June 6th: Politician and Activist Joanne Conte

Day 6 of LGBT Icons and today we are going to learn a few things. First, we’re talking about Joanne Conte, a transgender politician and radio show host.

Joanne Conte was born on October 18th, 1933 in New York. At the time of her birth, it was determined that she was born male. Although born in New York, her family moved to Arvada, Colorado where she attended high school. After, she joined the military as a Morse code operator during the Korean War but returned to Arvada following her discharge.

In the 1970s, she came out as transgender and legally changed her name to Joanne Marie Conte. Then in 1972, she had gender confirmation surgery. Sadly, her family disowned her following her coming out. During the 1980s  Conte got involved with politics. She worked to keep Arvada’s City Council from building a trash transfer station in a nearby neighborhood.

It wasn’t until 1991 that Conte actually decided to run for Arvada’s City Council. She worked extensively hard on her campaign. She ended up winning a seat as a councilwoman. In her time there, Conte focused a lot on the citizens and getting them access to city politics so they could make smart decisions about the people they elected. Although she wanted transparency in politics, she still kept her past a secret and rightfully so. The 90s were not the most openminded of times.

Unfortunately, some sick people had other plans.

Some of Joanne’s opponents hired a private investigator to look into her past and they ended up finding the documentation of her name change and surgery. The information was leaked to a tabloid and they planned to drop the story outing Joanne on the front page. She found out and got in front of the story before the tabloid could release it. Joanne came out as transgender and sadly, it destroyed her political career.

In 1994, she tried to run as an Independent for the Colorado House of Representatives. Secretary of State, Natalie Meyer, denied her a spot on the ballot at first but after a legal battle, Conte was allowed on. She lost and thus put the nail in the coffin of her political career. Although she was no longer in office, she did stay very vocal about her political opinions. 

Joanne went over to 850 KOA to host a radio show. Due to their misogynistic and transphobic advertising, she left their station to be an investigative journalist for KGNU radio. There, she hosted her own weekly shows and reported on the issues of those who were repressed. It was a great place for her.

Joanne remained active in politics until about 2006 and she passed away on January 27th, 2013.

Joanne is someone whose story we need to hear about. Being outed and the manipulative blackmail that people use is sadly something I’ve seen and heard of far too often in the LGBT community. Her story needs to be told, not only for the inspiring factor for transgender people in politics but also for straight or cis people to understand the dangers and backlash of outing someone.

IMO, outing someone is one of the worst things you can do to them. It happened to me and I was absolutely ridiculed before I even knew how to handle myself. When you out someone, you can put them in dangerous – even life or death – situations. Coming out is someone’s choice and to take that away from them is harmful and rude. 

As you can see with Joanne, it was the end of her political career but things could have been so much worse. It’s so sad to say that sometimes outing someone can be a literal death sentence. So today don’t just remember about Joanne Conte and her brave fight to help her hometown, also remember the harmful effects of outing someone. 

Thank you, Joanne.

Information from Wikipedia

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