Danielle VanHelsing hopes to become the first transgender member of Congress.

The 35-year-old group home worker from Sangerville said it would benefit the entire country if voters tapped a transgender politician for a position as highly visible as a U.S. House seat.

“Change doesn’t happen sitting in the dark,” VanHelsing said. “Seeing we can be true to ourselves and still achieve” would give hope to transgender Americans who too often wind up cast out or even murdered, she said.

VanHelsing, an independent, is one of nine challengers lining up to take on two-term U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Republican from Maine’s 2nd District.

Though she recognizes that “it’s going to be a rough race,” VanHelsing said she thinks she has a chance in November’s election.

Virginia recently elected the first openly transgender member of a state legislature, though at least a couple of others have served without calling attention to themselves. In 2016, two transgender Democrats sought congressional seats in long-shot bids against entrenched Republicans. Both challengers lost.

Maine, though, may be more friendly ground.

VanHelsing said the transgender community is “horribly discriminated against” almost everywhere, but “Maine is one of the best places in the country to come out” because residents generally respect one another’s differences.

She said she sometimes gets odd looks or sees people shy away, but they don’t say anything, probably because “they don’t want you to be in their business” so they allow space for others to do what they want.

Still, it’s not easy.

Since coming out almost four years ago, VanHelsing has become a leader in Maine’s transgender community, traveling the state to focus attention on the struggles facing those in her shoes. She is a board member of the Maine Transgender Network. 

“I will always fight for the rights of every person,” she said. “We are all human and deserve to be safe and protected. No one should fear for their rights because of who they love, the color of their skin or their gender identity.”

VanHelsing said she grew up in “dire poverty” in the “very, very small town” where she lives with her 11-year-old daughter. She is divorced.

She said she has worked a number of jobs over the years, mostly in group homes in the mental health field, to try to work her way out of poverty.

“Nothing around here pays enough,” VanHelsing said.

She’s gone to college off and on, she said, but could never decide what she wanted to focus on.

For VanHelsing, the lack of economic opportunity she’s seen is due at least in part to the poor policies pushed by many of Maine’s political leaders.

“I have never felt that my representatives are representing me,” she said.

Poliquin, she said, is “infused in the party” and toes the GOP line to the detriment of his constituents. She said she’s disgusted by his votes, his unwillingness to talk to ordinary people and his penchant for hiding from the press.

She said she opted to run as an independent because she is “very against the party system” that she believes creates unnecessary division and fosters corruption.

VanHelsing said that if she is elected, she “will work hard to rebuild this world into something good.”

“No one should have to sacrifice their dignity and die afraid because they are poor,” she said. “No one should fear walking the streets because of the color of their skin or the gender they express. No one should be homeless because they can’t afford a loan no matter how hard they work.”

“This world is broken and I will fix it,” she said.

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Danielle VanHelsing (Provided photo)


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