State Rep.-elect Brianna Titone said her Nov. 6 victory to become Colorado’s first transgender lawmaker came after “the toughest job interview I’ve ever had.”
But the campaign also let her tap skills she developed as a mining consultant, such as helping people find common ground.
She recalls telling voters: “If we don’t agree, let’s talk about it. I don’t want this to be the last time we talk.”
In January, she’ll be sworn in as one of four openly transgender Americans elected to state legislatures; three of the four won first-time races Nov. 6.
Titone won the seat for House District 27 by only 422 votes, after trailing Republican Vicki Pyne on election night. The next day, Titone was ahead by nine votes. Pyne conceded four days after the polls closed.
The district last had a Democratic representative in 2010, before district maps were redrawn. The district now covers northwestern Jefferson County, including Arvada west of Wadsworth Boulevard.
Four years ago, its Republican and unaffiliated voter registrations were nearly equal, at about 19,000 each, with only about 15,000 Democrats. But this October, unaffiliated voter registrations had surged to 24,454, with Republicans at 19,551 and Democrats at 17,759.
Voter turnout in the district this election was nearly 79 percent, compared with 75 percent statewide.
Titone’s win suggests support from unaffiliated as well as Democratic voters. In 2016, 53 percent of voters supported Republican state Rep. Lang Sias. Sias left to be running mate for state Treasurer Walker Stapleton in his unsuccessful bid for governor.
Titone has degrees in physics and geology from the State University of New York at New Paltz, a master’s degree in geochemistry from Stony Brook University and a master’s degree in information communications technology from the University of Denver. The latter ties into the changes she’s made over the past decade since moving to Colorado, including coming out as transgender.
The Hudson Valley, N.Y., native says she dreamed of becoming an FBI agent, inspired as a college student in New York during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Titone already had been a volunteer firefighter, starting as a junior firefighter in high school, and wondered how else she might serve.
But the path to becoming an FBI agent is long and hard, and Titone said she felt she lacked the necessary work experience.
So she became a geologist and worked for companies from Africa to South America to the Philippines.
Ten years ago, though, her company was downsizing. She was offered a scholarship to work on a doctoral degree at Tulane University and a job as a mining consultant in Colorado. She chose Colorado.
Because of her FBI dream, Titone had kept her transgender identity secret. She said she had known since age 7 that she was female.
But in Mexico on her 37th birthday, she said, she realized she was too old to become an FBI trainee.
“It was a very sad time,” Titone said, but it was also the catalyst for big changes, including coming out.
“I didn’t have to pretend who I was anymore.”
She also segued out of the male-dominated field of mining consulting and into software development for geology, work she could do anywhere and a field in which transgenders are succeeding.
But Titone still wanted to serve. She joined the board of her homeowners association, becoming its president in 2014. She also volunteered at the Denver Botanic Gardens and became a member of NecroSearch International, a nonprofit that helps law enforcement search for and recover human remains and associated evidence.
And Titone began testifying at the state Capitol for legislation to ban conversion therapy for LGBTQ minors and to allow transgenders to get new birth certificates reflecting their gender change. Democrats have tried for years to pass those bills but were blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate.
What moved Titone from witness to lawmaker happened in Virginia in 2017. Danica Roem was elected to the Virginia Legislature, becoming the nation’s first openly transgender lawmaker. Like Titone, Roem won in a fairly conservative district.
Titone began thinking about running for Colorado’s General Assembly, and Roem mentored her. Roem canvassed Titone’s district with her and raised money for her.
“I plan to pay it forward,” Titone said. “We can both be mentors.”
Titone put on her running shoes (she runs half-marathons) and starting walking the district of about 32,000 homes. She said she heard from some residents that her predecessor hadn’t been responsive to constituents, leaving voters frustrated and losing faith in government.
Now that she has been elected, Titone said, she’ll focus on environmental and water legislation.
“I’m concerned about the future of Colorado’s water supply,” she said, adding that Colorado’s water rights law may not be sustainable during dry conditions predicted over the next several decades.
She said she wants to look at these issues from an objective, science-based approach.
“If there’s something preventable, why not do it?” she said.
District voters also identified concerns about the cost of living, keeping seniors in their homes and veterans’ issues. Titone said she also hopes to sponsor a net neutrality bill that she worked on with state Rep. Chris Hansen of Denver.
But don’t expect her to carry bills on transgender birth certificates or conversion therapy.
While hers will definitely be an “aye” vote, Titone said, sponsoring those measures isn’t a priority for her district.
“I don’t want to be polarizing or a one-trick pony.”