Shauna O'Toole is seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge state Sen. Pam Helming in the 54th Senate District race. 


If Shauna O'Toole is successful, she could become the first openly transgender candidate elected to the New York state Legislature. 

O'Toole, 59, is seeking the Democratic nomination in the 54th Senate District. The district is represented by freshman state Sen. Pam Helming, a Republican.

Throughout her professional career, O'Toole has been an author, engineer, public speaker and scientist. She founded a nonprofit organization, the We Exist Coalition of the Finger Lakes. The group's mission, according to its Facebook page, is to "promote transgender and gender-expansive awareness and equality." 

A Geneva resident, O'Toole said it wasn't a "snap decision" to run for state Senate. One motivating factor was a memo issued by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions declaring that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not extend to transgender individuals. The action ended workplace protections expanded during the Obama administration aimed at preventing discrimination based on gender identity. 

If elected to the state Senate, O'Toole pledged to advocate for passage of the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act. The bill, which would prohibit gender identity discrimination, was first introduced in 2003. The Democratic-led state Assembly passed the measure several times, but it hasn't advanced in the Republican-controlled Senate. 

"They won't even bring it to the floor for a vote," O'Toole said. 

There are other issues O'Toole wants to focus on as a state lawmaker. She proposed a partnership between New York and other states, including California and Illinois, to provide low-cost health insurance. The health care system would allow people who change jobs and move to one of the member states to keep their coverage. 

As a scientist, she believes energy needs to be a higher priority. 

"We need to move away from the demand on fossil fuels because climate change is real," she said. "People say it's only a theory. There's overwhelming evidence. Climate change is real." 

O'Toole wants more alternative energy generating stations in New York. This would include the installation of solar farms or wind turbines. 

Taxes are on her agenda, too. She opposes the Republican tax plan in Congress which she thinks will benefit the wealthy, not middle-class or working-class Americans. 

In New York, she supports tax cuts for the middle class. To achieve this, she proposes increasing taxes on high-income earners. 

"States that have done this have succeeded," she said. 

O'Toole's platform is a work in progress. She plans to hold town hall meetings in communities throughout the district. Her goal is to hear from residents about their concerns and what issues affect them. That feedback will be used to finalize her platform. 

Defeating Helming, R-Canandaigua, will be difficult. There are 14,314 more active Republican voters than Democrats in the district, according to the latest state Board of Elections enrollment records. 

But the GOP enrollment advantage doesn't bother O'Toole. 

"People want change ... That's something that's going to be in my favor," she said. 

There is the possibility that she will make history. An openly transgender individual hasn't served in New York state government.

Two transgender candidates have been elected to legislature seats in other states: Danica Roem, who recently became the first transgender person elected to the Virginia state Legislature, and Stacie Laughton, who won a New Hampshire state house seat in 2012. 

Althea Garrison, a Massachusetts state representative, came out as transgender after she was elected in 1992. 

If O'Toole wins the 2018 election, she thinks it will be an indication of "people wanting politics as normal to go away."

"It will be powerful for the entire trans community," she said. "It will be powerful for every minority in the state."