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Sonoma County Has Its First Openly Transgender Woman in Public Office

Cassandra Albaugh was elected to a seat on the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District Board of Trustees in Sonoma County, Calif., after running unopposed. Albaugh will serve a four-year term.

(TNS) — Cassandra Albaugh has lived many lives. She's traveled the world as a military officer, raised two children, fought tirelessly for equal opportunities and worked as a journalist.

Now, Albaugh gets to live another.

On Dec. 13, the Rohnert Park resident became the first openly transgender woman to serve in a public office in Sonoma County, Calif. Albaugh was elected to a seat on the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District Board of Trustees after running unopposed. She'll serve a four-year term.

"Someone has to be first," Albaugh, 71, said. "I'm glad the barrier is broken. I'm waiting for the day where you don't have to be the first — you can just be a person doing a job that you're qualified for."

Albaugh knew some day she wanted to run for the board after seeing the challenges facing her kids and the faculty at school and hearing concerns while covering local meetings as a journalist for The Community Voice in Rohnert Park.

But she waited — several years — for the right time.

She faced several physical and social transitions in her life, including a gender-affirming surgery, divorce and slowly learning how to accept herself.

In March 2022, she finally felt comfortable to announce she was running, she said.

Although she doesn't have an extensive agenda in mind for the future, she wants to ensure all voices are heard and considered. Such voices include those of Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District Superintendent Mayra Perez, the district's board members, staff, parents and their children, particularly when addressing issues and making decisions.

She also wants the district to continue implementation of project-based learning and make all curriculum more inclusive, striving to ensure school resources to support the LGBTQ+ community are in place.

"I want our school district to serve all our children regardless of race, ethnicity, or other diversity factors," Albaugh said. "I want to continue to be innovative while being fiscally responsible. That's important."

During her term, she plans to visit schools she's unfamiliar with, such as Thomas Page Academy, Marguerite Hahn Elementary, Evergreen Elementary School and Richard Crane Elementary School, to figure out their hopes, goals and needs for the future.

As someone who understands how challenging it is to feel "different," she plans to help students feel safe by adding more programs similar to Santa Rosa's Community Matters that already involves Technology Middle School and Rancho Cotati High School.

"Having been different and struggled by being different, I can empathize with those who feel the same way, regardless of their diversity factor," Albaugh said.

Albaugh, who was born in St. Louis, was 17 when she joined the U.S. Coast Guard working as a seaman recruit. She went on to serve on active duty for over 28 years. In 1997, she retired as a lieutenant commander. Albaugh moved to Rohnert Park in 1989.

During her active duty, her passion for fighting for equal opportunities and addressing diversity issues was apparent. In the early 1980s, she served as the military civil rights counselor/facilitator at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center in Virginia. She was one of the first military trainers to address sexual harassment issues as women were integrated into the U.S. military, Albaugh said.

Shortly after Perez became superintendent in March 2020, Albaugh interviewed her for a story for The Community Voice. Since then, Perez said she has observed Albaugh's efforts to understand the school district on a deeper level, namely sitting in on board and council meetings.

"I'm impressed by her willingness to celebrate the positives in our district and her continuous efforts to truly learn more about it," Perez said.

Albaugh was endorsed by the LGBTQ+ Victory Fund, a political action committee that works to elect LGBTQ+ candidates to public office on the state, local and national levels.

In 2017, Lisa Middleton became the first transgender person elected to a non-judicial office in California.

"Visibility matters," Albaugh said. "I want the generations after me to look up and see someone who's different, who made it, and is serving not because they're transgender, Black or female, but because they're qualified."

(c)2023 The Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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