Last week at the 3rd District Convention in Creston, Democrats made a bit of history by electing Iowa’s first transgender person to serve as one of Iowa’s national elector. Jack Schuler – formerly Elyse Schuler – was elected to the position after a few rounds of balloting by the Democratic activists in the Des Moines and Council Bluffs-based district.
What’s a national elector? That’s the person who officially casts one of the state’s six votes in the electoral college after the presidential election. In Iowa they simply gather in the Governor’s office to go through with the formality. Schuler – and the other national electors selected by Democrats – will only do so if the Democratic presidential candidate wins in November. Otherwise, the ones selected at Republican conventions will vote if Donald Trump wins.
Schuler is an English teacher at Lincoln High School in Des Moines. Starting Line reached out to him this past week to ask a few questions about what drives his interest in issues and politics. Here’s what he had to say:
What got you involved in politics and campaigns this year? What are the biggest issues that drive you and the ones you think will be important to voters in November?
I had always wanted to be extensively involved in a campaign; however, this was the first year that I’ve been able to do it. When I was in the Marine Corps, I voted by absentee ballot. Being a broke college student hindered me as well. I could never afford to take the time away from work or spend money traveling that could be spent on bills and subsistence.
There are quite a few issue that are driving me in this election year. LGBTQ (especially transgender rights) are personally important to me. As we’ve seen from the backlash towards marriage equality and the marginalizing of transgender people, the fight isn’t over yet. We’ve won some very important battles with marriage equality, the end of DADT, and the moratorium on discharging transgender people from the military. We still have a lot of work to do to achieve total equality.
Veterans issues are also important to me. The VA has been underfunded for far too long. Veterans wait too long to receive care from overburdened medical professionals. We have veterans who are homeless, unable to access care because of their situations, suffering from substance abuse, and taking their own lives at the rate of 22 per day. After what this nation has asked veterans to do in recent conflicts, it is a great shame for the United States that so many of its people, who volunteered their service, have not received the support they truly deserve.
Just like recent progress in LGBTQ rights has not totally relieved the nation of homophobia and transphobia, the civil rights movement of the 20th century did not crush racism in the United States. I’ve aligned myself, as a white ally, with groups that support racial justice. I am especially disturbed by the rhetoric and behavior that has come from the Trump campaign and its supporters.
I could go on about all the issues that drive me to include my support for unions, my support for sufficient funding for education and infrastructure, and my support for a living wage that keeps up with inflation. I don’t think there are easily listed issues that are driving voters in this election. This is not a single issues election, nor is it an election driven by platform of a few ideas. I believe that this election is one where many Americans are finding an assortment of issues that hit home to them. The platform for this election will be (as if it already isn’t) as diverse as the American people.
What made you decide to run for the National Elector spot at 3rd District convention?
I ran against a slate of both party newcomers and veterans. Some ran because their wanted to represent their candidate, or their personal demographic, or because it has been a goal of theirs for a long time. I ran because I believe in the voice of the people. When I spoke, I thanked the people present for being committed to democracy. It’s people who stand up for what is right, even if it doesn’t benefit them, who allow people like me to exist openly and freely. I wanted to be someone who could return the favor and represent their will. We often complain about elected officials who make promises and then break them for their own personal gain. I hope, by keeping my promise, I can renew just a small amount of faith in the fidelity of elected persons.
You spoke in your speech at convention a little bit about your experience as a transgender person. Can you elaborate some more on what that has been like?
My experiences so far have been largely positive. When I first started coming out to family and friends, I was afraid that I might be met with rejection, but it turned out that I had greatly underestimated so many people. I have received some animosity from strangers, especially now that I am in the public eye, but my supporters have been quick to come to my defense. It feels great to not have to go it alone. Before I was open about my gender identity, I was trying to outwardly conform to expectations. I was harassed by female patrons at the gym I was a member of at the time because my hair and clothes didn’t conform to their expectations of females. Their snide comments got bad enough that I switched gyms to one that had gender neutral facilities.
Being open about my identity has given me a freedom and confidence to be myself without trying to conform to gender expectations. I always used to feel like I had to have some sort of justification for being myself, but it’s different now. I feel less anxious about using public facilities, shopping in the men’s section, going to the barber, and other such things now.
What do you think it will mean for one of Iowa’s official electoral votes to be cast by a transgender Iowan?
I hope that it inspires openness and involvement among other transgender Iowans. I hope that other trans Iowans begin to involve themselves even more in politics. Perhaps we could run transgender people in local, regional, and state elections. I also hope that my presence brings out more allies and encourages people who don’t know much about the trans community to learn more about who we are.
What do you think about Donald Trump’s rhetoric and you think it’s impacting tolerance and respect in America?
As I stated before, Trump’s rhetoric is given permission for his supporters to be hateful and violent. This is a great step backwards for the United States. It is imperative for Americans who respect their fellow humans to stand against this movement. It’s no longer about political parties in this election; it’s about humanity vs. inhumanity.
What do your friends and family think about your new involvement in politics?
My parents are particularly proud and excited. They’re very political themselves, and they introduced me to politics at a young age. My sister is also very excited. As a young millennial voting in her first presidential election, she’s very involved in promoting a positive agenda for our nation. My friends are excited as well. Many of them are becoming more involved than they used to be, not because of my involvement, but because they also see how much is at stake. We are truly determining the future of the United States.
by Pat Rynard