Trans candidate for Oklahoma House says Republican supporters say Kern is ‘on a different level’ from conservative constituents
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
OKLAHOMA CITY — The New York Times named several transgender candidates around the country as having a good chance of election. Among them was Brittany Novotny, running for the Oklahoma Legislature.
Other transgender candidates are running in more likely places like Hawaii, Oregon and California. Theresa Sparks, a candidate for San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, is seeking the seat once held by Harvey Milk and is seen as the conservative candidate in the race.
Novotny’s district encompasses northern suburbs of Oklahoma City usually considered on the far end of the conservative spectrum. But she said this week her campaign is going well.
While Novotny stays on message, her Republican opponent, incumbent Rep. Sally Kern, rose to fame by calling gays a bigger problem than terrorism. The comment was especially harsh in a district that was home to many of the Oklahoma City bombing victims.
After media criticism every time she spoke about homosexuality, Kern agreed to stick to the issues rather than leveling personal attacks. However, a Kern supporter recently referred to Novotny as “a confused it.”
“The issues in my district are economic development, good jobs, roads and transportation, education,” Novotny said. “Teachers, technology, textbooks.”
Her district is usually characterized as Republican with a conservative incumbent.
Novotny said that isn’t a fair description of the area.
“It’s a moderate swing district,” she said, with an extremist incumbent.
She has been told that 48 percent in her area consider themselves moderate or liberal. People in the area are concerned with jobs, not her gender identity, she said.
“In knocking on 3,000 doors, it’s only come up once,” she said, referring to her gender identity.
Novotny said her Republican supporters have told her, “I’m conservative but Kern is on a different level.”
She believes that will be the margin of difference that will get her elected.
“We feel we have done a good job of sticking to the issues,” Novotny said.
In an interview last month, Houston Mayor Annise Parker commented on Novotny’s approach to the race by concentrating on issues.
“That’s how you win an election,” Parker said.
Novotny said she went to law school because of her interest in going into public service.
“Some thought I was going to be the LGBT candidate,” she said. “But I’ve always been interested in politics.”
Kern refused to debate Novotny in an open town hall forum. Instead they squared off on KFOR, the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City, on the show Flash Point for 20 minutes.
The Daily Oklahoman, the state’s largest newspaper that is based in Oklahoma City, has declined to endorse in legislative races.
“But they’re not fans of my opponent,” Novotny said.
She spent 45 minutes with the editorial board and said they talked about her values and vision for Oklahoma.
Mara Keisling is the executive director of The National Center for Transgender Equality, an organization that does not endorse candidates. She commented on Novotny’s race and compared it to Parker’s Houston election.
“The people of Houston weren’t looking for a lesbian mayor,” she said. “They were looking for a competent mayor.”
She said the question to voters is: Can she do a better job?
She believes Novotny has a good chance of election because Kern “has a reputation of being controversial.”
Keisling said that if Novotny wins, it will be because people in Oklahoma are concerned about jobs and the economy and want a responsible and mature state representative.
“I never wanted my trans status to hold me back,” Novotny said.
She has out fundraised Kern. In the latest filing, Novotny reported $25,000 to Kern’s $14,000. She is ahead in total raised throughout the campaign as well and has 500 small donors, also more than her opponent.
“I’m real proud of the way we’ve run the campaign and I hope it pays off on Election Day,” she said.
If elected, she would become the first transgender state legislator in the country.
Her election watch party on Nov. 2 will be at the Holiday Inn on Old Route 66 in Bethany, Okla., the same location where she announced her candidacy more than a year ago.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010