For Lauren Scott, the potential of being the first openly transgender person to be elected and serve in a state legislature isn’t a focus of her campaign.
“I would say I’m a really good candidate,” Scott said. “I think people know me. They know the work that I’ve done on business and civil rights issues, so I’m very credible, I guess, unlike other people who may run just because they’re trans and just for the press. It’s about making Nevada a better place to live and work for everybody. That’s what I’m focusing on.”
Scott, who’s seeking to represent District 30 in the Nevada State Assembly, talked about her race in an interview with the Washington Blade.
A business development consultant, Scott, 50, lives in the Reno area along with the seven cats that she’s rescued. If elected, she could make history as being the first openly transgender person to be elected and take a seat in a state legislature.
“The economy here has been so bad since 2007 and 2008, and we’ve really not recovered well,” Scott said. “Jobs, economy — those issues really affect everyone, so my business background, my startup business background, my technology background lends itself well to helping get business, as my tagline in my campaign says, get them out working again.”
In addition to her business background, Scott has worked with the state legislature on passage of pro-LGBT legislation as founder of the group Equality Nevada. Among the bills she helped shepherd through to passage were trans-inclusive protections in housing, public accommodations, employment and hate crimes.
Her next big LGBT-related goal for the state: marriage equality. Although the state Assembly already got the ball rolling by passing a measure to repeal the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, Scott said the best bet is pending litigation before the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
“I talked to Lambda Legal in 2012 when they were starting their move for gay marriage in Nevada,” Scott said. “Right now where it’s at, with Gov. Sandoval not defending it anymore, and the Ninth Circuit wanting to pull that up as soon as possible, we’re going to guess that we’ll have gay marriage in Nevada probably by September, October sometime.”
Formerly a Democrat, Scott said she switched to become a Republican because she felt the Democrats would “pander” to the LGBT community to gain power, then institute bad fiscal policy once elected.
“Like the Republicans with the Tea Party, you find a group you can make promises to, and then once you’re in you pass policies that are more in line with your party and not really in line with the people who elected you,” Scott said.
She recalled that President Bill Clinton was responsible for signing the Defense of Marriage Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” into law.
Scott said she’s aware her party has a reputation for being anti-LGBT and there may be some Republicans who “vehemently don’t like me.” But Scott said she’s always been able to push back against bigotry, and has been outspoken about both transgender and intersex rights as she maintained that gender shouldn’t be an either-or option.
Scott recalled encountering a conservative woman who said she changed her mind on gender identity issues after viewing a presentation made by Scott.
“I guess her daughter must have given her a link to my presentation and she was flabbergasted that everything she’d been told by all of her friends that God made male and female people, and that’s all there is, nice and simple,” Scott said. “My presentation deconstructs all that.”
Endorsed by Sandoval, Scott won the Republican primary on June 10, taking 58 percent of the vote compared to 42 percent won by her more conservative opponent, Adam Khan.
“I guess one of the big reasons for why I won was I was talking about things other than LGBT issues; I was talking about the fiscal and tax issues the Republicans want to hear about,” Scott said. “The fact that I was trans — I wasn’t running on that — I was running on Republican issues that weren’t hard-right issues.”
In the general election, she’ll face an uphill battle in the Democratic district as she faces Democratic incumbent State Assembly member Michael Sprinkle.
Laura Martin, spokesperson for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, said she doesn’t know Scott well, but has met her and vouched for her participation in lobbying for trans-inclusive legislative protections.
“Our country and Nevada are becoming more accepting of people and their gender identities thanks to legislative victories and activists coming out and sharing their stories and really demanding that people respect their humanity,” Martin said. “I think as time goes on you will see more and more diverse candidates from all parties.”
The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund hasn’t yet endorsed Scott, but that process is in the works. Scott said in the week after her primary, the organization contacted her and urged her to fill out an application for an endorsement, which she said she intends to pursue.
Ed Williams, president of Log Cabin Nevada, said his organization still needs to meet with her before offering its support and plans to do so this month.
“She definitely had what it took to beat her Republican primary opponent, so I think that’s a good, strong starting point as a Republican,” Williams said. “I don’t think that I’ve looked deeply into her views other than that; I think our members are going to be looking at her closely and seeing how conservative her views are in terms of being a fiscal conservative, and things of that nature.”
She might have competition for the distinction of being the first openly transgender legislator. Paula Sophia, a transgender former police officer in Oklahoma City, secured enough votes to force a run-off on Aug. 26 against her leading Democratic opponent, Jason Dunnington, for an open seat in the Oklahoma State Legislature.
Stacie Laughton, another openly transgender candidate, was elected to the New Hampshire legislature in 2012 but her candidacy was declared to be invalid. She resigned and was never seated.
Scott said she transitioned in the late 1990s. Although she explored the idea in the 1980s, she didn’t like model offered at the time because it insisted she’d have to adopt certain female stereotypes (she identifies as a lesbian and dates women). It wasn’t until she began seeing a therapist later in life that she determined her sexual orientation didn’t need to change, but her gender expression did.
“I didn’t want to give up all of my male life,” Scott said. “A lot of people when they transition believe, ‘well, I’m not going to fix my tire because I’d break a nail.’ If I have a flat, I will get the jack out and fix the flat tire. So, I think there’s a lot of pressure on the trans community to live those stereotypes.”
Before she transitioned, Scott was an active-duty member of the U.S. Air Force in the 1990s for nearly seven years and served during the Persian Gulf War in Iraq. According to her website, she served three years in Nevada at the Tonopah Test Range in support of F-117A Stealth Fighter operations. Scott earned two Achievement Medals and a Commendation Medal before receiving an honorable discharge in 1994.
Despite her achievements in the military, Scott said the experience was difficult for her.
“It was very disquieting,” Scott said. “The smell of all that maleness around me, as a woman, it was almost like being mentally raped. Just imagine being a woman, and you’re thrown into jail with a lot of other men in the room and you can’t get out.”
She recalled an incident in which she wrecked her motorcycle on base. When she was taken to the hospital and her boots removed, they revealed feet with toe nails painted pink. When word got out, she was called anti-gay epithets, had her name scraped off her locker and her equipment damaged before she was assigned to new duties.
Openly transgender people are currently barred from service under medical regulation, although LGBT advocates have been ramping up pressure for a change in that policy. In a recent interview, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the ban should be reviewed, but no formal review process has been announced.
Scott was reluctant to endorse the idea of instituting openly transgender service in U.S. military, saying the military may have a reason to bar transgender people from certain roles.
“If you can serve in the military and it doesn’t cause any loss in effectiveness of your unit or the overall service in the military, then, yes, I think that openly transgender people should be able to serve in the military,” Scott said. “However, I also believe that if it’s a medical condition that impairs the ability to serve or to be 100 percent operational during deployment, that has to be looked at. Maybe trans people, like women, can only serve in certain functions. Because of the inherent nature of being trans, you require additional landside support that a non-trans person may not.”
Nonetheless, Scott acknowledged a growing awareness of trans issues in recent years — especially with the growing visibility of personalities like Laverne Cox from “Orange is the New Black” — is positive for transgender people.
“I think that trans issues have gone from more of a voyeuristic issue to a civil rights issue,” Scott said. “We’re fighting to be who we are and we’re fighting to not be pigeon-holed into one gender or the other, or one sex or the other.”