When Danielle Skidmore answers the phone for an interview, it’s 9:30am on the dot in Austin, TX. But the early call doesn’t phase her and she opens up with ease and enthusiasm, almost as if she’s speaking with a friend, not a reporter. Background noise crackles faintly over the line as she speaks. Later, Skidmore reveals that those noises are coming from her son, Peter, a 17-year-old with special needs whom Skidmore amicably co-parents with her ex.
“I’m a bit of a stay-at-home mom in the mornings,” she says, laughing as she explains how she’s helping Peter move from his bathroom chair to his wheelchair. “This is the story of campaign life. It never stops.”
That small moment seems to encapsulate Skidmore’s life better than any image or quote ever could. She wears many hats: As a resident of Austin for more than two decades, Skidmore has come to know and love the city with an immense passion. (It helps that she’s a civil engineer by trade, too, with over 20 years of experience in designing infrastructure for Austin and other cities in Texas.) As a transgender woman and board member of Austin’s LGBT Quality of Life Commission, she’s a recognized authority on local issues pertaining to the LGBTQ community. And as the mother of a child with special needs, she’s also learned a thing or two about Austin’s ongoing issues with housing accessibility.
Now, Skidmore wants to put her lived experiences and city expertise to work: She’s running for a spot on Austin’s City Council, a victory which would make her Texas’ first openly transgender person elected into office.
Skidmore officially filed her paperwork to join the race for city council this March. She’d spent a lot of time at the Texas State Capitol in the spring and summer of 2017 pushing back against anti-transgender bathroom bills on the state level. “It really taught me that if you want to make change, you have to step up and serve,” she says.
But Skidmore began to question whether she was even qualified for elected office. She started holding private meetings with friends, colleagues, and fellow Austin residents to gauge interest in a potential campaign before she announced her candidacy.
“The answer I kept getting from everybody was, ‘Oh my God, you would do a wonderful job on council!'” she recalls with a laugh. “But—almost like my own gender transition from years before—I kept looking for excuses. And everybody I talked to, every moment, just reaffirmed that it was the right choice to make.”
It was then that she re-connected with activist Alicia Roth Weigel, who previously worked alongside former Texas Sen. Wendy Davis at the advocacy group Deeds Not Words. The two had met at an earlier engagement and sparked up a quick friendship. Weigel, who is intersex, embarked on her own coming out journey shortly after meeting Skidmore, sharing her story with the public for the first time in front of the Texas state legislature during a testimony against a bathroom bill. “That’s how she came out, sort of zero to 100 in a day, and hasn’t looked back,” Skidmore recalls, pride in her voice. “She’s an amazing, fierce fighter.”
Down the line, when Skidmore announced that she wanted to run for office, they danced around the topic of Weigel becoming her campaign manager for two months. Finally, both of them broke down and revealed their mutual desire to have Weigel spearhead the campaign, and the rest was history.
“I have a 28-year-old female campaign manager, which is still unheard of in politics, even when women run for office,” Skidmore says. “But running for office is such a vulnerable place. I can’t imagine doing it without having somebody with me who’s not only invested as a professional, but invested as a human being.”
Skidmore admits that she hasn’t received as much transphobic vitriol in reaction to her candidacy as she’d anticipated, at least not locally. (“I mean, trolls are trolls, and they’ll do it behind a keyboard,” she laughs.)
There was one time, however, when Skidmore unknowingly engaged with conservative YouTuber Steven Crowder on the street in Austin. Their conversation was recorded and uploaded to YouTube as part of Crowder’s “Change My Mind” series, the hook being his belief that “there are only two genders.”
“I sat down with him, we started talking, and a minute or two into the conversation, my phone started blowing up with texts, including one from Alicia,” Skidmore recalls. “She was like, ‘Holy shit, Steven Crowder’s in Austin!’ Mind you, I’m in front of him with a microphone already.”
Unbeknown to Skidmore, Crowder has more than 2 million subscribers on YouTube. Their interview has been viewed 4 million times.
Skidmore’s conversation with Crowder led to some “really ugly hate”—64,000 comments, to be exact. But Skidmore is glad she did the interview and proud of 100 or so emails she’s received from some of Crowder’s viewers, who wrote “whole letters” thanking her for changing their minds. “It’s taught me that visibility is important,” she adds. “And I’m lucky that I get to be visible and out and proud with what I see as relatively little consequences.”
Promoting a platform of “accessibility, mobility, sustainability, and equity,” Skidmore believes that the scope of her professional and personal experiences gives her valuable insight into what Austin could be doing better for its residents.
“As a transportation engineer, I think I can bring a voice that is different than we’ve had,” she says. “But as a trans woman and a special needs parent, my lived experience has really taught me that it’s so important to intentionally listen to all of the voices on an issue. That really has been central in our campaign.”
Skidmore says that people are “really excited” about the prospect of having an openly trans person elected into office. The closest thing Texans have is former New Hope Mayor Jess Herbst, who came out as transgender months after being appointed to office in May 2016.
Her voice softens, and she adds, “I would be honored to represent the city when we have to go back to the capitol to fight for our rights.”