Jared Polis is the early favorite to become America's first openly gay governor. Joe Neguse is nearly a lock to become Colorado's first African-American congressman. And Brianna Titone could become the first transgender member of the Colorado Legislature — and just the second transgender representative in a state legislature nationwide. The Democrat hopes to upset Republican Vicki Pyne in the GOP-held House District 27, which covers much of the northwest Denver metro area.
A self-labeled "political outsider," Titone's political experience is, by her own admission, limited. She was a county delegate for Bernie Sanders's 2016 primary run ("I didn't even know what I was getting into," Titone says of the experience), and she was elected as treasurer to the Jefferson County LGBTQ+ caucus just last year. Her run for District 27 will be her first attempt at a more significant level of elected office. And make no mistake about it: Titone's work will be cut out for her.
House District 27 leans conservative, mostly covering Arvada and more rural areas of Jefferson County north and west of the Denver suburb. Republican lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Lang Sias won re-election here by 13 points in 2016, and Republicans have won this district by double digits in every election since 2011 redistricting.
However, Titone, who is completing her second master's degree at the University of Denver this month, says she's embracing the challenge and points to her door-to-door ground work as one of the reasons that she thinks she can flip this district blue in November.
She also received more votes in her uncontested primary than Sias (who had to drop out because of his candidacy for lieutenant governor), a possible indication of Democratic enthusiasm, and the bulk of the Democratic Party has endorsed her, including Polis and congresswoman Diana DeGette.
"We know that the voters are the important people in this election," she says. "It's not me. I don't have all the answers. I want to hear their ideas and hear their stories and have those conversations and find out where we have intersections in our beliefs and our goals. The only way to really get there is to have productive conversations."
She decided to run for office after the Republican-led state Senate killed an attempt to ban gay conversion therapy in 2017. And the geologist and software developer by trade wants to see more politicians with a background like hers, saying that it could reduce the influence of high-dollar lobbyists in the state legislature.
"We need to have more people to understand what these issues really are and not have to rely on special interests and lobbyists to tell them what these things really mean," says Titone, who has worked with attorney general candidate Phil Weiser on net neutrality-related issues. "I can actually look at those issues objectively and see what the facts are based on the evidence."
Titone, age forty, began her transition three years ago and looks at the recent string of high-profile transgender candidates who have had success at the national level as part of the reason she believes she can defy the odds and win this fall. In Vermont this week, a transgender candidate handily won that state's Democratic gubernatorial primary. Late last year, Democrat and transgender candidate Danica Roem (whom Tritone says she's been in contact with) made national headlines when she defeated a longtime Republican incumbent who had introduced a so-called bathroom bill in the Virginia state legislature the year prior.
"[Danica's] win was a thumbs-up that it was possible," says Titone. "I haven't been a trans person long enough to know how accepted I am in society. I think the culture has changed a lot. I see a lot of young kids, a lot of my friends' kids, they don't blink an eye about it. They're just really accepting, and the culture is changing around it."
Titone grew up in New York but moved to Colorado ten years ago.
"I kind of grew up in a time where people had to really be closeted about that stuff," she says. "Times are really changing, and I think that this is the time where people are seeing that marginalized people are productive members of society. We're no different than anybody else. Our identity really doesn't matter; we just want to be productive members of society and help make the place better. We exist.
"The people that are supporting me are very passionate about what I'm doing and about the issues and my message," Titone continues. "When you actually go out there and interact with people and be honest and authentic, which I am every single day. I am my authentic self. People see that, and they respond to that very positively, and we're going to swing a lot of the unaffiliated voters this year."
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