After months of campaigning, and then breaking barriers as the state’s first openly nonbinary candidates elected to the Democratic Central Committee, Tia Hopkins and Antonio Bowens both know that now the real work begins.
Hopkins, 34, reported being inundated with calls and messages from local well-wishers in light of the win. Votes will be certified this week, according to Hopkins.
“A lot of people have reached out to me. It makes me feel hopeful,” said Hopkins, who will represent District 40 in Baltimore City. “Everyone has welcomed me with open arms. All the remarks were positive. One person wanted a better explanation of what gender neutral is. It’s people wanting to educate themselves. Obviously, I look female, and I changed my gender to nonbinary. It’s about them understanding that change.”
Bowens, a 32-year-old retail manager from Brunswick, is eager to continue to work at reaching out to underrepresented communities — in particular Asian and Latino communities in Frederick County.
“These are people who might not have as much representation as they should,” said Bowens, who will represent Frederick County. “Joining together and working with them will be a great way to build that bridge.”
The pair are the first nonbinary candidates to win seats on the central committee, according to Eva Lewis, executive director of the state’s Democratic Party. A third nonbinary candidate, Jo Riedel from Harford County, was unsuccessful in their bid for the committee. The term nonbinary refers to people who don’t identify with the male or female genders.
“I think it’s a good thing,” said Lewis, adding that the wins reflect the party’s inclusiveness. “The role of the central committee member is that you are a party official and represent the idea that we would allow them to file as their true self.”
Lewis added, “I think it’s good having more voices that are more part of the conversation. Having people who are voting members is important for our party and for our state and country.”
Bowens was the top male vote-getter in a 2018 bid for the committee. This year, when Bowens was able to run as a nonbinary candidate, they ran — but with hesitation about identifying as a nonbinary candidate.
“I weighed that back and forth. At the end I became truthful to myself, and I ran as nonbinary,” said Bowens, who added that they have self-identified as nonbinary for the past five years. “I ran to make sure that everyone had a voice in the Democratic Party. Minority communities get [under-represented] when it comes to local politics. I happen to be African-American, queer and nonbinary. I was excited to win again.”
Hopkins has already been invited to serve on a panel for the Maryland Democratic Party’s LGBTQ diversity and leadership council.
“We want to start that conversation about what reform will look like and how we should model ourselves as a party,” Hopkins said. “We’re going to be starting at square one and [see what] gender and inclusivity look like in Maryland.”
Hopkins looks forward to bringing a different perspective to the discussion of issues.
“I want to make sure that when we renew our platform, it is gender-inclusive,” they said. “I want to make sure that everything we believe in as Dems includes people like me.”
Hopkins’ and Bowens’ strong showings in the July 19 primary has focused attention on the Democratic Party’s efforts to be more inclusive from a gender standpoint. The DCC voted in 2018 to allow nonbinary candidates to identify as such, and it subsequently established a third gender category to help guide committee elections. The party had required an equal number of male and female DCC members, but now says nonbinary candidates must be factored in.
LGBTQ people make up 0.02% of elected officials in the nation, according to Sean Meloy, vice president of political programs at the Victory Fund, a national organization dedicated to electing openly LGBTQ candidates. Meloy said that in the last five years, the country has gone from no trans elected officials at any level to double digits in 2022. There were 11 nonbinary elected officials in the United States as of June, according to the Victory Fund’s database.
Meloy said hearing about the success in Maryland makes him feel great.
“We have a diverse party,” he said. “We need to make sure that the full diversity of our community is represented.”
Meloy called the results “exciting stuff” and said he was hopeful for the future.
“I’m looking forward to the continued fight with these folks in the party and hopefully more LGBTQ rights are achieved and maintained,” Meloy said.
Karenthia Barber, chair of the Baltimore City Democratic Party, said the wins make her “proud” to be a Democrat.
“Everyone deserves the right to show up as their authentic selves, and we in the Maryland Democratic Party are leading the way with our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging,” said Barber, who is a diversity consultant. “To Democrats it signifies how important our efforts are, and we are making great strides.”
Hopkins likes being a part of history.
“I think it is a lot more comforting knowing there is someone else,” said Hopkins, who has not yet spoken to the other candidates. “At least I have a partner. It’s better having another person so that I’m not there by myself.”
Bowens has not given much thought to the impact of the win, but reported receiving nothing but positive responses to being re-elected as a nonbinary candidate.
“The feeling is great that I was one of the first, but I promise I won’t be the last,” Bowens said.