Election LGBTQ

First Openly Transgender Official Wins City Council Seat in West Virginia

Tuesday was Election Day in West Virginia and Rosemary Ketchum, a community organizer and activist, was among those elected to office. Ketchum will represent Wheeling, West Virginia’s Third Ward in the Wheeling City Council and has made history by becoming West Virginia’s first openly transgender elected official.

Ketchum announced her candidacy for Wheeling City Council last July, and was endorsed by the LGBTQ Victory Fund, a political action committee that seeks to enhance the representation of LGBTQ+ individuals in American politics. A resident of Wheeling, Ketchum graduated from Wheeling Jesuit University as a first generation college student in 2019. Since graduating, Ketchum has been a community organizer and works for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, serving as the associate director of the organization’s Wheeling, West Virginia branch. Ketchum also works with the Wheeling Human Rights Commission and serves on the board of directors for the ACLU of West Virginia.

When Ketchum announced her candidacy, she vowed to address issues that uniquely affect Wheeling, including homelessness and addiction, if elected. Recognizing the city’s potential as well as the issues that may inhibit progress, as a candidate, Ketchum expressed her commitment to working alongside community members to achieve positive change.

Ketchum is an openly transgender woman and will be the first openly transgender person elected to public office in West Virginia. Among elected officials in the state, just four identify as being LGBTQ+. Moreover, according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, there are currently just 26 other openly transgender elected officials nationwide.

As a candidate, Ketchum acknowledged the historic nature of her run and potential victory, but suggested that while her gender identity is one trait that shapes her perspective and priorities, it is not the only strength she will bring to West Virginia politics. In 2019, Ketchum told reporters, “I feel excited to represent inclusivity — but I’m not making my campaign about my gender identity or anything like that.”

Others, including Annise Parker, the president of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, have also spoken about the symbolic significance of Ketchum’s candidacy and victory. Parker said, “Trans people are severely underrepresented in elected office … so Rosemary’s victory will resonate well beyond her state. We know Rosemary’s race will inspire other trans people … to consider a run for office in their communities.”

Ketchum defeated three other candidates, including Peggy Niebergall, Jerome Henry, and Erik Maple, and will begin her term on the Wheeling City Council on July 1, 2020.

Sources: The Intelligencer 6/9/20, 7/13/19, 6/10/20; Huffington Post 6/10/20; LGBTQ Victory Fund 6/10/20; Ketchum for Council