Reilly O’Neill, Senior Editor
The windows of the Park Street Starbucks we are sitting in have fogged up around us, and the sun has been long gone. Sitting across from me is Representative Raven Matherne, a newly elected member of the Stamford Board of Representatives and the first transgender adult I’ve ever had the opportunity to have a proper conversation with. She is also the first transgender lawmaker elected in Connecticut.
After reading about LGBT+ pioneers online for years, and having recently published an open letter to my personal queer heroes, to sit across from one in a Starbucks and talk about our experiences as well as her hopes for making real change in Stamford was surreal. During the early stages of my own realizations about my gender identity, I never thought I would see someone like me visible out in politics, yet this year, there have been five elected in various places across the country.
Self-identifying as a non-binary trans woman, Rep. Matherne began her involvement in Stamford politics through participation with Reform Stamford, a branch off of Stamford Democrats which sought to bring change by having more representation in local government of “average people” rather than established politicians.
According to Reform Stamford’s website, it is a “ group of passionate Stamford residents in districts 1, 2, 4, 8, 12, 17, 18, and 19 who are running for Board of Reps to fix our city.” Rep. Matherne focused in on the issue of rising taxes. “My district only recently got recycling. We really don’t receive services and, yet the taxes are continuing to go up and up,” she said.
Raven is also concerned with the growing city population being left without the services and space to take care of them. “For a city of 129,00 people at any given time there are only two emergency dispatchers working for each department. An outsider coming into the city would look up and say ‘look at all these beautiful buildings they must be doing well’, but the reality is the infrastructure is crumbling,” she said.
Before beginning her work with local government, Rep. Matherne was a martial arts instructor, but left amicably because of a conflict after coming out. “I was at a place financially where I knew if I had to walk away from my job, I could and would be okay financially for awhile, and that gave me an opportunity to focus on my campaign,” she said.
Rep. Matherne was one of a few very young candidates on the ballot this year and continues to work to catch up to where her more experienced counterparts are. “As [one of]the newest, I am desperately trying to study-up, I’m up until 2 am every night studying so I’m not seen as the newbie,” she said.
Rep. Matherne discussed the volunteer positions under the Board of Representatives and how she can take advantage of it’s unique operations in order to bring change to Stamford.. “Something that the board has theoretically is the ability to pass ordinances without the mayor having much to do with it. It’s different from a lot of local governments in that it can act without the guidance of the mayor,” she said. “There’s a lot more freedom for the board of reps to make actual change,” she said.
Having only recently begun her transition, Raven was unsure of how people, especially her neighbors and friends, would respond to the new changes in her life. A major part of her campaign was spent going door-to-door and introducing herself to neighbors who had known her by a different name for most of her life. “There were people who didn’t know and didn’t care, that was the majority of them, which made things easier,” Ms. Matherne said. “I had about a week long streak going where at least once a day I got asked inappropriate questions about my body,” she said.
Raven also pointed out that campaigning as a transgender woman had some unique challenges motivating her to face them head-on. “I had lots and lots of fears about being out while campaigning, but I kind of thought of those fears as a reason to do it,” she said.
On making goals and achieving them, she stated, “I think all your goals should be bigger than you think you can achieve, otherwise what’s the point? I really do think anyone can do anything. You just have to get to the first step, that first step is the hardest.”
Raven Matherne was sworn in on December 4, 2017.