1st transgender candidate on the ballot in Kent Co.

Gidget Groendyk. (Feb. 23, 2016)

SPARTA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The voters in rural Sparta Township will be the first in Kent County to see an openly transgender person’s name on the ballot.

The choice for township supervisor will include Gidget Groendyk, formerly known as Scott Wade Langford.

In 2011, Groendyk officially changed her name as she transitioned from a man to a woman.

After suffering discrimination and even physical abuse as a transgender person, Groendyk said she feels it is time for someone like her to seek public office of in Sparta.

Groendyk said that while she wants Sparta Township to embrace LGBT rights, as a business owner and lifelong resident of the area where her family has lived for generations, she would represent a broad cross section of issues.

Speaking from the small hair salon she owns, Groendyk acknowledged she is a long shot to win. But she said the fact that she is running should be an interesting social experiment to see if the people of Sparta Township are open to change.

Larry Deshane Jr., operations manager for the West Michigan LGBT support group Grand Rapids Pride Center, says regardless of whether Groendyk is a viable candidate, having a transgender person openly running for public office boosts the visibility of the trans community.

“It’s one thing to see Caitlyn Jenner on TV. It’s another to know someone down the street,” Deshane said.

Groendyk’s former name will appear on the ballot because she changed her name within the last 10 years, according to Susan DeSteiguer, Kent County’s elections director.

Deshane and DeSteiguer say Groendyk is the first openly transgender person they are aware of running for public office in Kent County.

Dale Bergman has been the Sparta Township supervisor for 20 years and plans to run again. He supports Groendyk’s plan to run but says there are more issues at stake.

“Naturally, it’s the office and the experience and how well somebody would think you could do the office, so it might not have anything to do with transgender aspect at all,” Bergman said.

Bergman says he believes that Sparta Township residents will make their decision fairly.

“We’re all human beings. We should all be treated like human beings,” he said.

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