Last week’s historic elections marked a major milestone for trans representation in Ohio politics. Dion Manley, a single dad from the Columbus suburbs, emerged victorious from a crowded and contentious race for Gahanna-Jefferson School Board – becoming the first openly trans man to do so.
“The community won with this election,” Manley says. “Gahanna spoke out for inclusion, diversity, and unity.”
Manley’s hard-fought victory isn’t just a landmark moment for the LGBTQ+ community in Gahanna. According to the Victory Fund, the win marks the first time in Ohio history that an out trans person has won an election in the state, and just the fifth time that an out trans man has won an election in the entire country.
The Buckeye Flame chatted with the newly elected school board member about his historic candidacy and win, and what his priorities will be once he is sworn into office.
First off, congratulations! How did it feel watching the results come in on Election Night?
It was a hard fought race, five months in the making. I was optimistic, but worried about voter turnout. We had a steady lead throughout the night, but it was a long night.
When the final count came in, we were so thrilled. To have everyone together – friends, family, volunteers; my daughter, who is a high-school senior and also served as my campaign manager – it was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I’ve never felt anything like it.
What inspired you to run initially?
I’ve always believed that community service is a way of life. For decades, I’ve supported other candidates and worked on issues; I’ve phone-banked and canvassed; I’ve worked for the board of elections in a number of roles, and been involved with groups such as Gahanna Dems and Friends and When We All Help.
All of that experience added up – just like monetary donations of $5 to a political campaign adds up – so, when I was asked to run, I just couldn’t say no. Now is the time for regular folks to step up. Everybody’s participation makes the biggest difference. Also, as a single dad, the schools have been so important to me. I would do anything for them.
What are your top priorities for your first term?
My three main priorities are community and unity; preparing our kids for good jobs; and moving forward together as a district. I want to advocate for marginalized and underserved groups. A working class guy, I also want to expand the trade options we have at our technical school to give kids more options – apprenticeships, internships. College is great, but if it’s not for you, let’s get our youth some more options to get them set for post-graduation.
We’ve seen in the news how contentious school board meetings have become across the country. Has this been playing out in Gahanna, as well?
That has been happening here, particularly around the protocols on masks. Frankly, it’s taking us away from getting the work done. Another big part of the reason I ran was I had huge differences with some of the candidates in terms of approach to public schools, education, and community. There were also some major differences of opinion on transgender issues. I believe all kids should be able to play sports and be able to use the bathroom with dignity. I think those are such basic, common-sense things, and want to make sure our schools continue to provide an inclusive, welcoming environment so that the kids can get engaged, and connected, and to find their place in life to be healthy, happy, and successful.
According to the Victory Fund, you are the first out trans person elected in the state, ever, and just the fifth out trans men to be elected in the entire country. How does it feel to be a part of history?
It’s an honor. I love Ohio. Being out and proud has always been important to me. To know us is to love us, and I think that’s why the number [of LGBTQ+ people getting elected to office]is only going to keep increasing.
We joke about it now, but when I first moved to Ohio fifteen years ago from San Francisco, I was scared. I have a daughter. I was worried about how people would react. But what I found was a respectful, welcoming, supportive community of other working-class people. Most people I meet don’t care that I’m trans. I can’t say enough about how surprised I was. I was happy to admit I was wrong. People just see I’m a good dad. That’s most important to them. And that’s how they voted, too. 🔥
- Because representation truly does matter, the Victory Institute is always looking to identify out LGBTQ+ leaders to run for public office. Check out their next available training.