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LISTEN: Meet Rebecca Blankenship, Kentucky’s first openly trans person elected to public office

 Rebecca Blankenship has her hand on a book, the other hand raised in the air. She is being sworn in as the new member on the Berea Independent School District Board.
Rebecca Blankenship being sworn in as the new member on the Berea Independent School District Board.

Rebecca Blankenship is the first openly transgender person ever elected to public office in Kentucky. She was sworn in as a member of the Berea Independent School District's board of education in January.

Blankenship ran for the position as a write-in candidate after no one else signed up for the job. She says she saw it as a way to improve the schools her children attend.

Before that, she was elected by delegates to the State Central Executive Committee of the Kentucky Democratic Party’s and worked with Ban Conversion Therapy Kentucky, a group that advocates for statewide ban on a scientifically discredited practice commonly called “conversion therapy.”

Blankenship says the top of her priority list for the Berea school district includes pay raises for teachers, energy efficient classrooms and improving vocational education.

Capitol Reporter Divya Karthikeyan sat down with her to talk about what the win means for young people in her community and priorities for the school district.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

KARTHIKEYAN: Thank you so much for joining me, Rebecca. Tell me about why you decided to run for this position and how you went about that.

BLANKENSHIP: I have been involved in politics for a long time. I am active in my local County Democratic Party. And when I noticed that only two candidates had filed for the three seats on the school board, I immediately started trying to recruit somebody else to run for that third seat. And I asked a few people, and they said that they would do it, but then they all didn't, you know, one after another. And so finally, I said I'm just gonna do it. And I did that because my children are students at the Berea community schools. And I felt it was really important that they have a good responsible school board.

KARTHIKEYAN: How have young people and children in your school district and community really responded to your candidacy and your win?

BLANKENSHIP: When I won, there was even more excitement. Because not only had we shown that a trans person could step out and into a position of leadership, but that that didn't have to be the center of everything about me.

Something that surprises a lot of people, when I talk about my race, is that, in my little bitty town of about 13,000 people, which is a pretty conservative town, nobody bothered me about my trans identity, very much at all. There's kind of the usual suspect hate groups that wrote mean things online. But in my interactions with people, we were also focused on what we need to do to make the school board serve our students and parents and teachers.

KARTHIKEYAN: What are the goals and priorities that you've outlined that the Berea School District Board is focusing on?

BLANKENSHIP: We just moved forward with an energy savings plan that's going to result in renovations including the addition of solar panels and installation. Things that I'm focused on are making sure that we can get to an even higher level of pay raises for teachers. I think it's sad that we haven't received state funding that would enable us to keep up on improving vocational education. There's some good things happening in collaboration with the county schools. So opportunities for our kids are increasing. We need to stay the course and double down.

KARTHIKEYAN: Why do you think it's important for Kentucky's electorate to see LGBTQ individuals in policy making positions of all kinds?”

BLANKENSHIP: It becomes easier to fix bad policy when people have all kinds of identities and can imagine themselves as part of that work. So I hope that my example in this election shows LGBT kids across the Commonwealth that they can have any kind of future that they want to have. The Kentucky that includes LGBT people in roles of leadership is a Kentucky that is better for all Kentuckians, not just LGBT people.

KARTHIKEYAN: Thank you so much for your time, Rebecca.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.

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