Deja Alvarez May Be the First Trans Latina Ever Elected to a State Legislature in U.S. History

Meet Deja Alvarez, Would Be First Trans Latina Ever Elected to a State Legislature in U.S. History BELatina News
Photo courtesy of Philadephia Gay News

As we lead life two years after the height of the pandemic, it’s becoming inevitable to restructure unjust systems that don’t serve everyone. 

It’s a phenomenon, if I may. 

From the Great Resignation to the valid demands many are making for the betterment of their livelihoods, things are, undeniably, shifting. 

The political arena changes as well

Though there is a vast roster of politicians, many of them feel as though they’ve been cut from the same, poorly sewn cloth. 

However, new leaders are stepping to the plate and ready to steer the nation into new horizons. Deja Lynn Alvarez (D), for instance, is one of these new politicians ready to lead in the forthcoming change — and one where representation will be at the forefront. 

BELatina recently had a powerful conversation with her about her campaign and why these upcoming elections need to be taken seriously. 

Alvarez is running for a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives District 182. If elected, she’d become the nation’s first openly transgender Latina state legislator. 

Representative Brian Sims (D) currently holds the seat. In 2012, he became Pennsylvania’s first openly gay legislator.

The urgency of a voice like Deja Lynn Alvarez’s

Speaking up for what she believes in has been part of Deja Lynn Alvarez’s core. She is an award-winning advocate and activist who have used her voice to amplify the issues of LGBTQIA+ communities in Philadelphia. Even as she campaigns, she continues to represent and advocate for underserved populations, including the Latine community. 

“But just because I am fighting to represent Latinas and represent trans people and represent women doesn’t mean that those are the only three things I fight for,” the advocate turn politician tells us. 

“I recognize that when elected, my job is to represent the people as a whole.”

She currently works in Public Health and Politics, is the Director of Community Engagement for World Healthcare Infrastructures, and is the LGBTQ Care Coordinator for the Department of Public Health.

Bringing about change, step by step

Did you notice how she’s working three jobs and campaigning all at the same time? Like many residents of Pennsylvania, Deja Alvarez, too, must hold multiple jobs to make ends meet. And this is one of the issues she’d be tackling if elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

“I, like many others, could no longer afford to live in Center City because of the gentrification — because of the way that prices are going up and the new buildings are going up.”

“So, Center City, which is the district that I’m running in, at some point, got too expensive for me to live in. Once I started working three jobs, I could afford to move back into Center City. And then I ended up running for this office.”

Though the housing crisis affects everyone in the nation, paying attention to it on a state-by-state basis is critical to finding a solution. Alvarez understands that small steps gain traction in the long run. 

Deja Alvarez’s resilience is probably one of her defining characteristics. Joining politics was not always in her plans. But she endured some life experiences that led her to it. 

“I’ve gone through a lot. I’ve had to survive on these streets. I’ve had to do survival sex work on these streets. I’ve had to deal with abuse from authorities and governmental agencies and neglect and discrimination in health care — all of these things that are the key topics that all the politicians are fighting over right now.”

Her lived experiences have fueled her motivation to run for public office. 

Though she doesn’t downplay the gravity of her past circumstances, Deja Alvarez knows that there’s plenty of weight in working alongside entities who haven’t always been kind to her and her communities. This has created some backlash from even the same people who are supposed to support her in terms of political party affiliation. 

“As Democrats, our biggest issue is that we can’t come together. We’re so busy nitpicking with each other that we don’t get to the core issues because we’re over here fighting with each other. Instead, the Republicans are over here making all their plans and getting everything accomplished that they want to get accomplished.”

Alvarez is working with the police force to create a space where the district’s residents feel safe and protected simultaneously. 

“I’ve been criticized a lot by the extreme left. ‘Oh, she’s aligned with the police,’ [they say]. I’m not aligned with the police. Let’s make very clear here.”

“I’ve put myself in the spaces with people that used to be my abuser to help make a change. And the change that I have helped make is documented. It’s proven it’s all out there.”

In fact, her advocacy began shortly after the first moment of change she was able to drive.

Why representation matters 

In the early 2000s, Alvarez had the police department agree — after being constantly beaten up, harassed, discriminated against, and falsely arrested on a regular basis — to do sensitivity training. She now continues to work with the police force on sensitivity training for the LGBTQIA+ community.

“After years of that [abuse and harassment for being trans], I pushed back. I fought back. I stood up. I went and filed a lawsuit against the city. I won that lawsuit.”

“The reason you haven’t got your ass beat by the police just for walking down the street is because people like me fought for it.”

As the primaries approach, the award-winning advocate wants to remind everyone that everyone is qualified to run for office. 

“We take our own seats at those tables. We make sure it is us that are there when legislation is being created and discussed and debated and argued about and fought for – about us. We need to be in those spaces.”

Representation truly matters. It is not just the hot phrase of the moment. It is what is needed. 

If Deja Alvarez is elected as a state legislator — the first trans-Latina —the gap in representation in politics will inch closer to subsiding. 

When I asked her if she had any words of encouragement, she left us with the following:

“No matter what our experience is, no matter how hard our life has been, if we battled with addiction, if we battled with homelessness, if we had kids at a young age –  that doesn’t mean that we don’t belong in the places where legislation that is created about us.”

“It doesn’t mean that we don’t belong there. We do belong there. Those experiences make you stronger, more powerful, more empathetic, more compassionate, and more knowledgeable about what’s actually needed.”

Pennsylvania’s primaries are on May 17th, 2022.