Trans state Rep. Leigh Finke champions progressive change in Minn.

Trans Minnesota State Rep. Leigh Finke (D-66A) recently caught the attention of ultra right-wing influencer Chaya Raichik aka Libs of TikTok. (Photo Credit: Rep. Leigh Finke)

SAINT PAUL, Minn. | Trans Minnesota state Representative Leigh Finke recently caught the attention of ultra right-wing influencer Chaya Raichik who runs the Libs of TikTok on social media. In a post on X, Libs of TikTok misgendered Finke and called her out over a bill aimed at making Minnesota a safe refuge for transgender youths.

Finke, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) State Representative for District 66A in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, has emerged as a formidable force in the Minnesota Legislature. Since assuming office in 2023, Finke has spearheaded a wide array of progressive initiatives, earning praise for her unwavering commitment to advancing social justice and LGBTQ inclusivity across the state.

In an exclusive interview with The Blade, she discussed the significance of the legislation she is championing and emphasizing the need to provide sanctuary for transgender individuals amidst escalating conservative backlash.

Remaining Optimistic About Minnesota as a Queer Haven

Finke, who was assaulted by two men on the light rail in 2018, about one year after she began transitioning, revealed the traumatic incident as part of her candid discussion about the difficulties of transitioning and the prevalence of violence against trans people.

“It was horrible,” Finke said, highlighting the pervasive nature of transphobia in society. “Transitioning was very difficult…That presence of violence is very real to me. I experienced it regularly.” 

“It’s hard to be a trans person in this world,” Finke added, acknowledging the uphill battle faced by transgender individuals

In the political sphere, the progressive initiatives endorsed by Finke have drawn fierce opposition from conservative quarters, sparking backlash on right-wing social media platforms and mainstream news networks like Fox News.

Finke attributes this backlash to the right-wing agenda which often leads to discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. 

However, she expressed gratitude for the support of Minnesota voters, noting their consistent backing of queer rights and representation. She also said she was grateful for the “I Stand with Leigh” campaign on social media, launched by her supporters as a response to the backlash. 

In spite of her opposition, Finke remains optimistic about Minnesota maintaining its support of the queer community, stating that the right’s false claims of trans people being “pedophiles” and “groomers” tends to remain confined within the right-wing “bubble.”

“We have strong leadership up and down, and we are making good on our promise to protect trans people,” Finke emphasized. 

Championing Progressive Change

Last year, amidst a backdrop of political upheaval, Finke played a pivotal role in the passage of groundbreaking legislation aimed at addressing key issues facing Minnesotans. From reproductive rights to environmental protection, Finke has been at the forefront of efforts to enact meaningful change.

One of Finke’s standout achievements has been her advocacy for bodily autonomy. She staunchly supported the PRO Act, the Reproductive Freedom Defense Act, and measures to expand abortion access, recognizing the fundamental importance of reproductive rights in ensuring equality and autonomy for all individuals.

In addition to her work on reproductive rights, Finke has been a leading voice in the fight against climate change. She has championed legislation to protect Minnesota’s natural spaces from harmful pesticides, while also advocating for comprehensive climate policies that prioritize sustainability and environmental justice.

Furthermore, Finke has been a vocal advocate for LGBTQ+ rights, authoring the Trans Refuge Law and pushing for increased funding for HIV prevention and treatment. She has been unwavering in her commitment to creating a more inclusive and affirming environment for LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly transgender and gender non-conforming Minnesotans.

Beyond these issues, Finke has also made significant strides in advancing disability rights, education reform, public safety, and mental health initiatives. Her dedication to social justice is evident in her multifaceted approach to governance, which prioritizes the needs of marginalized communities and seeks to address systemic inequities at every turn.

Queer Equity Institute 

In addition to her legislative efforts, Finke runs a nonprofit organization called the Queer Equity Institute, dedicated to empowering LGBTQ+ individuals and fostering inclusivity. Ever candid about her own experiences with discrimination and violence,  she continues to emphasize the urgent need for solidarity and support within the community.

The Queer Equity Institute (QEI) is on a mission to foster inclusivity and empower LGBTQ+ communities through its multifaceted approach aimed at civic engagement, leadership development, educational programming, and fellowship opportunities.

Recognizing the profound impact of government decisions on the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals, QEI emphasizes civic engagement at all levels of governance.

From local city councils to federal leadership, QEI strives to ensure that LGBTQ+ voices are not only heard but actively included in shaping policies and decisions.

Through initiatives like networking opportunities and resource provision, QEI works to dismantle barriers hindering queer participation in political processes, particularly those affecting queer BIPOC and individuals with disabilities.

Moreover, QEI is committed to nurturing the next generation of queer leaders through its educational programming. By providing support to LGBTQ+ students and school leaders, the institute aims to foster greater inclusivity within educational institutions and society at large. QEI recognizes that addressing hate and discrimination requires collaboration across various domains beyond politics, including art, culture, media, and business.

In addition to its advocacy and educational efforts, QEI offers fellowship programs designed to support LGBTQ+ individuals who aspire to lead but lack the necessary financial, institutional, and social resources. The institute provides $10,000 fellowships across four categories: Civic Engagement, Community Empowerment, Arts & Media, and Business Development, enabling recipients to pursue their goals of effecting positive change within their communities.

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