A Southern Minnesota man is officially launching a campaign that could make him the first openly transgender member of the Legislature.

Davin Sokup, 32, will kick off his bid for the 20th Senate District at a brewery in Northfield Tuesday night. The carpenter, who owns his own business, is running for the DFL nomination to challenge incumbent GOP Sen. Rich Draheim.

Nationwide, a record number of LGBTQ candidates ran — and won — in 2018. But activists say the community remains underrepresented at all levels of politics. The nation's first openly transgender state legislator, Virginia Delegate Danica Roem, was elected just two years ago, in 2017.

Sokup said he plans to focus his campaign on a need for "bigger change" on issues such as affordable housing, health care and the environment.

"It's just getting harder and harder to afford really essential things like health care and housing in our area," he said. "While wages have really remained pretty much the same, the cost of everything has increased dramatically and that has been pushing people out of rural communities."

Sokup also plans to talk "really openly" about being transgender on the campaign trail. On a fundamental level, Sokup said it's important for people struggling with their own gender identity to see people like him model "success in being trans and being out."

The Northfield resident said his life experience has also made him more open and "better at advocating for myself and others around me," an attribute he said would make him an effective state legislator.

"I think the experience of being trans has honestly made me a better candidate," he said.

The 20th Senate District could be a key battleground in the fight for control of the state Senate in 2020. Draheim, a first-term senator and business owner from Madison Lake, flipped the seat from DFL control with 52% of the vote in 2016. Sokup said he expects a contested race for the DFL endorsement and primary. Another Democrat, Navy veteran Jon Olson, has also already filed to run for the seat.

Torey Van Oot • 651-925-5049