Politics & Elections

Nika Lomazzo to challenge John Lombardi in District 8

“I don’t think there are any elected officials advocating for trans people in Rhode Island,” said Nika Lomazzo talking to me about her intention to run for state representative in District 8. “There’s a ton of discrimination that happens with people being kicked out of businesses because they don’t look like their IDs.” I had been following Lomazzo’s activism for
Photo for Nika Lomazzo to challenge John Lombardi in District 8

Published on December 7, 2017
By Steve Ahlquist

“I don’t think there are any elected officials advocating for trans people in Rhode Island,” said Nika Lomazzo talking to me about her intention to run for state representative in District 8. “There’s a ton of discrimination that happens with people being kicked out of businesses because they don’t look like their IDs.”

I had been following Lomazzo’s activism for a while, and was impressed by honesty and revolutionary spirit. She emceed an event reacting to Donald Trump‘s proposed ban on transgender people serving in the military back in July. “Let us be clear that every day a trans person steps out of their house that is an act of not only bravery but revolution,” said Lomazzo.

In June I saw Lamazzo speaking at a Pride rally, where she called trans suicide “state-sanctioned murder.”

“When we live in a society that invalidates our identities both socially and legally, a government that rejects us and attacks us and a society which has refused to pass a single hate crime protection law for trans people, suicide is indeed murder by that society,” said Lomazzo then.

Lomazzo is 22 years old, and works three part time server and bar backing jobs to support herself. Her entry into politics was inspired by Danica Roem of Virginia, the “one of the nation’s first openly transgender elected officials” and Marcia Ranglin-Vassel of Rhode Island, who upset House Majority Leader John DeSimone in the last election. Ranglin-Vassel “is such an inspiration,” said Lomazzo. “She’s part of the reason I wanted to run.”

“I moved back to Providence almost three years ago and I decided to run now, rather than in a few years when I am more established and older, simply because of all of the trans people who have won in the last two months through the special elections,” said Lomazzo. “It got me thinking that there’s not enough being done in Rhode Island for trans people.

“You saw what I did over the summer in terms of the Trans Ban Rally and the Trans Action Event. I love community organizing, but you can’t get enough done if the politicians aren’t coming, and they’re not showing up to our events. We had the Mayor [Jorge Elorza] and the Governor [Gina Raimondo] come to two events, but it felt like a photo opp. They took their pictures, gave their speeches and left.”

So what kind of protections do trans people need?

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“I would like to see the trans panic defense taken out of the law books. It exists in every state except California.  It pre-dates the 1960s and what it means is that if a trans person is assaulted or murdered, the person that assaulted or murdered them can claim that they went into such a state of psychological distress and panic that they murdered the trans person. They can get off, they often get reduced sentencing.” The 2001 murder of Gwen Araujo, a 20-year old Latina trans women in New York City, led California to pass a laws against trans panic defenses.

“I would love to find a way to track businesses that discriminate against people. I have two trans friends. They were kicked out of two businesses in the last two months. They were kicked out of Twin River Casino and they were kicked out of The Strand, because they didn’t look like their IDs.

“I remember the Strand issue showing up on Facebook,” I said, “but don’t recall the resolution of that.”

“There was no resolution,” said Lomazzo. “We can all share it, but if you don’t have people in office sharing it and doing something about it, nothing happens. And of course you have people sharing it and asking if it was real, etc. But ask a trans person: It’s a real story. I see it happen all the time.

“I’ve been looking at bills across the country that really fight for trans rights in a workplace way and I’ve been working to model my own bills after them.”

Beyond trans rights, Lomazzo wants to unite her district so she can tackle issues of gentrification and fair housing. “I’m really passionate about finding a way to bring together what I see as two different communities in a small area. You have young artists, mostly young white artists and queer people and LGBT people living on Broadway and Federal Hill, and then you have so many long term residents that live in Olneyville. A lot of them are Latino, a lot of them are first generation, many are undocumented.

“After living in Brooklyn for two years I’ve seen how gentrification happens overnight, I’m seeing it on the West End particularly and especially in Olneyville right now. I’m not anti-business. I think businesses should be popping up, but I think that we need to be advocating for long term residents that are going to be forced out of their homes if things get to be the way they have in Boston, New York, Portland and San Francisco.”

I asked Lomazzo if she would be in favor of rent control to prevent to disruption of established communities.

“Absolutely,” she answered. “I’m really trying to find a way to run on a pro-housing platform for people.

Olneyville has a reputation of being a rundown area. It’s always been a thriving community of small businesses,” continued Lomazzo. “People came here and really worked this area after white flight. Now people are coming in and making it trendy. I’m part of that problem. I live in Providence but I work in Olneyville at a bougie bar, that could be considered a product of gentrification in the city.

