Image provided by Danni Askini's campaign

The Feministing Five: Danni Askini

For this week’s Feministing Five, we spoke with Danni Askini, current candidate for the Washington State House of Representatives. If elected, Danni would be the first openly trans person to ever serve in the state’s legislature.

_95A0323 Danni Askini has spent over fifteen years working for progressive causes such as child welfare and trans rights and fighting against LGTBQ crimes. A proud resident of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, Danni has been a strong voice in ending anti-trans state bills as well as providing health and education programs to low-income Capitol Hill residents. She is currently the executive director of the Gender Justice League, which focuses on issues that are left outside of  mainstream LGTBQ activism like incarceration, resisting gentrification, and homelessness.

In deciding to run for office, Danni has looked up to women leaders and candidates like Pramila Jayapal, Tammy Baldwin, and Kshama Sawant who have been her inspiration. She hopes that her campaign reminds folks that the more people from marginalized communities run, the more we will improve our democracy.

Suzanna Bobadilla: Thank you so much for speaking with us today. To get started, could you introduce yourself to our readers? 

Danni Askini: I’m the Executive Director for Gender Justice League in Seattle, and I’m a candidate for the 43rd Legislative House Seat here in Washington state. I have been a long time LGBTQ activist with a very specially emphasis on trans justice work.

SB: We are so excited to hear about your campaign. We’d love to learn more about why you decided to run for office. 

DA: There are lots of reasons why I decided to run for office. Having worked these last four years on a number different bills, I saw that we needed bold, progressive leadership in our State House in Olympia. This leadership really needs to represent working people, and it needs to be someone who has a proven track record for fighting what we really need here in my District. The 43rd District includes Seattle’s Capitol Hill area, the University area, Fremont, Wallingford, and parts of Downtown Seattle.

The things that are really effecting our communities are things that are being experienced all over the country, like huge income disparities and gentrification. The fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in Seattle are in the 43rd District. We are facing a homelessness and housing crisis in this district, which is disproportionately affecting younger people, people of color, LGBTQ people, and women. People are being pushed out of this district because it is so unaffordable.

I’ve also worked on issues like hate crimes. This is surprising to most people, but last year, Seattle had the highest per capita rate of LGTBQ hate crimes in the country. Most people think of Seattle as being an incredibly progressive city, but that has happened on the back drop of a lot of other violence.

What’s also really clear to me is that there are a large number of extremists in Olympia who are willing to pit communities against each other in order to not address the most fundamental and basic things our legislature is charged with by our State Constitution. They tried to pass six anti-transgender bathroom bills this year, and they tried to pass another four amendments to other bills that really would have barred transgender people from participating in public life. All the while, they refused to fund public education. Our legislature is under a contempt of court order from our State Supreme Court, related to a court finding called the McCleary Decision that found that the legislature was not meeting its constitutional obligation to fund basic education in the state. Rather than address that, extremists have spend their time attacking trans people.

It felt like for those many, many reasons that now was the right time for me to run, and that I am the right person for this district.

SB: As you’ve kicked off your campaign, what has been the response from your communities? 

DA: The response has been very positive in the media and in the public. The campaign has gone really well so far. However, one of my biggest challenges will be fundraising. Fundraising is really difficult because the people who are closest to us, who know us, have seen our leadership, and who believe in us, don’t always have big incomes that they can donate to political campaigns.  It’s also a reason why trans people who have tried to run for office have had a lot of difficulty. Fundraising is also why we have an unrepresentative legislature because the amount of money needed to be competitive in a legislative race is incredible.

The overwhelming response has been a lot of high-fives. I’ve gotten messages from people all over the world, from people as far away as Algeria, Kyrgyzstan, Japan, South Korea. I’ve had activists from Peru and also Argentina reaching out. The local media also covered my announcement very positively, which was great!

SB: Do you have any advice for folks who also come from marginalized communities and are considering starting their own political campaign for office? What was your process from community advocate to current candidate? 

DA: For me, I have always been working to pass legislation in one way or another. I lived in Maine and I grew up in foster care. I worked with a group there called YLAT, the Youth Leadership Advisory Team, to pass a number of pieces of legislation to help youth in foster care, whether that was the Sibling Unification Act, preventing foster parents from smoking in the home to stop asthma in foster youth, or passing tuition wavers. I’ve always had this passion for working in the legislature.

I have worked incredibly hard to mobilize communities that are marginalized to have a significant impact. Here in Washington, we just killed these six anti-trans bills and it was an immense amount of mobilization work that made that possible. For example, we got three Republicans to vote against their colleagues.

What I came to realize is that there are a lot of internal “no”s about why I have talked myself out of why I should run. The campaign is going to be vicious, people are going to attack you, you’re up for public scrutiny, and you’re going to have to raise a lot of money. These same threats were also there in my previous work like expanding healthcare coverage to ensure that transgender people can receive life saving, transitional surgical medical care. There were always a lot of “no”s. People told me that I was never going to get Medicaid to expand coverage, but then we did!

I believe that it’s worth trying. There is no harm in trying, and you will find supporters in surprising places. You’ll find people that you didn’t even know before you took on this venture who will show up and support you. Even in this first month of running, there are tons of people who I didn’t know before who will support me with dollars and volunteering. There are people who I don’t know who will support me and want to see me run. That is powerful in providing hope for people.

Providing hope for people is a powerful political act, especially as we face more extreme bills. As Harvey Milk said, “You got to give them hope.” The reality is that for social movements of marginalized people, hope is one of the most important tools that we have, especially in times when we see extremists and demagogues like Donald Trump saying horrific things. Running as an act of hopefulness isn’t just about me as an individual, although I will be a great leader. It’s also about, I believe, that I have an incredible community of my district and my broader community, and that’s very powerful.

SB: How can our readers help support your campaign? 

DA: The things that are really helpful are spreading the word and donating. My campaign is going to be powered by grassroots donations as I’m not accepting corporate donations and as I’m not going to have a lot of establishment support because I’m an outsider. I’m going to need financial support as well as folks to help volunteer.

The things that people can do from afar include signing up on my website to get updates about my campaign. It’s also great to find people that they know in Seattle to help me do door knocking or to help with events like farmers markets and meet and greets.

Folks at Feministing believe that we need more women, trans women, and women of color who know what that lived experience is and can bring that analysis to government. For example, in the fight against the bathroom bills, I talked about my own experience and how I am a survivor of sexual assault. A lot of extremists have perpetuated these narratives of trans women being dangerous, which flies in the face of what most trans people really know. People can also help my campaign by educating others about why having diverse representation in our legislature is so vital to come up with policy solutions that work for working class people, women, and people of color. Building excitement around my campaign also helps an immense amount.

Images provided by Danni Askini for State House


San Francisco, CA

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist. According to legend, she first publicly proclaimed that she was a feminist at the age of nine in her basketball teammate's mini-van. Things have obviously since escalated. After graduating from Harvard in 2013, she became a founding member of Know Your IX's ED ACT NOW. She is curious about the ways feminists continue to use technology to create social change and now lives in San Francisco. She believes that she has the sweetest gig around – asking bad-ass feminists thoughtful questions for the publication that has taught her so much. Her views, bad jokes and all, are her own. For those wondering, if she was stranded on a desert island and had to bring one food, one drink, and one feminist, she would bring chicken mole, a margarita, and her momma.

Suzanna Bobadilla is a writer, activist, and digital strategist.

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