Meet The Ex-Military Intelligence Analyst Who Just Might Be On The Cusp Of Making History

“I’ve had to be tough. I’ve had to struggle. I’ve had to fight for myself."

Alexandra Chandler knows what it's like to encounter hate — and the kind of leadership that's necessary to push back on it.

The former intelligence analyst remembers vividly when, during an Office of Naval Intelligence town hall on employee benefits, one of her colleagues raised their hand and asked the commanding officer, "How can we have this person, this drag queen going into our bathroom?" Half the room applauded, Chandler said. 

Not long before, in 2006 and in the middle of a promising career as a military intelligence analyst, Chandler transitioned from living publicly as a man to living as a woman. But the hate she experienced that day and on and off during her 13-year career in intelligence has been almost non-existent during her run for Congress in Massachusetts' 3rd Congressional District. She's hoping to become the first openly transgender member of Congress and to bring some much-needed Russia and intelligence expertise to the chamber.

"I have talked with thousands of people over the course of this race since Nov. 15th and I can count on one hand the number of times that someone has hurtfully made me being transgender a negative in an interaction with me," Chandler told A Plus. "And in this district, knocking on a door — not online, not on email, but from people here — zero. Not once. Not to my face anyway."

Alexandra Chandler
Alexandra Chandler

On the contrary, Chandler said, people across the political spectrum — even ardent supporters of President Donald Trump — have approached her to say that it's either not an issue for them or that they respect her all the more for stepping out because they know it's an issue for other people.

"This district, Massachusetts and America overall is much better than what you see on TV when you get out there and you meet people," she said.

That doesn't mean it's all rainbows and sunshine. While Massachusetts may send the first-ever openly transgender woman to Congress this year, on Nov. 6 the very same state is going to vote on whether to repeal anti-discrimination protections for transgender people that allowed them to use public spaces like bathrooms that match their gender identity. The repeal measure will show up on the ballot after the group Keep MA Safe collected enough signatures to force a vote. Just 38 percent of Massachusetts residents back the repeal effort, according to a WBUR poll

For Chandler, It's just another opportunity to show the people what kind of things she has had to go up against.

"I've had to be tough," she said. "I've had to struggle. I've had to fight for myself. And that's something working class and middle class people in this district, those that are vulnerable, they want to hear that." 

Alexandra Chandler
Alexandra Chandler

Chandler's career as an intelligence analyst began on Sept. 11, 2001, when she watched the Twin Towers come down and couldn't get a hold of her girlfriend, who was in lower Manhattan that day. She spent a few hours not knowing whether the love of her life had made it, and when she finally got the call that her girlfriend — who is now her wife — was alive, Chandler started applying for positions at intelligence agencies. 

With degrees from Brown University and Brooklyn Law School, and some expertise from studying Russian foreign policy, Chandler quickly landed a job as a civilian intelligence officer with the Navy and began climbing the ranks. Throughout her career, she worked to disrupt the flow of weapons of mass destruction moving through countries like North Korea and Iran. She's helped draft presidential daily briefings for three presidents: Bush, Obama and Trump.

But it was on that day when a colleague called her a "drag queen," that Chandler's career came into a clearer focus. As Chandler watched her commanding officer defend her, she learned about good leadership and the moment ultimately gave her the courage to climb the ranks of her career and, eventually, decide to leave that career behind and run for Congress. All along the way, she said there was more support, grace and goodwill amongst the ranks of the intelligence community towards her than anything else. 

Now, she's using the current political moment to leverage her expertise as a reason residents of her district should vote her into office.

"I'm the only Russian-speaking-lawyer-former-intelligence-community-leader running at this moment for this country," Chandler said. "If you're at all concerned about the state of your democracy and Russian interference, I'm really the one you want to send to Congress right now." 

"I was there when the intelligence was starting to come in on this," Chandler added. "It is a fact that Russia interfered in the last election and there is increasing reporting that they will interfere with this one, that they are already interfering with the 2018 election."

Chandler's scope of issues goes well beyond LGBTQ rights or her concern about election meddling. With two children, student loan debt and a father who struggled with addiction before dying of multiple sclerosis, Chandler feels like she has lived many of the issues facing the people Massachusetts. Her primary campaign promise is to reduce the cost of child care and health care so the people who have found jobs in the growing economy can now afford to live. 

"Increasingly, where we are is that people have a job but cost of child care and health care are going up faster than their wages, or they have a job but actually they've really got to get two jobs to keep up with the cost of living," Chandler said. 

Alexandra Chandler
Alexandra Chandler

Chandler is in a crowded primary field of 10 Democrats. Her biography isn't the only way she's tried to distinguish herself, either: in February, Chandler signed onto the "Candidate with a Contract" movement, which means she must introduce legislation in her first year of office to overturn Citizens United, get money out of politics and promote publicly funded elections. If she doesn't, she is contractually obligated to resign her seat. 

"While my experience on the campaign trail gives me hope, there's a lot of fear out there that's very much on my mind personally," Chandler said. "The citizens of the district give me cause for hope every day. I'm optimistic, though it's going to take work.

More From A Plus

GET SOME POSITIVITY IN YOUR INBOX

Subscribe to our newsletter and get the latest news and exclusive updates.