Mel Wymore has been a resident of the Upper West Side for nearly 30 years—and he's been involved in aiding the community for just as long. As a proud mother of two and chair of multiple community boards, Wymore has been a public servant for almost three decades. Now, he's running for City Council with the goal of amplifying resident voices. If he were to succeed, Wymore would become "the first-ever transgender elected official in a major US city," according to his campaign, and his win would be a modern-day "Harvey Milk moment for transgender people."
Wymore wouldn't be the first openly trans elected official in the US; that title goes to Joanne Conte, who served on Arvada's City Council from 1991 to 1995. And even she came after the many third gender and two-spirit Native Americans, who have served various social roles since the United States' earliest history. Only a handful of transgender people have been elected to office in the US, and a few of them lost support once the public learned about their gender identity: In 1994 Althea Garrison lost her re-election to be a Massachusetts state legislator after the Boston Herald ran a vicious smear article outing her.
"Bathroom Bills" made headlines last year, as politicians across America threatened to force transgender people to use restrooms that correspond to their sex assigned at birth. These discriminatory policies are a direct attack on the 1.4 million transgender people in the US: an anti-trans culture further promoted by the fact that only 18 states and D.C. have anti-discrimination laws fully protecting the rights of transgender people.
In response to this adversity, more transgender politicians have begun to fight back and try to make positive change from within the government. Time has even questioned if 2017 will be "The Year of the Transgender Candidate" because so many trans people are running for political office.
In an interview with Broadly, Wymore said that he will fight to preserve the Manhattan neighborhood and do what's best for the people. That means pulling the reigns back on big developers, and creating more affordable, quality housing and schools for a growing population. He is also determined to fight for the environment and push the Upper West Side and New York to be leaders in sustainable policy.
This summer, Wymore attended a board meeting at Amsterdam Houses, a public housing development on the Upper West Side. He smiled kindly, greeting familiar and unfamiliar faces alike, listening to residents' concerns before describing his goals for public housing across the Upper West Side. He was personable and made an earnest effort at inclusivity, asking for people's contact information to follow up on their requests, and repeating many of his ideas in Spanish. He finished with a well-meaning but clumsy "Quiero tu bota" that he corrected to "Quiero tu voto," which was met with lighthearted laughter.
"It would be amazing to get my foot in the door in the political process because there's so much more access you have as an elected official to draw people together, to organize, to raise the voices of people who are not usually heard," Wymore told Broadly. "If you had a city council member on the West Side who was really actively, aggressively out to protect the rights of all people, we would have an amazing voice in our ability to flip Senate seats to make New York blue. And that's not happening here on the West Side. It's just a lot of talk and very little action."
Wymore believes that the heart of every national civil rights movement can be found in local change makers. "I believe all real change happens at the local level. Because that's where people decide to take action, right?" Wymore said. "That's just for every great movement, whether it's the women's movement or the LGBT movement or the anti-war movement."
He's determined to find a longterm fix for the overdevelopment, neglect of low-income populations, and overcrowding of schools that have plagued the Upper West Side—and all of New York City—for years. "The people of the Upper West Side deserve a strong leader who's going to organize, empower, and respond to their needs," he said. Dozens of local volunteers have joined his campaign for election in September.
"I'm running for city council because I want to be a voice for all people, not just trans people," Wymore said. "The fact that I'm transgender really is irrelevant except that in this context I have the experience of what it feels like to be left out. I will be the kind of candidate who will not leave people out of the political process. And too many times we see that happening. Seniors have been feeling left out, people of color have been feeling left out, low income families feeling left out, immigrants feeling left out. People not having a voice in the future of their own communities. And as someone who understands that, I want to be a representative for all people to make sure they're included."