The U.S. has elected its first openly intersex public official amidst historic wins for LGBTQ candidates in the 2017 elections.
Betsy Driver was one of two people elected to the Borough Council in Flemington, N.J. on Tuesday, the top vote-getter of the candidates who ran for the six-person board. Driver, a former segment producer for CBS News, nabbed nearly 25 percent of overall votes cast in the local race. She bested the other candidate voted in this week, Michael Harris, by a five-percent margin.
Local reports claim that Driver earned more votes than any other city council hopeful in history.
Driver and Harris, who ran respectively as a Democrat and an Independent, beat out the Republican incumbents, Brian Swingle and Kim Tilly. The candidates ran on a message of transparency in town governance, as well as campaigning to restore the Union Hotel, a historic landmark which has fallen into disrepair.
The 53-year-old claims that her decisive victory makes her only the second person in the world elected to office while being open about their intersex identity. The first is Australian politician Tony Briffa. Briffa served as mayor of Hobsons Bay from 2011 to 2012.
A longtime advocate, Driver created Bodies Like Ours in 2001, an online support group for intersex people, born with both male and female sex characteristics. Three years later she cofounded Intersex Awareness Day with Emi Koyama. Observed on Oct. 26, the yearly event seeks to highlight issues that intersex people face around the world. The day of observance is recognized by both the U.S. State Department and the United Nations.
“My intersex advocacy is something I am very proud of,” Driver tells TAPinto, a New Jersey website focusing on local news. “Whenever possible, I enjoy educating people about what it isa congenital difference in sex characteristics.”
Born in Buffalo, N.Y. in 1964, doctors were initially unable to determine Driver’s gender. After discovering that the newborn had ovaries and a uterus, she was subjected to clitoral surgery, a process that intersex advocates say amounts to severe genital mutilation. Driver had difficulty dating and didn’t begin to pursue romantic relationships until her 20s.
“It was body image, fear of rejection and not being able to explain why I was different,” she toldtheNew York Timesin a 2004 interview. “Now, because I can explain, it’s no big deal.”
Driver, who identifies as a lesbian, currently lives with her wife and two children.
The soon-to-be city councillor was one of more than 37 queer, transgender, or intersex candidates elected to office on Tuesday, including Washington’s Jenny Durkan and Virginia’s Danica Roem. Durkan will become Seattle’s first lesbian mayor after being sworn in, while Roem is set to be the first transgender state representative in U.S. history.
Minneapolis elected two trans people of color to its city council: Andrea Jenkins and Phillipe Cunningham.
Driver hopes to use her new position to advocate for intersex people, who comprise between .2 percent up to 1.7 percent of the world’s population. But Driver also stresses that it’s the issues she ran on that got her elected, not her identity.
“The people have spoken,” Driver says. “I think a mandate regarding the future of downtown Flemington has been issued by the residents.”