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Meet Utah’s first transgender candidate for US Senate

Democratic candidate Misty Snow is progressive, transgender and, she says, increasingly representative of Utah.


Even in Utah’s most liberal county, growing up with the knowledge that you were born the wrong gender wasn’t easy, says Misty Snow — especially not in a working class Mormon family in the 1990s. Snow says she had so little family and community support in her decision to become a woman that she waited until her late 20s to make the change. 

Today, the 30-year-old Democratic nominee for United States Senate has won both her mother’s approval and that of a majority of Utah Democrats. (She beat conservative Democrat Jonathan Swinton in the June primary, 59 to 41 percent.) In fact, her difficult path may have even helped: she knows what it’s like to fight for people’s acceptance, and she hopes to put that skill to use on the campaign trail against incumbent Republican Sen. Mike Lee in November. 

Though Snow’s chances of victory are slim — Utah voters haven’t sent a Democrat to the Senate since 1970 her candidacy may reflect a changing attitude toward LGBT rights in Utah and other conservative strongholds. Salt Lake City elected its first openly gay mayor in 2015, while another transgender candidate, Misty Plowright, won the Democratic primary in Colorado Springs, one of Colorado’s reddest districts. And after the Orlando shootings, Utah’s Republican lieutenant governor Spencer Cox implored constituents to “love someone that is different than us … starting with someone who is gay.”

High Country News spoke with Snow to learn more about her candidacy.

Misty Snow, left, with supporters on primary night.
Pamela Ann Berry

High Country News: Can you tell me about your decision to run for U.S. Senate?

Misty Snow: I decided in February. I was really kind of turned off by the other Democrat who was running. I felt like he was wrong on a lot of issues I cared about, and I didn't want him to get the nomination without being challenged. I was also motivated by the fact that Bernie Sanders had just won a big victory in the New Hampshire Democratic primary.

I've never run for office before, and I didn’t know anyone who had. I didn’t have much money. But I kind of had this feeling that I’ve got to do this. Even though it seems crazy, I just decided to run. And now I’ve won the primary and am the Democratic nominee. 

HCN: Do you see an analogy between your personal journey and what’s happening around the country with the gradual mainstream acceptance of LGBT people? 

Snow: The fact that there’s more acceptance for the LGBT community probably helped me win the primary. Twenty years ago, I don't think I would've been able to do it. But today, Utah has more millennials per capita than any other state; the average age is 30 years old. The demographics of Utah are changing. Wherever you look, millennials are generally more liberal than older generations, and that’s true of Utah millennials, too. 

HCN: Does it ever feel like your identity as a transgender woman has overshadowed the political platform you’re standing on? 

Snow: Yes and no. A lot of local newscasters care more about policy, but on the national news they want to talk more about me being transgender. But that’s fine: if I wasn't transgender I probably wouldn’t be on the national news, and the fact that I've made national news has been good for fundraising. Most of my donations are small, around $30, and are actually coming outside the state of Utah. 

I think a lot of people around the country are realizing that a senator from Utah has the same impact on their lives as a senator from Vermont, or a senator from anywhere else, and the more progressives we can elect the better. It’s kind of that Bernie Sanders donation network happening, which is good because I need those resources to win. 

HCN: Speaking of your political platform, what are three things you’d fight for as a United States Senator from Utah? 

Snow: I’ve been talking a lot about raising the minimum wage. It’s actually a popular position, because a lot of people, 51 percent, make $30,000 or less a year. They’re barely scraping by. I think we could probably raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next two years. 

Another issue is clean energy. We need to invest in clean energy like solar and wind. Utah cities have some of the worst air quality in the country, and there’s really a desire to clean it up. People may not believe in climate change here, but they do believe in cleaner air.

The other issue I talk about is improved access to health care and the need for paid maternity leave. Utah has the nation’s highest birthrate — that’s why we’re such a young state — and a lot of voters really care about their families and children. So that resonates with people. 

HCN: You’ve said that even if you lose, you’ll have made a difference. Can you explain what you mean by that? 

Snow: People are really inspired by my run. I've had people say that they want to run because I am, like a trans woman who wants to run for the House of Representatives in 2018. I’m a voice that’s currently unrepresented in Congress, and I’m hoping to change that. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. Krista Langlois is a correspondent at High Country News.