“I’m trying to see it from all angles and trying to see how we can merge all these different groups of people together, who all are really distrustful of politicians.”

As for reaching out to the community, “my face is mostly known in the queer and LGBTQ community. I really want to branch out and not just be an activist for them. I’m reaching out to the long term residents and I really want to run a campaign that energizes young professionals and artists who live in the area but aren’t registered to vote because they don’t realize how much local politics impacts them.

“Like the food stamps cut that just happened,” continued Lomazzo. “A lot of my friends on the West End and Federal Hill are on food stamps. They need to understand that that is an issue they could fight for if they knew who their representative was.

“It’s a two-way street. If your representative is not reaching out to the community, maybe because you don’t donate to them because you don’t have money, because that’s how politics works, then you think that they don’t care about you. I don’t want our district to be that kind of place anymore.”

I asked Lomazzo what she thinks of her opponent, John Lombardi.

“I think John Lombardi is a nice guy. He’s intelligent. I also think he’s grown a bit complacent. He’s only been opposed once (by Libby Kimzey) and he beat her pretty well. I’ve had a lot of people ask me, ‘Why are you running against John, he’s such a nice guy, everyone in the neighborhood knows him,’ and to me, that’s just so Rhode Island.

“It’s a big statement on Rhode Island politics that people say, ‘Well, he’s my friend,’ which just shows how low the bar is. He’s a nice guy, but more could have been done since 2012, since he’s been in office. I’m hoping to reach out to groups in the city that he didn’t feel were important enough to go talk to.

“Lombardi came out in favor of gay marriage,” said Lomazzo, but, “there are so many groups of people in the LGBT community who still have not been fought for. The ball was dropped after gay marriage.”

In an area like Olneyville, issues of immigration and Trump’s newly empowered ICE are impossible to ignore, I said.

“I think that at the end of the day, Providence needs to be a Sanctuary City. I don’t understand the hesitancy. There is the threat of the Federal government denying us federal funds, but when your city has a high level of of undocumented people living here and so many first generation residents living here, we need to have a Sanctuary City.

“I’m completely against anything to do with ICE. I’ve read stories of people being detained at the court house downtown, going in for small offenses like selling untaxed cigarettes and then being carted off to prison and facing deportation. It’s not fair. Even if they did something illegal, even if they are not here legally, which I don’t even agree with that kind of complaint on humans anyway, they still deserve basic rights, they still deserve to have advocates there for them and the police in Providence should be protecting all people, not just those they deem worthy.

“I thought the Community Safety Act was really awesome,” continued Lomazzo. “I know people in Jobs with Justice and my Councilman, Bryan Principe helped to get it passed. We can always go further. The CSA is just a first step.”

Lomazzo has strong opinions on a host of issues. On reproductive rights, she’s “completely pro-choice.” It’s an issue “I would never waver on. That’s not an area I’ve been active in in Rhode Island, but it’s an issue that’s been close to my heart.”

She’s opposed to public money being spent on the PawSox stadium, comparing the scheme to 38 Studios.

On guns, “I fall in the middle. I am absolutely a gun control advocate. And I don’t think we should have access to assault weapons. I think the NRA is disgusting. But it’s really complex. I don’t think you can talk about gun control until you talk about demilitarizing the police. You have to look at people who are affected by guns: people of color, trans people, poor people… marginalized people who would feel safer if they were arming themselves.

“I loved the recent bill passed that keeps guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.

“I tell people to arm themselves with something like pepper spray if you’re going to leave the house in a vulnerable state. I never leave the house without pepper spray,” said Lomazzo.

Though Lomazzo thinks the legalization of marijuana would bring the state much needed monies, “I think the whole legalization of marijuana in this country is completely racist. We have so many men of color and people of color locked up in prison, who will not get out for years and years and have horrible records because they were selling weed, and now it’s being legalized.

“So we have to look at how we help these people thrown into prison now that we’re making it legal.”

That said, “On an economic level it should absolutely be legalized. I think it would give Rhode Island so much revenue, if you look at every other state that’s legalized it. Rhode Island really needs money. Issues like that are issues politicians need to stop fighting, because it’s going to happen eventually. It feels like the conversation we were having ten years ago. Any elected official trying to keep marijuana illegal is wasting their time and their constituents’ time.”

Lomazzo is also a strong believer in public education and the arts. “I want to fight for public education. I want to find every possible way to fund the arts for public schools. If you look statistically at how after school arts programs help students in low-income areas, it’s mind blowing and it leads to so many wonderful opportunities. Lots of these programs are suffering because they’re non-profits and the schools don’t have any money.”

Nika Lomazzo’s campaign kick-off is at 6pm on Tuesday December 12 at Justine’s in Olneyville Square.

Here’s video of Nika Lomazzo speaking at the protest to oppose Trump‘s proposed ban on transgender people serving in the military:

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