Leigh Finke was sworn in to Minnesota’s House of Representatives on Tuesday where she’ll represent District 66A. The LGBTQ Victory Fund candidate, and GLAAD Media Institute (GMI) alum, is the first out transgender lawmaker voted into Minnesota’s legislature.
In a landslide victory, Finke won in the US midterms with 81% of the vote this November against her opponent, Trace Johnson. The St. Paul legislator joins 11 LGBTQ Minnesota state lawmakers who won their elections in the midterms. She is also one of eight out trans state legislators in the US, according to the LGBTQ Victory Institute, an organization which works to increase LGBTQ political power.
As a GMI alum she has made history with a list of other alumni. She attended and organized GMI courses in the Twin Cities. She’s placed several op-eds through GLAAD in USA TODAY, The Advocate, and more. In addition, Finke supported GLAAD’s work on the 2020 election with a Twitter takeover to give perspective on the Republican and Democratic National Conventions.
“Hello everyone! I am Leigh Finke (@leighfinke). I am an author and documentary filmmaker in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I’ll be tweeting the LGBTQ Caucus at the #demconvention for GLAAD,” Finke tweeted in 2020.
Hello everyone! I am Leigh Finke (@leighfinke). I am an author and documentary filmmaker in Saint Paul, Minnesota. I’ll be tweeting the LGBTQ Caucus at the #demconvention for GLAAD. pic.twitter.com/ktloFIDflj
— GLAAD (@glaad) August 20, 2020
GLAAD is proud of Finke’s win. “Congratulations to #GLAADInstitute alum @LeighFinke for making history in Minnesota. So proud of your accomplishments!” GLAAD said in a Nov. 9 Tweet.
— GLAAD (@glaad) November 9, 2022
Ross Murray, the vice president of the GLAAD Media Institute, worked closely with Finke, and led the Twin Cities media trainings she attended. He also helped her place many of her op-eds.
“Leigh has been a dedicated leader, author, mentor, and advocate. She took full advantage of the GLAAD Media Institute training opportunities and incorporating them into her many projects. She cares for the protection and wellbeing of LGBTQ youth, the safety of the transgender community, and the future of Minnesota. I’m proud to continue to see the amazing things she will do in the Minnesota state legislature,” said Murray. “This is what turning LGBTQ media advocacy into proactive action looks like!”
Moreover, Finke’s win and political career is now sewn into LGBTQ, Minnesota and US history.
She ran her platform on reproductive justice, racial justice, life after Covid-19, expanding protections for LGBTQ people, strengthening public education, fighting the climate crisis, holding policing accountable, and expanding housing and livable wage access.
“That is what this campaign is about: representation for everyone,” said Finke in her campaign video.
The history-making lawmaker plans to create change at the local level. A political station for change, and power, she believes is under utilized.
“Like many voters in the state, I’m worried. But I also believe that the state government is capable of addressing these challenges. If I did not believe that committed public servants could solve these problems, I would not run. Everyone deserves a chance. Not just to live, but to thrive. I believe we can all find room to thrive in Minnesota,” said Finke on her campaign website.
Finke is a Minnesota “original”. She was raised in Delano, Maple Grove, and graduated from Bethel University. She currently operates her own video production business, and worked as a filmmaker for ACLU-Minnesota in the past. Finke is also a former Stonewall Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Board Member where she committed to advocating for LGBTQ equality and abortion rights.
Additionally, Finke wrote and edited numerous forms of LGBTQ media including a guide for LGBTQ Christian teens, Queerfully and Wonderfully Made, and she co-produced and wrote a documentary titled White Savior: Racism in the American Church.
The lawmaker lives with her partner and children in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood.
While Finke’s victory is a celebratory moment for many LGBTQ people in the US, anti-LGBTQ bills, particularly anti-trans bills, will likely mount in the 2023 legislative session as in 2022. There were about 340 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced last year. This reality may create a challenge for pro-equality legislation.
However, Finke is up for the challenge.
“It’s very hard for trans people to sort of imagine a future for themselves because we don’t have a lot of representation in the world,” Finke told Twin Cities of Pioneer Press. “You can succeed, you can have a family, you can be partnered, have a job where decisions are made, help people. I want to expand the notion that trans people belong everywhere. And we can say that, but it’s a lot harder to believe it when you can’t see it.”
An army of Finke support stands behind Finke too.
“Leigh made history tonight because she is ready to disrupt the status quo and fight for real change on behalf of her community. From safeguarding abortion rights to addressing societal inequities, she has a vision for the future that voters are clearly enthusiastic about,” Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund said in a statement after Finke’s Nov. 8 win.
“Her win is a clear and deafening rebuke to the transphobia currently sweeping our communities and her success will inspire other trans people to step up and run. When our rights are on the ballot, we cannot stay silent. Leigh proves we must continue running for office in record numbers because when we run, we win.”