By Ken Stone
Gina Roberts is batting .500 in runs for elective office. After losing two school board races, the Valley Center woman made up in a flash this month by winning two seats at once.
She landed a four-year term on the Valley Center Fire Protection District board and in the local parks and recreation district.
(The parks district is being dissolved, however, as it becomes a county service area. She’ll become a member of the CSA No. 138 advisory board.)
But Roberts will be remembered for something else.
“As far as I know, there are no other transgender Republicans in elected office in the state,” says Menlo College political science professor Melissa Michelson, an expert in LGBTQ rights. Roberts may even be the second trans GOP’er to win office in U.S. history.
Roberts has been breaking barriers for years, including being the first transgender delegate to the California Republican Party — back in 2017. She’s president emeritus of the San Diego chapter of Log Cabin Republicans and has been a member of the county GOP Central Committee since 2016.
After Tuesday’s vote-count, Roberts was second in the race for two unpaid fire board seats — leading her nearest rival by 183 votes. But that’s a good cushion in a district serving only 23,000 people.
Roberts chalks up her victory to awareness of her community volunteerism. The local Chamber of Commerce twice named her honorary mayor of Valley Center, an unincorporated town in north inland San Diego County. She organized the Western Days parade, and the Valley Roadrunner in 2018 tapped her as Newsmaker of the Year.
“A lot of people recognize what I’ve done in the community,” Roberts told Times of San Diego in a phone interview.
She said she supports other people “doing great things for Valley Center — they’re not all Republicans, not all conservatives. Good people on both sides.”
Roberts is being hailed by Democrats and fellow members of the LGBTQ community.
Said Professor Michelson: “Her victory sends an important message from the local Republican Party that they are inclusive” and brings “a new perspective to those offices, increasing the ability of government to serve all members of their communities.”
She said Roberts, 65, thus becomes a role model, “inspiring other transgender people to think about running for office. They represent inclusion in a way that words from cisgender (non-transgender) elected officials cannot.”
Josie Caballero, a “Berniecrat” who ran for San Diego City Council and the 53rd Congressional District seat as Jose Caballero, hopes such trans victories become commonplace.
“Her being trans shows a strong signifier … that people are starting to understand that trans is OK,” Caballero said. “Doesn’t matter if you are Republican, Democrat, progressive. It doesn’t really matter.”
It helped that Roberts ran as a community member first, she said.
“Once you normalize it, it just becomes like anything else,” Caballero said. “Like gay marriage, like the gay couple living next door. Big deal. … And her being visibly trans and being out in the public and being proud of that really, really shows a new level of awareness, especially in a place like Valley Center, which is more conservative.”
Joanna Harper — a transgender runner and sports scientist doing doctoral researcher at Loughborough University in Leicestershire, England — said she was pleased to hear that Roberts — who is competitive in shooting sports — won election.
“One of the most important steps in normalizing the lives of transgender people is to get more of us into elected offices and other community leadership roles,” Harper said via email.
Gerri Cannon is well-versed in how to win elections as a transgender woman. On Nov. 3, she took her fourth race in a row — twice for Somersworth school board and twice in the New Hampshire House of Representatives.
“I’ve known Gina for around 20 years,” Cannon said Tuesday — during Transgender Awareness Week. “She is a good person and has a good work ethic.”
Cannon conceded that Roberts won more votes than her this month — while noting that the Concord house has 400 reps from relatively small voting districts.
“I’m pleased that Gina has won (for a Republican. 😉),” added the New Hampshire Democrat. “The number of transgender politicians is growing every year. We are role models for future generations of transgender people and their families. The world is changing their view of transgender people as more of us become visible.”
She sent well wishes: “Congratulations, Gina! I’m sure that you’ll do a great job!”
So did Jessica Millan Patterson, chair of the California Republican Party: “I want to congratulate Gina, and look forward to getting together after all the votes have been counted in our many close races in California.”
Gwen Aviles recently wrote in Harper’s Bazaar that seven transgender candidates were expected to win election to state legislatures this month, including Cannon of New Hampshire.
“As results trickle in, the number of out transgender state legislators could more than double, per the the LGBTQ Victory Fund,” Aviles wrote. That would boost the number of trans office-holders in the United States to more than three dozen since 1991.
But according to her own website, the only openly transgender Republican holding elective office until Roberts was Jordan Willow Evans, first elected a library trustee in 2015 and later a town constable in Charlton, Massachusetts.
Kudos also came from Michael Schwartz, executive director of San Diego County Gun Owners.
“Gina is a dedicated civil rights leader as a founding board member of San Diego County Gun Owners and I’m happy to see her continue to lead,” Schwartz said via email.
Regina W. Roberts, a retired consulting engineer, is a La Mesa native who studied at UC San Diego. She came out as a woman in 2012 but already had deep roots in Valley Center.
She said she was asked to run for both the fire and parks boards by members of the community, including parks board president Carol Johnson (whom Roberts beat in the election).
“I thought it was a good idea” to run, she said, especially since she wants to stay involved in the community.
Roberts was going to run again for Valley Center-Pauma Unified school board but passed after redistricting put her in the same district as incumbent Mary Polito.
“I’m very happy with her,” Roberts said. “She’s actually a very awesome school board member.”
Despite all her club and political affiliations — Roberts recently became lieutenant governor of her local Kiwanis International region — she says she’s most efficient when overbooked.
“I always do my best work when I’m super busy. … I’d much rather get out and hang out with people and enjoy my life,” she said. “This community has been remarkably welcoming and just a super place to live” for almost 34 years.
(On Wednesday, she was sworn in by Rep.-elect Darrell Issa as president of Escondido Republican Women Federated.)
So another cool thing happened today. I was elected President for 2021 of the Escondido Republican Women Federated, and the team was sworn in by Congressman Darrell Issa
Meanwhile, the general manager of the Valley Center Parks and Recreation District said the board is looking forward to Roberts, whom she knows from local events, and her service.
“The main reasons for VCPRD seeking county takeover is to better serve our community with the expanded financial resources the county has,” said Darcy LaHaye, the GM. “Valley Center Parks and Recreation lacked the funds necessary to build and maintain new and existing parks.”
But Roberts is dismayed that the Valley Center fire district’s Measure AA, a property tax hike proposal on the Nov. 3 ballot to build and staff a third fire station, didn’t reach the needed two-thirds approval. (It had 56.6% yes votes as of Tuesday.)
Roberts, who was “absolutely for AA,” said she was too late to persuade the county Republican Party not to oppose it. County GOP Chair Tony Krvaric had “already turned in all the ballot positions,” she said. “It was like people, people, people.”
The new fire board member declined to discuss the hot potato of the presidential election but confirmed she wouldn’t use the post as a steppingstone to higher office.
“I’m getting old enough that I want to start having fun with my life,” she said. “It’s not a steppingstone. It’s a service thing.”
Would she rather be in the California Assembly?
“Yeah, sure,” she said. “But in terms of representing people and doing something for the community, local government is a lot more important than the big government.”
She also volunteered: “Would I be a better governor that Gavin Newsom? Well, I think Pee-wee Herman would be a better governor.”
Updated at 10:28 p.m. Nov. 18, 2020
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