Delta Township trans candidate looks to move the needle


Alana Chriest’s upbringing in the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest made her a lifelong environmentalist.

Her most recent effort as an activist began in 2019, when Chriest, a 46-year-old transgender woman and sociology instructor at Delta College in Saginaw, moved into a home in Delta Township off Delta River Drive. It is near the north end of the Capital City Bird Sanctuary and across the street from the township-owned Hawk Meadow Park.

When Chriest heard that township leaders were considering a contract with Shady Lodge Farm to continue using 30 of Hawk Meadow Park’s 148 acres of public land for commercial farming, she spoke out in opposition at township meetings.

Though the board renewed the contract, Chriest’s frequent civic engagement inspired her to run for Delta Township trustee. She will face six other Democrats in the Aug. 6 primary election for one of four seats in the November general election.

Chriest’s campaign is particularly notable in that she could become the first locally elected trans-identifying public official in the area.

“My campaign is not about identity, but at the same time, I recognize I’m a representative of the community,” she said, recalling a powerful interaction she had at this year’s Lansing Pride festival.

“I was passing out campaign flyers and saw saw a trans-identified teen walking with their parents. I talked to them, and the teen said: ‘You’re running for office? That’s awesome.’ To me, that felt really good, because the teen saw someone showing them that they can live amongst everyone else and do normal, important things, too,” Chriest said.

For Chriest, the interaction was a full-circle moment. It reminded her of her own early struggles for identity.

“I grew up in a town that was very sheltered culturally, at a time when doing anything remotely feminine had you labeled a fag,” said Chriest, who was raised in Duvall, Washington.

“I knew then that I wasn’t gay, but I also really identified as a girl, and later a woman,” Chriest said. “At any rate, I was bullied for just being a quiet person and went through periods of thinking I was broken. I learned to keep it bottled up as deep inside as I could.”

“Later, I overexerted myself by being as masculine as possible,” she added. “I wanted them to know that I liked all the cool things — some of which I still like today because I don’t draw a hard line between masculine and feminine interests. For one, I still like to turn a wrench on my 1987 Subaru GL.”

Chriest finally came out as a transgender woman to her girlfriend-turned-wife, Linnea, in 2015. By 2016, she was living full time in public as a woman, she said.

At the time, Chriest was a graduate student teaching a food science course at the University of Vermont. A defining moment came while she was working a shift at a local bar for extra income.

“When we were slow, I often found this perch in the bar by the service station that I’d lean against and watch ESPN. One day, ESPN — which is of course a very male-driven channel — is showing this cover of Vogue, a fashion magazine, with what looks like to be a 60-year-old woman in a one-piece bathing suit. I remember thinking it seemed out of place for them,” Chriest said.

Chriest later learned that the cover model was Caitlyn Jenner, the former men’s decathlon Olympic champion Bruce Jenner, who came out as transgender in April 2015 after living for 66 years as a man.

“Putting aside the Kardashian spectacle, I saw someone who was semi-normal, who used to be hyper-masculine, willing to give all of that up to live their true self,” Christ said.

The experience contributed to Chriest’s decision to start presenting herself publicly as a woman. When she did, she said, “Everything about my life was explained.” Fortunately, she added, Linnea stuck with her and they welcomed twins into the family last fall.

Nowadays, Chriest carries herself with full confidence in her identity and qualifications for a trustee seat. When she’s not working her day job, she’s been hard at work on her campaign.

“I’m not running as a trans person or on identity politics, especially at the local level. I don’t have any ambitions beyond my community. I truly just want to create a good place to live for myself, my family, my neighbors and community,” Chriest said.

To be nominated, she’ll go toe-to-toe with incumbents Elizabeth Bowen, Fonda Brewer, Andrea Cascarilla and Karen Mojica plus hopefuls Jerimic Clayborn III and Tina Brill. Four will emerge to run against only two Republicans for the four open seats in November.

Bowen, a nonfiction writer and owner of the public relations firm Grasswing Public Affairs, was elected in 2020. Brewer, a retired Michigan Education Special Services Association employee, is seeking her second term as well. Cascarilla, who spent nearly 25 years as a legislative staffer, is seeking her third term. Mojica, the senior trustee, is finishing her fourth term.

Clayborn is a Sexton High School graduate and community engagement specialist with the Lansing School District. Brill was a regional sales director for Claires Stores.

The two candidates in the Republican primary are Michelle Hart and David Howell.  Hart, previously government relations coordinator for the Michigan Townships Association, is an analyst for the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. Howell is a retired physician’s assistant.

The top four vote-getters will be elected in November.

Chriest hopes her message is strong enough to propel her into the top four on election day. While environmentalism is a priority, she also supports more affordable housing, “smarter” infrastructure development and creating a township-funded community center.

Though she’s not making her LGBTQ+ identity a selling point to voters, she also can’t help considering what her victory would mean for trans visibility in the area.

“We’re here and we’re not going anywhere. We’re not just entertainers or influencers on social media. We’re working at businesses, we’re in your social institutions — and yes, we can run for office,” Chriest said.


Alana Chriest, Hawk Meadow Park, Delta Charter Township, Washington, environmentalism, politics, local, municipal, government, elections, Karen Mojica, Elizabeth Bowen, Fonda Brewer, Andrea Cascarilla, Jerimic Clayborn III, Tina Brill


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