by Diandra Loux
This week I caught up with Brianna Westbrook, Democratic Congressional Candidate for Arizona’s District 8. You may be familiar with her now-former opponent, Trent Franks, who just recently resigned after it was revealed that he harassed multiple female employees, even offering one staffer millions of dollars to be his surrogate.
The Democratic Party hasn’t run a congressional candidate in this district for the past two election cycles, but Brianna Westbrook is treating this like any other challenge she’s faced through life – with complete and total bravery. If Brianna wins, she will be the first openly transgender person to ever serve in Congress.
Brianna grew up in a life of poverty. Her mother battled with addiction. At age nine, her family hit rock bottom and were forced to live out of their car. Brianna remembers her mom relapsing and leaving her alone with her siblings for five straight days. Both her grandmother and great-grandparents found out and stepped in to help. After spending two years with her great-grandparents, Brianna’s mom got clean. Brianna and her siblings moved back in with their mother. The only problem was that her stepfather was abusive. Brianna told her mom to choose him or her children, but her mother chose him, so Brianna moved out when she was just sixteen years old.
She got a job shoveling asphalt to make ends meet. After getting laid off, Brianna started to pick up other jobs to pay the bills. When Brianna was 21, her mother relapsed again, so Brianna took in her siblings. They all moved to Arizona, where she resides today. She got a job at a local Honda dealership and has been there for 12 years now.
Brianna was a Bernie supporter and loved the way he got youth involved in his campaign. When she watched Donald Trump nominate Mike Pence as his running mate, she knew she’d experience a war against the LGBT community.
When Trump won, I was like a lot of Americans. The day after was full of sadness and I thought: “What can I do?” One of my colleagues said: “There’s nothing you can do about it, ya just gotta live in it.” That’s the last thing to tell me. I started looking at races and speaking to candidates. I looked at other races and came back to this one. I saw there were no Democratic opponents for the last two election cycles. So, I said: “This is my opportunity.” I can take a bold jump and run for the Democratic Party, making the biggest message possible. The most symbolic message. I told myself this is my opportunity.
What most people may not know is that Brianna documented her entire transition on YouTube and used it as her support system. At 26, she came out to her loved ones. At 27, Brianna came out to the world. “I’m a visionary. I’ve been through hardships my entire life. I think so far ahead that I know what I want to do way ahead of time.” Brianna set a goal to be done transitioning by the age of 30. She said she would set up goals for herself every six months, from shredding weight to start hormones. “I saw where I wanted to be and just went for it”.
Brianna’s official campaign video states that she’s “running for what she can give, not what she can take.” She’s not running for money, or to load her campaign re-election treasure chest. She’s running to be an active and powerful voice that helps all people and all neighborhoods.
I’m running for the family that’s five days behind on electric bill. I will be a voice to that family whose struggling and create policies that help those who feel like their voice doesn’t matter.
Brianna knows what this is like because well, she’s lived it.
Medicare-for-all is the only healthcare system Brianna Westbrook believes we should have. Her view is that healthcare should be seen as service, not a for-profit business, and the only way we’re going to get there is by electing people who support Medicare-for-all openly.
Raising the minimum wage and offering affordable college tuition are also top priorities for Brianna. “I believe when we increase the minimum wage, we’ll see growth. People can get ahead. They can do things with their families and put money into the economy. Right now, they don’t have it. I feel it would strengthen the infrastructure of our democracy. Free college tuition for community colleges would give us a more educated workforce and more community leaders. Innovation and new careers are started when people are educated.”
Brianna said that the amount of volunteers that have stepped up to help her campaign shows that the people are empowered. She has been endorsed by both Justice Democrats, which aims to elect everyday Americans who pledge not to take any corporate PAC or lobbyist money, and Run with Pride, an organization that believes everyone should have the same opportunities to run for public office regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. Brianna is also the first candidate to be with Candidates with a Contract and she takes a great amount of pride in that. “The group came to me and proposed that if I’m going to be elected, there are certain things I should do to restore democracy to it’s greatest potential. I will fight for things like campaign finance reform, publicly funded elections, and to overturn Citizens United.”
She is passionate about bringing this country back to where it was intended to go and stressed that the only way this can be done is by electing people who know the struggle. “We must elect working-class Americans that can roll up their sleeves and get to work. We know how to do it because we’re working to stay alive and we’re working to get by.”