was a funny picture of a really fluffy dog.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Ask scientists why they didn’t spend their time discovering a way to change the minds of racists and bigots and homophobic people.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I’m a strong believer in G-D and in Heaven. I’m a Jew and my faith has always served as an important foundation for everything I do.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Don’t give up, never stop educating yourself, organize and build strong coalitions.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
My family, my partner, tickets to a Broadway musical and probably ice cream if I’m being completely honest.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
I don’t know if this is a stereotype or more so a misconception, but that “trans” doesn’t include “nonbinary” and that “nonbinary” means “androgynous” and “androgynous” means “masculine.”
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
As much as I enjoy movies, I’m definitely more of a theater person. So, my favorite LGBTQ+ show is “Fun Home.” If I had to pick a movie though, definitely “Rent.”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Asking, “how are you?” when you don’t actually want to know. It’s really weird that our automatic greeting is “Hi, how are you?” when a majority of the time, you aren’t talking to someone to find out how they are. We need to take a more genuine interest in the lives of others instead of asking because we’re on auto-pilot.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
Who doesn’t want to win the lottery?
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
Well that wasn’t too long ago for me, but I guess I wish I knew what internalized homophobia and transphobia was because I had to deal with a lot of that.
My parents really wanted me to go to college in New York or Boston. Even though I’ve gone to New York City a million times, it always felt too big for me to navigate. On the other hand, Boston always felt too small. I first came to D.C. for a high school field trip and it felt like the perfect size. D.C. is big enough to explore and small enough to feel comfortable navigating on my own. Now that I’m more experienced living in a city, I am definitely more open to moving to New York and I feel like I could handle it now, but I really love D.C. and hope to stay here.