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House candidate seeks to be first trans member of Nevada delegation

RockAthena Brittain, who is challenging Rep. Susie Lee, performs at a Las Vegas venue. (Credit: RockAthena Brittain/Nevada Current)

Dana Gentry, Nevada Current
April 25, 2024

When RockAthena Brittain, a transgender woman, spoke during public comment last week before the Nevada Board of Regents in protest of Regent Patrick Boylan’s public assertion that transgender athletes are ‘masquerading’ as women, Boylan pulled out his phone and snapped a photo of Brittain at the podium. 

“He didn’t do that with anyone else,” Brittain said during a phone interview this week. It’s the kind of response to which she’s become accustomed since her transition in 2020. 

“If I would have had more time to speak to Boylan and the board during public comment, I would have told him that he’s demeaning us and relegating us to non-human status as mentally ill, and masquerading as people that were not,” she said. “We’re transgender women. We know that we were born male. We know what we are inside. We’re trying to have our bodies match.” 

Brittain, who is challenging three-term Rep. Susie Lee in the Democratic primary race for Congressional District 3, has no campaign funding or backing from the Democratic party. “I couldn’t even get the Human Rights Campaign (an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals) to consider me for an endorsement. They said they like Susie Lee because she asks for advice on issues. Wouldn’t it be better if they supported someone who actually knows the issues and doesn’t have to ask?”

Brittain knows her chance of winning is a longshot. And she’s taken her share of those.  

In 2010, before her transition and with her wife and girlfriend at her side, Brittain, known then as David Cooper, sued Clark County over its denial of business licenses for Sextasy, an adult nightclub located in the Commercial Center adjacent to a number of sexually-oriented businesses including the Green Door, a swingers’ club which has been in business for decades. 

Federal Judge Kent Dawson dismissed the lawsuit and Brittain appealed to the Ninth Circuit, where she prevailed in having the dismissal thrown out. But with a lack of funds at that point, Sextasy never got off the ground. 

‘Trans Girl’s Got a Gun’

Brittain has since immersed herself in songwriting and recording. Trans Girl’s Got a Gun is an autobiographical composition about her weapon, a necessity, she says, given the threats she’s routinely faced. 

“She knows how to use it. She’d hate to have to prove it.  She knows how to use it. She’d never wanna choose it,” the lyrics readThe song’s video ends with an anti-assault weapon message.

While her success as a candidate may be a longshot, Brittain says it should not be dismissed by voters. 

“Wait a minute. Listen to what I’m saying, and ask yourself if the incumbent has proven herself – if Lee’s done everything she can” to address the needs of her constituents. 

America 2.0

Brittain says Lee is “boilerplate Democratic party. She votes along with the party on many things. It’s not that she’s not doing some good work. It’s that she’s neglecting quite a bit of it. The Democratic Party should be sounding an alarm to everybody.”

That alarm, Brittain says, heralds the impending demise of democracy should former Pres. Donald Trump win the presidency. She points to the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025, a manifesto for a newly elected conservative president (presumably Trump) to be granted expanded executive power to be wielded over an Ozzie and Harriet-like society, where heterosexual parents raise their offspring free from the perils of same-sex neighbors and drag queen story hours. 

“Any LGBTQIA+ expression – our existence – is to be legally categorized and charged as pornography,” Brittain says of Project 2025’s objectives. “They want to remove any anti-discrimination protections that are afforded to the LGBTQIA+ community in terms of employment, housing, lending, and all other aspects of public life.” 

Project 2025 calls for rolling back gender-based anti-discrimination laws. 

Brittain notes that last year, state legislators across America entertained more than 500 anti-trans bills with more than 80 becoming law. This year, Utah passed an anti-trans bathroom measure.

“Trump has already spoken openly about being a dictator for at least a day and no dictator that I can find in history ever stopped after a day,” she says. 

To those who suggest Trump’s rants are bluster, Brittain points to the Supreme Court’s dismantling of Roe v. Wade.  

“He’s followed through on many things that sounded nearly impossible when he talked about it. And he doesn’t need a Republican House or Senate. He can do these things on his own and come back with America 2.0,” she says. “That’s the nightmare version. That’s what they’re promising, and that’s what Project 2025 does.” 

Isn’t that prospect even more reason to support Lee, a Democrat with a history of winning general elections? 

“She’s not even waking people up to even vote Democrat,” she says of Lee. “She’s priding herself on being the most bipartisan member of Congress when there is no bipartisanship. If you feel satisfied with the establishment corporate candidate, then she’s a very good representative. But if you feel there are things that are not being addressed, it’s an issue.”  

Lee’s campaign declined to comment on Brittain’s criticisms, however, the Nevada State Democratic Party was quick to come to Lee’s defense. 

“Susie Lee comes from working class roots and has a proven track record of fighting for middle-class and vulnerable Nevada families.  Susie has worked in a bipartisan way to expand affordable housing and lower costs for Nevadans, delivered a $1.3 million investment last month for low-income housing, secured over $122 million for local water projects last year, has led the charge in protecting a woman’s right to choose, and is a champion for the LGBTQ+ community. Nevadans know where Susie stands,” said party spokesperson Tai Sims in a statement.

