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Transgender Woman Runs For Massachusetts Congressional Seat


Last winter, I interviewed a woman named Alexandra Chandler. I'd wanted to talk to her for two reasons. One, she was one of the military's top intelligence analysts. And number two, while working at the Defense Department, she transitioned from living as a man to living as a woman. When we spoke, Chandler told me that ended up being a great career move.

ALEXANDRA CHANDLER: I became a leader, which I had never really been at work before. And I did a lot more good for the mission than I would have ever done otherwise. And I'll tell you why. When you can barely stand the sound of your own voice, where you can barely stand the sight of yourself, how can you properly go into a meeting and discuss the toughest problems out there and bring your best solutions to the table? You can't. So once that was dealt with, I was so much more effective.

KELLY: Chandler was promoted to division chief. She told me up her chain of command she found support. But then came a tweet this past July - an order from President Trump banning transgender individuals from the military. I have been wondering what Alexander Chandler made of that, and today I had the chance to ask her.

CHANDLER: It was disbelief, honestly. I was sitting at my desk in the Pentagon when emails started to come at me. And then one of the emails that I received said, have we all just been fired - because it was not entirely clear from the wording whether or not it would only apply to transgender servicemembers or transgender civilian employees of the military like myself. So it was just a surreal, surreal moment to be honest.

KELLY: And we should note that president's order banning transgender service members is blocked for now in the courts. We don't know exactly when or how that may eventually come into effect. And it's interesting to hear your say that the reaction at the Pentagon on that day and in the weeks to follow was confusion.

CHANDLER: It was very confusing. And what I'll say is that the reaction from people working at their civilian and military jobs was that we've been through this. This was studied. This was looked at, and it was determined that accepting transgender troops improved our readiness, improved the ability of the military to take on threats and that the cost was absolutely minimal. Why are we reopening something that we already looked at and doing something that's going to harm national security?

KELLY: You have since left that job that you were sitting at your desk for that day. And tell us why.

CHANDLER: It was a two-step process. First and foremost, I didn't run from the intelligence community. I ran to my family. And I'd reached a point in my life shortly after we spoke in the spring that I knew that it was time to go soon. Certainly the tweet that day had something to do with what turned out to be my next plans, but that was an evolving process. I knew that I wanted to continue to serve. I didn't quite know how. But then events moved that decision along.

KELLY: Events have kept moving, and the decision you have made now is to run for Congress.

CHANDLER: Yes, I have. So what happened was our home district member of Congress, Niki Tsongas, a wonderful representative from our district, suddenly announced her retirement. And I took no immediate notice of this insofar as for myself, I just saw that we lost a great representative. Then people started calling me. People had to ask me. People had to encourage me. It wasn't something that I saw myself immediately doing.

But then I realized that the fact that I spent years leading teams of analysts that could tackle the toughest problems on this planet - we're talking about stopping the proliferation of nuclear and missile technology from countries like North Korea. We're talking about arms smuggling to terrorist groups and in war zones. We could get it done with Americans of every background, every political persuasion. So if we can get the toughest problems done inside the intelligence community, then what I realized is I was the best in this political environment to actually get things done in Congress.

KELLY: If you are successful, should you win this election, you would be the first openly transgender member of Congress of the United States. That's quite something.

CHANDLER: That is something. I mean, for me, my focus is the fact that I grew up in a family where when I was 10 years old, my father lost a job, and for the following seven years before he passed away when I was 17, he was unemployed or underemployed the rest of his life. And he had a disability. He had multiple sclerosis. He struggled with addiction. I've seen and lived the issues.

So for me, these people need a representative that lives those challenges. And when we talk about me being transgender, what really comes up and what I tell people and what people respond to is, I've had to be tough. I've had to stand up for myself, which means I will be tough and stand up for those people, for those families like mine. And that really resonates with people.

KELLY: Alexandra Chandler - she's running to represent the 3rd District of Massachusetts in the U.S. House of Representatives. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.