Eagan's Paula Overby plans to be the state's first transgender candidate for Congress [AUDIO]

Overby, Minnesota's first transgender candidate for Congress.
Overby, Minnesota's first transgender candidate for Congress.
Olivia LaVecchia

There's a new candidate in the race to unseat Rep. John Kline in the Second Congressional District, and she's the first transgender person to run to represent Minnesota in the U.S. House.

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Paula Overby, a quality assurance analyst who hasn't previously run for political office, doesn't want her gender identity to define her campaign. But, she says, her life experiences give her a different set of qualifications than most career politicians.

"You don't just wake up one day and decide, 'I think I'll run for Congress,'" Overby explains. "It was a lengthy series of events. A lot of it has to do with the social injustice I've lived with, and just a recognition of the need."

For 49 of her 59 years, Overby struggled to live as a man. About 10 years ago, she began to explore her transgender identity, and after seven years as "a man in a dress," Overby says, she started presenting as bi-gender. Two years ago, she finally decided to make the transition to being a woman.

The process of transitioning has been "liberating," Overby says, and has also resulted in a political awakening. After a brutal four-year custody battle over the youngest of her three children, Overby felt more aware of inequalities in the political and legal systems. Now, she is making campaign finance reform and the inclusion of marginalized voters the central issues of her candidacy.

"I've been following the state party now for two years, and I do believe that the DFL is making a legitimate effort to be more inclusive," Overby says. "I felt we really needed a candidate that represents people, that understands social issues, social justice issues, child custody issues, and has a background in problem-solving and data analysis."

Overby isn't alone in the 2014 race. Rep. John Kline is the six-term Republican incumbent, but Democrat Mike Obermueller is eying his seat, as is political newcomer Thomas Craft.

Just last week, Overby got the last of the 1,000 signatures required on her filing petition, a process that involved knocking on thousands of doors. Through all of it, Overby says, she encountered just two negative reactions to her gender.

But while the response on the campaign trail has been positive, Overby's already had to confront ignorance on the commentator circuit. On August 12, Tom Barnard and the KQRS Morning Show discussed Overby's candidacy on the air in a way, Overby says, that "typifies the kind of abusive commentary that people make about transgender people."

"She looks a lot like a guy," Barnard said of Overby on the show. "When they say that they were born as a man but they now identify as a woman, does that mean they're a woman? Because I could identify as the heavyweight champion of the world and it doesn't mean a damn thing."

To Overby, the attention was reflective of the prejudice that she's running, in part, to combat. "Transgender women as a whole are very highly persecuted and we're grossly sensationalized," Overby says. "Even within the GLBT community, what I'm doing is an enormous challenge."

Here's the clip from the show:

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