Unconventional Politician Althea Garrison Joins Boston City Council

By, Sindhu K. ’19

Althea Garrison’s name has been on the Boston ballot 32 times over the past few decades. Having run as a Democrat, a Republican, and an independent, she has aimed for positions as state representative, member of the Boston City Council, and mayor, all to no avail—that is, until this year, when she was finally sworn in on January 9 as city councilor at 78 years old. To Garrison, it is a dream come true.

Garrison identifies as a conservative but acknowledges that she has liberal ideas. In the past, she voted for Donald Trump during presidential elections and has also opposed abortion, gun control, affirmative action, and same-sex marriage. However, she now states that “I treat everybody equal. No special privileges with me. I actually don’t like special privileges.” Whether tactically or driven by new passions, her focus has seemingly shifted, and she now voices plans to advocate for affordable housing, senior citizens, and homeless veterans.

Despite her long history of failures, this appointment is not the first time that Garrison has held public office. The only other time was in 1982 when she won a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives after running as a Republican. It was common knowledge at the time in Bostonian political circles that Garrison was a transgender woman, but she was soon outed to the public by the Boston Herald. Publicity surrounding her gender identity exploded after that, and she quickly became viewed as an aberration—her gender identity almost always mentioned alongside her name. When Garrison was elected, she had become the first known transgender person to hold state office in America; after serving only one term, she was never elected again.

Garrison has maintained a positive attitude and strong work ethic despite her setbacks, and she avoids speaking to the media about her transgender identity, choosing to focus instead on her work. This past year, she has been strategically campaigning for Ayanna Pressley for Congress. She explained on WBUR, “Because I was next in line to succeed on the council — I was the runner-up in last year’s election. So I knew if she got elected, I would take her seat. And everything worked out perfect.”

Garrison’s strategy was clearly successful. Her entering public office has been widely celebrated for the diversity of representation that she brings to the dialogue on Boston’s biggest issues, including homelessness. However, it is still controversial among some.

“I have conflicting feelings about Ms. Garrison’s achievement,” said Señor J. “On one hand, it speaks to significant changes in our society when an African-American trans woman is welcomed so warmly to serve on Boston’s City Council… So, in the interest of a more civil and just society, I celebrate her success. On the other hand, I do not agree with Garrison’s political views, from her support of the current president and his policies to her opposition to gay rights… so I am sorry such a regressive voice will replace Ms. Pressley’s in that chamber.”