TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y.—Osun Zotique is the latest to join the 2022 Congressional race for NY-19, and, if elected, would be the first nonbinary and transgender person elected to a federal position.

Zotique, a first-generation Cuban American whose first name is pronounced “ocean, like the sea,” is the executive director of OutHudson, a nonprofit in Columbia County that advocates for LGBTQ+ individuals, and also teaches yoga in Hudson, New York. (Zotique uses they/them pronouns.)

Growing up in a highly conservative area outside of Atlanta, Zotique moved to New York to attend Fordham University and to escape the “deeply homophobic and unaccepting environment” for queer youth where they lived.

“Being gay or trans was simply not an option — it didn’t even exist. It wasn’t ‘don’t say gay,’ there was no gay, and it was very debilitating,” they said.

After college, with a start as a musician, Zotique became a music educator, finding their way into schools and becoming a faculty member. While on the faculty, Zotique began to learn about education policy and transitioned their career path toward community service, “amplifying our vibration through music and the arts and through transformation and advocacy.”

Zotique considers themselves untraditional since they aren’t an elected official or career politician, giving themselves the outsider aesthetic that has become increasingly popular. “It’s all the same work — just leadership. I think that it’s perfectly natural for these historically significant individuals to step in and step up.”

Feeling most at home in upstate New York, Zotique said that the culmination of nature, historical significance of the suffrage and LGBTQ+ movements, emphasis on arts and higher education is what makes them love the NY-19 district.

“Leadership is about noticing things that are not working, noticing things that are not okay by me and that become unacceptable to the people I care about,” they said.

Women’s rights and health

When the Supreme Court draft to overturn Roe v. Wade was released, Zotique felt called to run for office where they could advocate for basic rights on a greater level.

“I’m very concerned that people are going to be harmed if they don’t have access to legal and safe abortions,” Zotique said, continuing on to quote Hillary Clinton when she said that abortions should be “safe, legal and rare.”

Despite the situation being scary for so many people, Zotique said, they believe that the silver lining is that it “unleashed one of the biggest waves of activism” the country has seen. They also see it as an opportunity to overhaul sex edducation, which is currently “abysmal” and not federally mandated on any level.

“To my knowledge, the common core curriculum for sex ed in New York State references the term for ‘AIDS’ 63 times and ‘consent’ zero times,” they said. They also said that they are grateful for New York’s status as a “harbor” state for abortive care and hopes that it can be an example for other states’ abortion rights laws in the future.

Gun control and safety

Growing up in Georgia, Zotique said they understand the enjoyment of recreational hunting — that being said, Zotique also acknowledges that the gun industry has nothing to do with nature and being outside: “We have an extremely powerful lobby in respect to the gun industry.”

Fully in support of the New York Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act, Zotique said they align with both Democrats and Republicans in terms of the conversations around gun control and see the need for shifting away from the conversation of controlling guns toward a new conversation of protecting children.

“I think that this paradigm shift would be really helpful toward investing in protocols,” they said. “I think that translates into policy really well, because obviously civilians have no business buying assault rifles, but we need to get into the weeds about school safety protocols.”

Other notes

Zotique said they are inspired by leaders who don’t come from career politics but rather from community-serving leadership and service roles.

“Assuming they have a really good understanding of policy and how government works, let us not forget that there’s an entire team of people that support every single Congressperson, like legislative directors, chief of staff and so on,” Zotique said, also recognizing that there are “absolutely more obstacles” than just visibility and representation, which is near and dear to them personally and professionally.

In closing, Zotique acknowledged the power of habit, saying that Congress is behind the times with its appropriations of procedural votes and appropriations that are followed without being updated to current times.

Zoë Freer-Hessler

Zoë Freer-Hessler is a general assignment reporter for the Ithaca Voice. She has covered a wide range of topics since joining the news organization in November 2021. She can be reached at zhessler@ithacavoice.com...