Trans Assembly Hopeful Says All Politics Are Local

Kristen Browde, an attorney and longtime civic activist, hopes to make history by becoming the first out transgender member of the State Legislature, representing Westchester County in the Legislature.
COURTESY OF KRISTEN BROWDE

Kristen Browde’s 16-year-old son returned home from school one day recently after yet another mandatory lockdown drill — and it was at that moment she decided she’d had enough.

Browde, an out transgender attorney who launched her own firm specializing in family law and divorce, has opted to channel her frustration about gun control and other pressing issues into a run this year for an open seat to replace Assemblymember David Buchwald in the 93rd District, which encompasses a large swath of Westchester County stretching up to North Salem and down to Harrison. (Buchwald, in turn, is seeking an open congressional seat.)

“It occurred to me that these kids are growing up in an era in which they’re worrying about whether they would be next,” Browde said in an interview with Gay City News. “It is still easier in the State of New York to get a high-powered weapon than it is to buy a pack of Sudafed — and that’s just wrong. I looked around and said, ‘Okay, this is an opportunity to do what I’ve been doing for years.’”

Browde spent decades as a TV journalist before shifting into a career in law, but she has led on numerous issues on the New York political landscape. She sat front and center alongside Governor Andrew Cuomo last year during the last-minute full-court press to pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which was enacted, and gestational surrogacy rights, which fell short, and serves in key leadership posts as the board president of the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York and co-chair of the National Trans Bar Association, among numerous other positions.

But Browde has also established a name for herself in her local community: She is currently on the Chappaqua Central School District’s Financial Advisory Committee and she served on the Ethics Board of the Town of New Castle, a Westchester municipality that includes the hamlet of Chappaqua. In 2017, she sought to play a more direct role in politics with an unsuccessful run for New Castle town supervisor. This week, New Castle’s Democratic Committee unanimously endorsed her.

Browde is now preparing to take another shot at wooing voters with a clear message about the issues she believes are most important to the 93rd Assembly District. That will likely mean a campaign focused less on LGBTQ issues and more on pushing to lower property taxes in Westchester and addressing the New York GOP’s history of gerrymandering election districts.

“The reality is that in my district, the LGBT population is not like New York City,” Browde said. “It’s small. Local issues are going to drive things, even though I’m totally behind the effort to legalize surrogacy and make sure people aren’t arrested for walking down the street for not fitting some stereotypical view of what someone of their gender might look like.”

Browde, referring there to the movement to repeal the “walking while trans” loitering law that is known to target transgender women of color, stressed that she is a strong supporter of comprehensive sex work decriminalization, meaning she would back decriminalization for buyers and those who help sex workers facilitate their trade along with the sex workers themselves. Among other important measures impacting queer New Yorkers, Browde said she would co-sponsor the New York Health Act, which would bring a single-payer healthcare system to the state, and is supportive of legislative efforts to curtail solitary confinement. Layleen Xtravaganza Cubilette-Polanco, a transgender inmate at Rikers Island, died while in “restrictive housing” last June.

If elected, Browde would make history as the first transgender member of the State Legislature — but that isn’t necessarily at the front of her mind when she thinks about her candidacy.

Rather, she believes she could capitalize on the fact that she is the lone woman in a Democratic primary race featuring as many as five candidates.

“I’m the only woman in the race and this helps in a Democratic primary where 61 percent of voters have been women,” Browde explained. “I don’t think women just vote for women because they are women, but I think women vote for women who work on the issues. Washington is chipping away at the constitutional rights of women. Having a woman go to Albany and fight for those rights is very important for Westchester County.”

Among Browde’s work on women’s issues is her role on the steering committee of the New York State Council on Women and Girls, a post she was appointed to by Cuomo.

With just over five months until the Democratic primary election, Browde is laying the groundwork for her campaign. She will hold a fundraising launch party alongside State Senator Alessandra Biaggi of the Bronx and Westchester on January 19 at the home of attorney James Hyer in Mahopac.

Browde said she developed a deep appreciation for Biaggi when the lawmaker dedicated her vote on GENDA to her last year.

“Biaggi is an amazing state senator, a real progressive leader, and I’m delighted to have her support and endorsement,” Browde said. “She’s already made a huge difference in the way Albany operates. Her work on sexual harassment is so long overdue.”

Browde plans to continue building support for her campaign as the election draws closer. But even at this early stage in the race, she is confident she has what it takes to lead a successful bid into the June primary and show voters that she is the one best positioned to advocate on behalf of the district.

“Washington isn’t going to help New Yorkers,” she said. “We have to do it ourselves. I’m the one who has been up in Albany, who has been working on legislation, who is ready to go. I’ve brokered relationships with everyone from the governor to the majority leaders to county executives to legislative leaders. Those relationships can be harnessed to build a coalition.”

More from Around NYC

>