Julie Lemieux made history twice last week. After winning 48 percent of the vote in the Très-Saint-Rédempteur mayoral election, she became the small Quebec town’s first-ever female mayor. Lemieux is also the first transgender woman elected to office in Canada.
Très-Saint-Rédempteur recorded record turnout in the Nov. 5 vote, in which 70 percent of the town’s 946 residents cast a ballot. Lemieux nabbed 235 of those votes, while her opponents earned about half of that total. Longtime resident Louise Blais tallied 141 votes, while 113 people voted for Jean Lalonde, the incumbent mayor.
Lemieux, who began transitioning 16 years ago, tells the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that her gender identity is an “open secret” in the conservative village, which is situated between Montreal and Ottawa.
Although her opponents attempted to make an issue of Lemieux being transgender, the 45-year-old says it barely factored into the race. Lemieux, who was elected to the municipality’s city council in 2013, won because she was the best person for the job. She ran a highly popular campaign based on allowing residents to have chickens in their backyards.
Supporters even tied signs around their chickens’ necks saying, “Vote Julie Lemieux!”
“Her orientation doesn’t change anything for me,” Très-Saint-Rédempteur resident Chantal Brault tells the CBC. “We don’t look at that, we look at her skills.”
Lemieux claims that she was elected “to incarnate change.”
“People needed renewal in the village,” she says in an interview with the CBC. “It’s really a place and a village that is bold and innovative. We’re writing history, and I have a lot to offer.”
Her groundbreaking election followed a number of near-misses for transgender candidates in Canada. The same year that Kael McKenzie became the country’s first openly trans judge, Jennifer McCreath of St. John’s ran in Newfoundland’s 2015 federal elections. She was not voted into office. Morgane Oger, a 2016 candidate for the British Columbia legislature, lost by a few hundred votes.
The CBC notes that Lemieux’s history-making win was somewhat overshadowed by the election of Montreal’s first female mayor, Valérie Plante, but the result coincided with a number of landmark victories for LGBTQ candidates.
In the United States, Virginia’s Danica Roem became the first-ever openly transgender woman elected to a state legislature, defeating Republican Bob Marshall on Nov. 7. Minnesota tabbed two black trans candidates to the Minneapolis City Council (Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham), and at least five more transgender politicians were elected to office. The number of trans elected officials in the U.S. doubled overnight.
Lemieux tells the CBC she’s glad to see this wave of change come to Très-Saint-Rédempteur, which isn’t traditionally seen as the kind of place where history is made. The town is most widely known for a massive Catholic cathedral that sits in the center of town.
“It shows something we don’t necessarily see in the media: in the villages, too, there is acceptance and social openness,” Lemieux says.