Judson Scanlon amassed a large and colorful T-shirt collection of favorite candidates over the years. Brian Chilson

Judson Scanlon is the first openly transgender candidate to run for a seat in the Arkansas legislature, but you’ll get over it. 

It usually takes about 5 seconds for people to adjust to this novel situation before moving on to the business at hand, Scanlon said. That business is Democrat Scanlon’s campaign for the District 70 state House seat to represent portions of North Little Rock and Sherwood. 

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Scanlon is challenging incumbent Carlton Wing, a Republican who held on by only 16 votes in his challenge by firefighter Matthew Stallings in 2020. Arkansas’s Republican-controlled Board of Apportionment has since redrawn the district (imagine that!), making it whiter and ostensibly more conservative. 

An old-school, boots-on-the-ground campaigner, Scanlon seems undaunted. The arduous work of making phone calls and knocking on doors can win elections, and Scanlon has 30 years of experience doing just that.   

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What made you decide to run for this seat? It was an active decision and a passive decision. The active decision happened three weeks before filing. The passive decision — that I would focus specifically on this district — happened during the legislative session. I was infuriated because Carlton Wing refused to take action on giving schools the ability to enforce mask mandates. He was present for the vote but didn’t vote, for or against. I think that if you elect somebody, they have to represent, not just be present. And the legislature spent so much time focusing on children in such a negative way. In my mind, they came for the kids. And that’s not right.  

Brian Chilson
District 70 state representative candidate Judson Scanlon points out changes to district lines since the 2020 Census.

Was the 2021 Arkansas legislative session the worst you’ve ever seen? It’s up there with the top five. In the last 10 years, we’ve gotten progressively worse. The adoption ban for gays and lesbians was the beginning, for me, of the slide into complete and utter disgust. We went from the adoption ban to the ban on anti-discrimination language for towns and cities, and then we started looking at choice and doing all the anti-abortion pieces. And then they gave people permission to kill other people with “stand your ground” [Act 250 of 2021, which authorizes Arkansans to use deadly force if they feel threatened, even if they could have simply walked away instead]. Then we had the pandemic, and they started targeting children. 

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Why is this happening?  There’s a new job title that I want to start giving people. It’s “conflict entrepreneur.” These are people like the Arkansas Family Council who determine what’s good, what’s bad and what’s wrong for the general population, then fundraise around it. So the real purpose of these legislative issues is funding for the Arkansas Family Council. They use those issues in order to pad their coffers so they can continue waging inappropriate culture wars. It’s for fundraising, it’s just for money. Because these things they talk about aren’t happening. There are no transgender athletes in Arkansas who are trying to steal the trophies of women athletes. 

It’s a flaming cauldron of hate out there for a transgender candidate to jump into. Doesn’t it hurt your feelings? 

I grew up gay in this state. I spent 26 years of my life hiding to protect myself. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and I don’t believe any children should have to go through that. I don’t think that I went through it just for my own purposes, but so that I could actually stand up for other people.

I’ve been in this fight long enough to know that the people inflicting this pain and trauma on children don’t truly understand how much pain and trauma they are inflicting. I’ve gotten to the point where I keep trying to recruit people to do the right thing, and when they fail, it’s hard for me to comprehend. There’s no better time for me to stand up for children than right now in this culture war. I didn’t invite this war, but I’m not going to run away from it.

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What are your main issues? I’m not running as a transgender candidate. I’m running as a candidate who cares about teachers, about our health care workers and about the fact that we do not have mandatory drivers ed in our schools for graduating seniors. We’re putting kids on the road, behind the wheel of thousand-pound killing machines, without protecting them. And I just happen to be transgender.

You have a lot of experience in the political realm. Is that paying off for you now? The people who are showing up for me are the people I’ve shown up for over the past 30 years. That should be a lesson for everybody. I have people who want to be part of my team who are reaching out to me because I’ve helped them or their loved ones. 

Leaders in the Democratic Party are coming up to me and saying, “It’s about time.” I have people asking, “Why have you waited so long?” At the same time, for the last 20 years in Arkansas, I’ve felt like I didn’t belong. So it’s been hard for me to step into this space. 

My life has always been about pushing the person in front of me forward instead of that being me.            

FAMILY: four parents, five siblings, one wife, two children (ages 36 and 11), two dogs and many friends who are family by choice.

SOMETHING PEOPLE DON’T KNOW: I once spent five months as a cook on a fishing boat in Alaska.

FAVORITE POLITICIAN: Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota. He was perfectly imperfect.