Minnesota’s first transgender lawmaker has been named one of USA Today’s “Women of the Year.”
State Rep. Leigh Finke was honored alongside the likes of former First Lady Michelle Obama, actress Goldie Hawn and NASA astronaut Col. Nicole Mann as a select group of “local and national heroines who make a positive impact in their communities every day.”
Finke — who transitioned in 2017 — is the second transgender woman to make the list, following last year’s selection of President Biden’s Assistant Secretary of Health, Rachel Levine.
She admitted Wednesday that “the hate has increased exponentially” after her controversial selection, with critics calling her spot on the list “an arrogant attack on women.”
She also linked to a discussion on Fox News’ “Outnumbered,” with Emily Compagno saying her “placement took away from other women.”
The main criticism, however, was that she got the honor despite having only been elected in November, meaning she didn’t get it through “her merits,” as Harris Faulkner put it.
Still, Finke said she has “received incredible support, love, and encouragement to continue the important work we are doing in Minnesota.”
She tweeted a video of state House Majority Leader Jamie Long leading applause while calling Finke “a treasure to the state of Minnesota” who “deserves every recognition she gets.”
As for critics, “do not worry about their words,” Finke told her nearly 6,500 followers. “We are fighting for good, and it shows.”
Despite only recently being elected — and never expecting to run for office — Finke “has been an activist for transgender and LGBTQ+ rights, as well as Black Lives Matter, almost her whole life,” USA Today maintained in its local profile of her.
That hit “a lot closer to home” after her transition, the paper said, saying “national and coordinated attacks against the rights of transgender people and others in her community motivated her to be the representation Minnesota was lacking.”
“In November … Finke became the first transgender legislator appointed to the Minnesota House of Representatives after winning 81% of the vote in her district,” the profile noted.
“I know what it means to want to find someone in office who is like you,” Finke told the paper.
“I want to do many things across many issues, but at the end of the day, the reason I’m here is because nobody who’s trans has ever been here before.”
In her new role, she mostly hears from “parents of trans children” because “gender-diverse families sometimes don’t understand exactly what it means for their trans child to be an adult,” she said.
“And I’m happy to provide that. I’m happy and joyful and well-loved and excited.”
Trans people “just live our lives and win elections and do the same things everyone else does,” she said of having “a pretty optimistic future for the trans community.”
“I think it’s going to be actually very difficult for a little while, very difficult,” she predicted of “the road to our own liberation.”
“There’s going to be pushback against that, but I think that we will be victorious, we will see a future in which trans people are living fully and hopefully without fear,” she said.
“It’s going to take some work to get there. But when I think about that future I overcome my adversity.”
Finke believes that “the trans and LGBTQ community” is “on the leading edge” of “how we want the future to look for everyone.”
“We are here creating a path forward for everyone, and everyone will benefit from the work that we’re trying to do for our young people,” she said.
“Everyone will benefit from it and it’s worth committing yourself to.”