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First openly transgender candidate seeks Wake-Franklin senate seat

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KNIGHTDALE — In many ways, Angela Bridgman is running on typical Democrat campaign issues: She says she’ll vote to expand Medicaid and increase education funding.

The fact that she is transgender — the first openly transgender person to run for the state legislature, she says — shouldn’t detract from the rest of her campaign, she argued.

“If I was going to be elected, and if I was running solely on the issue of LGBT equality, then I’m running on the wrong reasons because less than 1 percent of what I have to do in the state legislature would have anything to do with those issues,” Bridgman, who lives near Wendell, said.

Bridgman, who came out as a transwoman 25 years ago, announced her candidacy Nov. 9 for the newly drawn Senate District 18. The district includes all of Franklin County and much of eastern Wake County, including Wake Forest, Wendell, Zebulon, Knightdale and Rolesville.

Sarah Crawford, a director of a local nonprofit, announced in September she will also run as a Democrat for the district’s nomination.

Bridgman said she does not expect to raise more money than her opponents, but she said she wouldn’t be running if she didn’t think she could win.

Her platform includes giving local governments in rural areas the power to build local broadband internet connections, preventing private schools from receiving state tax funds if they discriminate against students with disabilities, and installing a nonpartisan citizens committee to oversee redistricting and end gerrymandering.

“Bottom line is that we should be taking the map-drawing task away from the politicians and the elected officials that have a vested interest in the outcome,” Bridgman said. “I think it’s clear by now that we cannot trust the elected officials to place their own self interest aside and put the interest of the people of North Carolina first.”

At the core of her campaign, Bridgman said, is listening to “voices in North Carolina that have not been heard” and find ways to address their issues in government.

And, yes, that includes the voices of transgender people.

“I cannot believe that we are in 2019 and we still think that writing discrimination into our state law is OK,” Bridgman said. “It’s amazing to me that we still think that discriminating against anyone is OK and it’s amazing that we think any person’s basic civil rights are a subject for your compromise or debate.”

She promises to fight for the repeal of House Bill 142 — the law that replaced the infamous House Bill 2 or “Bathroom Bill” and prevents local governments from passing anti-discrimination laws. Going further, Bridgman wants to enshrine protections for LGBT people into law to make it illegal to fire someone or deny housing or healthcare to a person because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Bridgman knows all too well the pain these types of discrimination cause. She said she was fired from a job in New Jersey after she came out as transgender. She later sued her ex-employer and settled outside of court, she said.

And while attending college in Kentucky in 1998, Bridgman was told by her dean that she could no longer use women’s restrooms on campus. She felt unsafe using men’s bathrooms, she said, and made a difficult decision to drop out of school.

She moved to North Carolina in 2014 after falling in love with the state during a business trip. She intended to live a quiet, private life, she said, but two years later HB2 became law, and she was spurred into action.

“I could not in good consciousness sit in silence while transgender college students today were going to potentially be forced to make the same horrible choice I had to make in 1998,” Bridgman said. “I couldn’t do that.”

Bridgman was elected a precinct chair of the state Democratic Party last year and is an elected member of the state executive committee of the state party. She is currently an appointee to the party’s Platform and Resolutions committee, she said, and was elected the secretary of East Wake Democrats. She is the first vice chair of the Transgender Political Caucus of the state Democrats.

She considered running for the state House in 2018 but pulled out after court-ordered redistricting moved her into the district of an incumbent representative.

She runs a medical billing and coding business, XIP Medical Support Services, out of her home and volunteers with the American Red Cross.

“We’re not there yet but I would like to get to a place where a person like myself (who is transgender) could be elected to public office at whatever level and it’s no big deal because we’re just people,” Bridgman said. “We care about the same things that other people care about. We just want to live our lives and work and laugh and love and play like everybody else does.”

Bridgman expects to face criticism, but she’s used to ignoring it, she said.

Ultimately, she hopes to be seen and treated like any other candidate.

“I think that we focus too much in our nation right now on that which separates us rather than what brings us together,” Bridgman said. “I’d like to focus on what brings us together. I think that all of us citizens would like to see a well educated public, a healthy public that can then be self sufficient and drive economic opportunity that benefits all of us.”