Kim Coco Iwamoto is the highest elected transgender official in the United Sates. She is on the Hawaii State Board of Education. Running for re-election, she recently came in second in the primary election in a field of 13 candidates and will run in the general election on November 2. She hopes to finish first.
I sat down with Ms. Iwamoto in the lush garden lobby of the Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort in Honolulu,Hawaii to ask a few questions about her work on the Board of Education, her passion for educating and protecting children, and her role as a highly visible and successful transgender icon. Since we focus on travel here, we also asked her for some of her favorite spots to enjoy in Hawaii. Here are a few excerpts and highlights.
Ed Salvato: How’d you get involved in the Board of Education?
Kim Coco Iwamoto:I was licensed as a therapeutic foster parent. I had had four LGBTchildren at different times, and Iwas an only parent. Some students were going to the Board testifying about problems with safety at the schools.The Board seemed indifferent and unresponsive. I decided that the Board needed someone more proactive in terms of student needs. That’s when i decided to run (in 2006) and I won.
ES:Did the right wing or your opponents try to make an issue out of you being transgender?
KCI:No, not really. I was already prominent and the media all knew. To them it wasn’t news. I also included in my campaign literature that i went to St. Louis High School, which was an all-boys school so anyone who read that and thought about it could figure it out. At St. Louis, Iwas elected class president. I’ve worked hard to get policies established including gender identity, sexual orientation, and physical characteristics, which are the leading causes of bullying in schools.
ES:Is your family supportive?
KCI:Yes, in phases but overall yes. We are originally fromKauai. My dad is very supportive though he was skeptical Icould win first time around.I have four brothers, Scott, Troy, Mark, and Chad. I was born with the name Kim Coco! My mom was pregnant with me and went into labor while at the Coco Palms Hotel so that became my name.
ES:Iguess you grew into your name. When did you transition?
KCI:My gender was always fluid. In high school it wasn’t clear to many which gender I was. But we also used to play street football. A school therapist called me into meet with him and asked if I knew what a transsexual was. He said Iwas one and I said, “Oh, Iguess so.” My parents weren’t pleased initially and whisked me off to a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist thought that I seemed very stable and self confident. He said he thought perhaps my mother wished he could simply give me a little red pill to change me into a heterosexual man but that it was probably her that needed that red pill. Later, when my dad picked me up he said, “Whatever you want to be, whether a doctor, lawyer, man or woman, I’ll support you 100%.”
ES:When your friends visit you in Hawaii from the mainland, where do you tell them to go?
KCI: Visit Hanalei, the north shore of Kauai. It is so beautiful. Every year we have a family reunion there. Also, Koke’e above Waimei in Kauai. It’s like a mini grand canyon. The hiking is incredible.