Babs Ramsey Wants to Be America’s First Trans Congresswoman—But the Media Won’t Cover Her

“Our newspapers are pretty conservative and they don’t want to give time to a trans woman.”

Babs Ramsey could be the first trans person elected to Congress, but you probably haven’t heard of her. There’s a reason for that: The 31-year-old says her campaign has been virtually “blacklisted” by local news outlets in her home state of Nebraska. Since she threw her hat in the ring last September, Ramsey has been mentioned in approximately three articles about the race for Nebraska’s First Congressional District, which encompasses the state’s two largest cities, Omaha and Lincoln.

“We have sent multiple press releases, and all of them are on our website on the Babs for Congress page,” she tells NewNowNext. “None of them have been run.”

As an example, Ramsey says her campaign released a statement condemning Turkey’s invasion of Kurdish occupied areas of northeastern Syria in October. The Lincoln Journal Star declined to report on the release, but the publication ran a nearly identical statement from her Democratic primary opponent, Kate Bolz, just days later.

The very next day, the Journal Star declined to include Ramsey’s name in a list of candidates running for the First Congressional District—a list which also includes Republican incumbent Jeff Fortenberry, who has held the seat since 2005. “It wasn’t an opinion piece at all,” Ramsey stresses. “It was just a statement of facts, and I was excluded from that.”
 

Ramsey says the erasure from local media—including publications like the Omaha World-Herald and the Grand Island Independent—means she has to work “three times as hard” just to get the word out that she’s in the race.

“When my primary opponent announced, she had a big kickoff with the press and everybody there—TV stations showed up,” she says. “None of the press showed up to my kickoff, which was a week before. I’ve had to work a lot harder, but the people that have jumped onto the campaign are very dedicated and excited. We’re definitely an underdog story.”

One of those dedicated supporters is campaign manager Mike Wilson, who was initially drawn to Ramsey because of what she stands for. A self-described progressive, Ramsey supports Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, and hopes to end President Trump’s trade war with China, which has put Nebraska farmers out of work.

But equally important, Wilson believes that what makes Ramsey special is that she doesn’t have the “polish” of a “Washington insider.” He says she’s like a “normal person you’d meet on the street.”

“When you’re with Babs and when you’re talking about policy, she’s just telling you how she actually feels,” he tells NewNowNext. “She’s not telling you what she thinks you want to hear or what she thinks will test the best. Those are the qualities that I think really make a good candidate.”

Barbara Ramsey for Congress

Wilson agrees, however, that the media freeze-out has made her candidacy extremely challenging. Her campaign team has begun to knock on doors and is holding town hall events across the district, but getting the word out to voters in 16 counties is a daunting task for three people. Aside from Wilson, the only other staffer behind the scenes is Casey Venema, Ramsey’s director of creative.

“In Eastern Nebraska, it takes a while for word to travel, especially out to those rural communities,” Wilson says. “It really just affects our reach.”

But the question remains: If elected in November, Ramsey would be the only trans person ever to be seated in the U.S. House of Representatives. Why wouldn’t any publication worth its salt be interested in covering a story with the potential to make history?

Wilson reached out to the Journal Star to ask that very question and says he was told the paper is “not covering a lot of races because they don’t feel that the voters are paying attention.”

Ramsey, though, doesn’t believe that explanation holds water—especially with the amount of coverage afforded to her more high-profile opponents. The problem, she contends, is that papers in Nebraska don’t view her as a “viable candidate.” She’s the very definition of an outsider: a security analyst with no political experience and a transgender woman running in one of the nation’s reddest states.

“Our newspapers are pretty conservative,” Ramsey says, “and they don’t want to give time to a trans woman.”

But even if her gender identity has been a deal breaker for local media, Ramsey says it’s proven a nonissue with Nebraska voters. Whenever the subject is raised in conversation with potential constituents, they are quick to move on from it. According to Ramsey, voters are more interested in hearing about her stance on gun control or marijuana policy than her LGBTQ identity. “Yeah, yeah, you’re trans,” she says she often hears. “Who cares?”

Meanwhile, there are signs Ramsey’s campaign is finding an audience. A few months ago, she sat for hours with a woman who tearfully confessed that she’d never felt represented in a local Congressional race. At the campaign kickoff the press ignored, a supporter approached Ramsey and came out as bisexual. “I’m not out yet, but I feel really empowered by your campaign,” he told her.

Ramsey remains confident that passion will prevail in November. “I am not planning on losing,” she says. “I’m working so hard. I’m going to win this.”

Nico Lang is an award-winning journalist and editor. His work has been featured in INTO, Rolling Stone, The Guardian, Esquire, and the L.A. Times.
@Nico_Lang