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Is City Hall Ready for a Transgender Councilmember?

IN PERSON--Rachael Rose Luckey is a Transgender Activist and President Emeritus of the Rampart Village Neighborhood Council, running for the LA City Council in District 13.

Once elected, she will become the first openly transgender person to be elect to the LA City Council. In Part 2 of this multi-part interview series, she speaks to Campaign Press Secretary Hollis Evans about the political awakening she experienced in the wake of her transition, early activism at the Stonewall Democratic Club, and meeting Mitch O’Farrell, the incumbent she is challenging in District 13. 

Hollis Evans: Were you ever interested in going into politics prior to your transition in 2013? 

Rachael Rose Luckey (laughing): Well, my mother certainly was interested in me going into politics. 

Hollis Evans: Your family seems very interesting. You've talked about your stepdad. 

Rachael Rose Luckey: Yeah. I mean, he was a high-powered lawyer/lobbyist in D.C. back in his day. So, you know, he was a political animal to some degree, and I would listen at the dinner table to my mother and him talk about what had gone on with this politician or that politician. 

In August of 2014, I got an invite to the Stonewall Democratic Club's Annual Barbecue. I showed up, paid the ten bucks at the door to get in. I was there for, I don't know, forty-five minutes to an hour. I was talking to this woman, and I was basically a year into my transition, also a wet-behind-the-ears activist. I had done all this research on transgender issues. I was talking to her about them, and she goes: "Well, you should be a member of the club!" 

I said: "I don't have the money. I just had enough to get in the door!” And she says: "Wait right here." She comes back and puts money in my hand. They had a deal -- $10 dollars to get in, but if you paid $25 dollars, you got in and got a membership. So, I went back up to the table and gave the other $15 dollars, then gave her the change. There was a brief moment of speeches and "Welcome, Everybody!” All that kind of good stuff, and the President of the club was identified. 

Let me digress and tell you a story, because it's part of the chutzpah of what I’m about to tell you. Even after cross dressing in D.C. for a couple of years before moving to LA, when I started presenting as female again in LA, just before actually starting my transition, I would get dressed up to go to the club. I would go to the door, and I would listen to see if anybody was in the hallway. Nobody in the hallway, good! Crack the door, my keys in my hand, listen again, nobody in the rest of the building. Okay, good! Get out the door, lock the door, go down the hallway, go downstairs, get outside, get in my car! And as soon as I was driving away, I was fine, I didn’t care who saw me. But for some reason, I had that fear when leaving my apartment. 

Hollis Evans: That somebody who you knew in your building would see you? 

Rachael Rose Luckey: I had that fear. 

Hollis Evans: It's so telling. . . 

Rachael Rose Luckey: It’s human. 

Hollis Evans: . . .not to be able to walk out of your own home as who you are because of what people would think. 

Rachael Rose Luckey: Especially living here in LA, I wasn't so worried at the time about getting beat up like some of my trans siblings have to worry about in other states in the country for walking out the door as trans. But I still had that inferiority, that fear, you know? So, I overcame it. . .I overcame it. 

So at the barbeque I got my confidence together, and I walked up to the President of the club, and I said: "Hi, my name is Rachael Rose Luckey and I'm your newest member." So, within 20 minutes of talking to him, he says: "You know what I'm going to do? I'm going to create an ad hoc committee for you.” We ended up calling it the Transgender Issues Committee

What I didn't know at the time, but I figured out later, what he had essentially done was fast tracked me onto the Steering Committee. 

The Steering Committee is composed of officers, plus the Chairs of the individual committees, whether they be standing, or ad hoc. That got me a seat at the table with some very seasoned politicos, 20 to 30 of them. That's where I learned how to debate, that's where I learned basic Robert's Rules, that’s where I learned to be able to give a comment and make my point within a couple of minutes or less, because when you have that many people weighing in on an issue. . . 

Hollis Evans: It's very hard to keep it to two minutes. A universal complaint. 

Rachael Rose Luckey: People get mad at you if you start pontificating. I also assigned myself a mission with the Transition Issues Committee, which was to go into trans spaces with the message that the next step in the transgender movement was for transgender people to get involved in the political process and/or run for office, because, at that time, in 2014-2015, there were only four elected transgender people in the whole country. 

Hollis Evans: I believe it’s reached the public’s awareness within the last five years or so. Before that, transgender issues weren’t brought to the forefront of people's thinking. 

Rachael Rose Luckey: Laverne Cox, from Orange is the New Black, had a lot to do with that in her cover story, Transgender Tipping Point, in Time magazine, and, of course, a whole lot of work by other trans activists and organizations, as well, but it was that cover that inspired me. 

So, here I am, wet behind the ears in the realm of politics, the realm of activism. I wanted to get involved, and the President of Stonewall was giving me this beautiful opportunity to go out into the trans community, and get to know folks, by basically representing the club. I did that, and I got to know some of the transgender activists, and some of the other players in Los Angeles. And I would talk about what I thought the next step in our movement was: to get involved in the political process and/or run for office. You can tell how many times I have said those words, because now those words roll right out of my mouth. And it’s not that they would disagree, but, after a while, I felt like the message was falling on deaf ears.