Influence and leverage wasted

Brittain says Lee, who recently garnered support from Nevada Gov. Joe Lombardo, a Republican, for a federal measure that would accelerate appraisals on public lands designated for development, failed to link the measure to commitments assuring development would prioritize low-income housing, and also failed to extract an accompanying commitment from Lombardo.

“She wasted a golden opportunity to use her influence and leverage to protect people,” Brittain said. “We already are in a state where tenants have almost no rights. Squatters have more rights than tenants.” 

Lee has said the legislation would clear the “bottlenecks and speed up appraisals for public lands that could be used to build affordable housing.” She also supports a bill to expand tax credits to developers if they set aside a portion of units for low-income renters.

Brittain says despite the housing crisis and the burgeoning homeless population, which Lee has characterized as “severe,” the congresswoman has failed to sponsor legislation that would prohibit property management companies from charging prospective tenants multiple application fees to apply for rentals under the same management.  

In 2018, Lee had a personal net worth of $23,918,654, according to Open Secrets, including extensive investments in private equity firms. Brittain says Lee’s stake in private equity companies, which have amassed rental units and property management companies, gives the congresswoman no incentive to crack down on the practice. 

“It’s happening all over the country, and that makes it a national issue,” says Brittain. “They come in and overpay for houses thereby increasing the comps in the neighborhood, and justifying higher rents. They’re taking the dream of homeownership away and turning people into perpetual renters. My point of view, as a candidate and as a citizen, is that private equity has no place in homeownership.”

A 2021 Stateline analysis found nearly a quarter of all single-family homes sold in 2021 were purchased by investors. In Nevada, investor purchases increased from 18% to 30% from 2020 to 2021. State lawmakers passed a bill to track corporate investors, but it was vetoed by Lombardo.

While she isn’t a sponsor, Lee said she supports legislation introduced by U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford that would “take on speculators coming in who are gobbling up houses and flipping them at a profit.”

Lee illustrates her commitment to housing via the $6 billion Nevada has received from the federal government since 2021 for rental and mortgage assistance via the American Rescue Plan (ARPA). The state directed $500 million of that funding toward building and preserving housing units and a first time homebuyer assistance program. She recently secured $4 million for affordable housing. 

“We still have a massive housing crisis that’s larger this year than last year,” says Brittain, who suggests Lee should be using her “influence and leverage to try to get a rent cap in place.” 

Brittain says the plight of the unhoused “has always been valid. I have a greater understanding of it having experienced it firsthand.”  She and her family spent several years in what she calls “different phases of homelessness” – from living in a car to staying in hotels. She says challenges to maintaining one’s hygiene standards often render the unhoused unable to find and retain employment. 

“How much does it cost to take a shower at a truckstop? How easy is that to do? It’s pretty cumbersome, I know from experience,” she says. 

“Trump is talking about forcing the unhoused into hardened facilities. It sounds like a concentration camp or an internment camp,” says Brittain, who praises Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass’s initiative to shelter and employ the unhoused. As of December, the $67 million program had placed fewer than 300 individuals in housing. 

In February, Lee announced a nearly $15 million investment to combat homelessness in Clark County. 

‘They want our water’ 

“If Republicans are worried about immigrants at the border, wait till Mexico City runs out of water,” Brittain says. “They’ll run in all directions. ‘They want our water’ will be conservatives’ new outcry.”  

In light of the water crisis facing Colorado River users, Brittain favors a moratorium on most construction and on the sale of water rights to speculators. 

“We’re putting in more and more sports stadiums in the middle of a drought. Properties with water rights are being bought up by private equity. And they’re growing alfalfa that doesn’t even stay in this country. It’s going to feed cattle, which produce methane and add to global warming,” Brittain says. “Are we able to survive without consumption of cattle? We are. Why are we not holding on to groundwater reserves?” 

Brittain says building during the drought should be restricted to housing, much of it low-income. 

“I believe that it really should be for people who need housing, who do not have housing,” she says. “People who want to buy more houses to rent out? They don’t need it. The people who want to have Airbnbs as a business – they don’t enter into the front of that line.”

Brittain says she faced a learning curve just opening a campaign bank account and putting up a website. She just got around this week to asking Lee to debate. 

“In my heart I did not want to run against a Democratic incumbent. I want democracy to win. I want Democrats to win,” says Brittain, adding she loves Pres. Joe Biden, who she thinks is evolving into a great president. “Running isn’t my end game,” she says, but adds that if her candidacy prompts Lee “to bring things to the forefront that are not there now” she’ll be victorious, win or lose. 

Nevada Current is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Nevada Current maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Hugh Jackson for questions: Follow Nevada Current on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Nevada Current under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Report: NV fares well with transgender rights

“Nevada is the only state that has a constitutional protection against discrimination, on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Redfield. “There is an extraordinarily broad protection for LGBTQ people in Nevada, and that is probably why Nevada didn’t show up on any of our lists this year.”