Zeloszelos Marchandt would bring experience in theater, health care, and journalism plus an extensive activist background to the Oregon House.
Zeloszelos Marchandt has a varied résumé — journalist, health care worker, entrepreneur, playwright, theater director. Now he’s looking to add state representative to that list, becoming the first transgender male state legislator in the nation.
“We’re all anxious about the fate of the world for a variety of reasons,” Marchandt says by way of explaining his motivation to run for office.
He is running for the Oregon House of Representatives in District 35, a newly drawn district in the suburbs of Portland. In Tuesday’s Democratic primary, he’s facing straight cisgender woman Farrah Chaichi. Daniel Martin is the only candidate in the Republican primary. The district is heavily Democratic, so the Democratic nominee is basically assured of election in November.
Marchandt, 42, who is Black and Indigenous, was born in Nashville and moved to Oregon as a child with his brother and mother, who was leaving an abusive marriage. His mom found employment, but the family still often struggled financially and at times experienced homelessness. He’s lived most of his life in Washington County, where District 35 is located. The county’s population is 45 percent people of color, and it has a large proportion of LGBTQ+ residents.
He worked for several years as a journalist, writing for various publications and serving as news editor at public radio station KBOO. He spent some time in health care, assisting medical examiners and emergency response teams. He runs Peacock House Oregon, a community-supported agriculture project that connects farmers and food buyers. In 2020 he founded T & A Grand Theater, a company that focuses on productions centering Black and Indigenous trans, Two-Spirit, gender-nonconforming, and queer people. The theater, in partnership with another troupe, has an artist-in-residency program called Ten, Tiny, Talks, specifically for Black and Indigenous trans, Two-Spirit, gender-nonconforming, and queer artists.
With all that, Marchandt has also been active in politics as a leader of the Washington County Democratic Party and chair of its Black Americans Caucus. He has worked with Black Lives Matter and in the LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights movements, and he has helped write legislation to expand housing opportunities.
He plans to continue working for all those causes as a state lawmaker. His priorities also include fighting climate change, increasing education funding, and assuring that the economy works for everyone, not just the people at the top. He has the endorsements of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, Basic Rights Oregon, and Planned Parenthood PAC of Oregon, along with labor unions and other groups.
Oregon, where he’d be the first out trans person elected to state office, is often seen as friendly to LGBTQ+ people, but there is still room for improvement, Marchandt notes. To support existing protections, he says, there needs to be better training for lawyers. There also needs to be more education on civil rights at the grassroots level, and the LGBTQ+ community should be included whenever demographic data is collected, he adds.
On racial justice, he tells The Advocate, “Conversations have to be had one on one. Going forward, I’m going to continue to have these conversations.”
Marchandt, who is gender-expansive and has a trans partner and a 19-year-old queer son, is currently estranged from his family of origin. He came out to them several times, and they didn’t take it seriously until he changed his name. They didn’t take that well. “We haven’t talked in seven years,” he notes. His father is a devout Seventh-Day Adventist, a faith that is not accepting of LGBTQ+ identities. “I don’t think he’s ever going to really understand who I am,” Marchandt says.
But there is hope where his mother is concerned. “I’ve heard through the grapevine,” he says, “that she’s rooting for me and wants me to win.”