After having busted my butt doing a lot of volunteer work for the club, in July of 2015, I became the first transgender officer of the Stonewall Democratic Club in its 40+ year history, which doesn't say much about Stonewall at the time, as far as grooming transgender people to take on bigger roles. 

Hollis Evans: You’re saying the Community itself needs to be more inclusive? 

Rachael Rose Luckey: Yeah. When I walked up to the President that day at the barbecue, one of my questions was: “How many transgender people are in the club?” And he replies, "Four or five, I think."  When I got on the Steering Committee, during my whole time on the committee, I was the only active transgender person there. 

Hollis Evans:  Correct me if I’m wrong, wasn’t it through your work with the Stonewall Democratic Club that you first met Mitch O’Farrell, the incumbent you’re running against? 

Rachael Rose Luckey: I’m trying to think. I don’t think I met him prior to the fight over the homophobic hotel. 

Hollis Evans: (laughs) That sounds interesting. I hadn’t heard of the homophobic hotel. 

Rachael Rose Luckey: Right? How could a whole hotel be homophobic? (Laughs). Well, back when I was with Stonewall, there was a proposal -- there still is -- a proposal to build a hotel at Sunset and Cahuenga, right across from Amoeba Records, it’s where the Jack-in-the-Box is. 

Hollis Evans: They’re now tearing down the Jack-In-the-Box. Amoeba moved. 

Rachael Rose Luckey: Yes, I heard. That means they’re getting ready to build the hotel there, the homophobic hotel. 

Hollis Evans: The same hotel? 

Rachael Rose Luckey: I haven’t heard of any changes. And so, basically, I was approached by Unite HERE Local 11, and they were saying the CEO, the person running the construction arm for the developers for that project, was involved with a group who was anti-LGBTQ, who believed in conversion therapy. They wanted to make sure LGBTQ workers would be protected. 

So, I looked to get Stonewall to take a position. I was with a delegation of Stonewall representatives when we met with Mitch at his office, and he said this was an issue he was willing to fall on his sword for, which, at the end of the day, he didn’t do. On the way out of his office, I was the last one to shake his hand, and I turned to leave, and he said to me: “Why didn’t you just bring this to me directly?” 

Hollis Evans: What did he mean by that? 

Rachael Rose Luckey: Prior to that I had been part of a press conference out in front of the Jack-in-the-Box, and I had brought it to the Stonewall and had made a bit of a ruckus about it. So, that was the first time I met Mitch. 

Hollis Evans: He wanted you to contact him directly, rather than make an issue of this for the Club? 

Rachael Rose Luckey: Yes, basically, that’s what he was saying. 

Hollis Evans: Do you think that had any repercussions on your relationship following that incident? 

Rachael Rose Luckey: I would say we'd have to have a relationship to begin with to have repercussions. I sat in a meeting with him in his office with a couple of other people. We got up to leave and that’s what he said to me. And I walked out the door. 

Hollis Evans: This happened before you were elected to the Board of the Rampart Village Neighborhood Council, before you became an elected official? 

Rachael Rose Luckey: Yes, that was in 2016, I believe. So, to continue my story, out in the transgender community, my message was falling on deaf ears. In September of 2016, I decided I was going to put my money where my mouth was and run for office. Once I made that decision, it was like: “OK, Rachael, what office are you going to run for?” 

Looking at the City of Los Angeles, I could run for mayor, but I thought that's probably not going to work. I could run for LA City Council, but I wasn't quite prepared for that either. That's when I discovered the City’s Neighborhood Council system. I didn't know anything about NCs, but I did know they had elected positions. So I was going to wait until the next election and run for office. 

I then said to myself: "You're going to need some training." That's when I discovered the Emerge California program. For those who don't know, Emerge California is a training program for Democratic women who want to run for office. I applied and got accepted to the program. 

Hollis Evans: Were you the only transgender woman to go through Emerge California? 

Rachael Rose Luckey: The year before, there was a transgender woman. In the 2017 class, I and another trans woman from the Bay Area were in that cohort. I don't know if there's been any trans women since. I was in a class with 60 other women, some of them running for Congress, city council, mayor, the local water board. You name it, they were running for it. I was so inspired, and it was just awesome, awesome training for women. 

After attending the session in December 2016, I decided to show up at a General Board meeting of the Rampart Village Neighborhood Council, scope it out, see what it's all about. I found out they had an open Board seat. 

So in February, I submitted my application, gave my one-minute speech, answered some questions, and was appointed to the Board. I'm on the Board now. I accomplished my mission. Check that box off. But I was still in the middle of this inspirational training, so what am I going to do now? And that's when, in Spring 2017, I decided I was going to run for LA City Council. 

(To be continued.) 

Part 3 of Is City Hall Ready for A Transgender Councilmember? will appear in a future edition of City Watch. If you missed Part 1, click here. You can find out more about Rachael Rose and her campaign for LA City Council District 13 at RachaelRoseForLA.com, and by listening to her podcast, ConversationsWithLA.com.