Avon Township candidate's victory hailed as win for transgender community

Kristal Larson's election to township clerk in central Lake County is being celebrated by proponents of LGBTQ rights across the Chicago area and the nation.

Larson, chosen by voters Tuesday as Avon Township's next clerk, is the first openly transgender candidate to win elected office in Lake County and only the second in Illinois' history. Larson previously served as an Avon Township trustee but was not openly transgender at that time.

Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund political action committee, said the impact of Larson's victory "will extend far beyond the borders of Avon Township."

"At a time when trans people are under constant attack by politicians who weaponize hate for political gain, Kristal's victory will counter their bigoted narrative and help transform perceptions of who trans people are," Parker said in a news release. "Kristal will become a role model and inspiration for many trans people who too rarely see themselves in positions of power."

Only 36 out trans elected officials serve in the U.S., according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which is dedicated to supporting openly LGBTQ public officials. The first in Illinois was Cook County circuit court Judge Jill Rose Quinn, who won her post last year.

Lake County Board Chair Sandy Hart publicly congratulated Larson on her victory, too, saying Larson showed "great leadership and courage" by running for office.

"Her win is a significant and important milestone for the LGBTQ+ community and those of us who stand with them," said Hart, a Lake Bluff Democrat.

Larson occasionally was overwhelmed with emotion Wednesday as she celebrated her political triumph. She acknowledged the historic nature of the win but insisted she ran to improve financial accountability in the township, not to be a trailblazer.

"It's never been about that," said Larson, who lives in Hainesville. "But at the same time, it's so nice."

Larson defeated Yesenia Jaycee Ochoa for the clerk's post, unofficial election results show. The current clerk, Jeanne Kearby, ran for trustee and won.

Avon Township includes areas of central Lake County near Round Lake, Grayslake, Hainesville and Third Lake.

Larson served one term as a township trustee under her birth name, from 2013 to 2017. She came out as transgender early last year and legally changed her name in August.

A member of the Avon Focused slate, Larson was the target of a transphobic political attack shortly before Election Day.

A mailer marked as being sent by the rival Avon Community Engaged slate disparagingly identified Larson by her former name. The Avon Community Engaged slate was led by incumbent township Supervisor and Lake County Board member Terry Wilke, a Round Lake Beach Democrat.

Larson was enraged by the mailer. Her gender journey wasn't a secret, and the letter "felt like an attack," she said.

The mailer was publicly criticized by local residents, activists and members of the Lake County Board, including Democrats and Republicans.

"This is a human rights issue," said Lake County Board member Dick Barr, a Round Lake Beach Republican who is a friend of Larson's and a leading critic of the mailer. "Everyone deserves respect, even if they do or think things that are different from you."

Members of the Avon Community Engaged slate apologized for how the mailer referred to Larson.

In an email to his fellow county board members, Wilke acknowledged sending the mailer but insisted he is supportive of the LGBTQ community.

Wilke subsequently resigned from the county board's diversity and inclusion committee, of which he was vice chair. Larson said Wilke personally has apologized to her, too.

On Tuesday, Wilke lost his township supervisor job to challenger Michele Bauman, a member of Larson's slate. Bauman received more than 71% of the vote, unofficial results showed.

The next day, in a letter to county board members and other officials, Larson called for Wilke to immediately resign as both township supervisor and county board member.

Wilke couldn't be reached for comment.

With the election over, Larson is looking forward to taking office in early May. She'll assume a seat once held by her late mother, Molli.

"To be able to sit where she sat is such an honor, such a privilege," Larson said.

Lake County Board member condemned over 'deadnaming' transgender candidate

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