Meet Elisa Crespo, the Trans Latina Who Wants to Revolutionize the New York City Council

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After Ritchie Torres became the first gay Afro-Latino representative in Congress, the seat for New York’s 15th District City Council was open for anyone who wanted to take the lead in the brewing change. For Elisa Crespo, this was the opportunity of a lifetime.

If she won, Crespo would be the first openly transgender legislator elected in New York City and statewide and the first former sex worker to hold public office — as far as we know.

And her story is that of so many other leaders of the new generation of American politicians who, tired of the lack of representation, want to change the rules of the game.

“I’m a product of the very same public institutions we must reform, from public schools to public housing,” Elisa Crespo says in her campaign statement. “I have experienced the social disparities that exist in New York City firsthand. I was raised by a hard-working, single Latina mother who relied on Section 8 to keep a roof over my head and food on our table despite her best efforts.”

It was through the harrowing life experiences Crespo and her family endured that her calling for social organizing emerged like a plank of wood lost at sea and led her to survive to make a difference in the lives of others.

“My love for public service motivated me to pursue a quality education. I attended John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where I also served as an elected student activist, sitting on various university-wide committees within the City University of New York (CUNY). I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science with a focus in Human Rights,” she explains.

Crespo is an advocate and activist. She has fought for affordability and accessibility to the public higher education system in New York, promoting civic engagement and voter awareness. Her mission is to continue to represent union labor and the LGBTQ+ community as a public servant.

Now, Elisa Crespo wants to represent the 15th District in the heart of the Bronx, which includes Belmont, Fordham, Tremont, Mount Hope, Allerton, Olinville, Van Nest, West Farms, and Bedford Park.

Like that of so many other young political leaders, her inspiration has been the political revolution that emerged during the dark Trump Era.

“I was one of the young people who was inspired by people like Bernie Sanders and (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). 2015, going into 2016, was a life-changing year for many of us,” she told City & State. “And I was very concerned with the direction that our country was going in, concerned with some of the statistics of the Bronx.”

Concerned about her “unconventional” story, Elisa Crespo owned her own narrative and understood that the reasons she feared many would not support her are, in fact, the reason so many need her presence on the City Council.

After acknowledging her transgender identity at age 15, Crespo began her transition. But as is often the case for women of color members of the LGBTQ+ community, life wasn’t fair.

“We had to really hustle to survive, to take care of ourselves, and to fulfill our transitions. Most of the trans women that I was growing up around, that I was hanging out with, were engaged in sex work, and had convinced me that that was what I should be doing,” she continued. “They were my role models, and we didn’t have trans women of color on TV or running for office. So that’s what I thought I was supposed to be doing, right?”

That’s when she decided to turn her weaknesses into strengths and be transparent about her story.

“These are things that made me think, ‘Is the Bronx ready for me, is the Bronx ready for my story?’ Ultimately I figured out that there are a lot of people just like me in the Bronx.”

Despite the muckraking with which the media has treated her story — calling her an “ex-prostitute” and focusing on the wrong side of her trajectory — Elisa Crespo is determined to defend one of the poorest and most impacted boroughs by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Bronx has one of the highest unemployment rates,” she said. “Some parts of my district have unemployment rates of up to 20 percent,” a problem the private sector cannot handle on its own, Crespo told NBC News.

If elected, Crespo wants to chair the Civil Service and Labor Committee to create a public option for employment.

“A Public Option for Employment means, simply, that New York City will have a job for everyone who is ready, able, and willing to work when the private sector is not fulfilling our city’s economic needs,” she wrote in an op-ed.

“I’m not here to create history. I am not here to be the first. I am just a candidate who happens to have this story,” she added.