Chicago LGBTQ+ rights and environmental activist Precious Brady-Davis made history this week when she was sworn in as the newest commissioner for the region’s Metropolitan Water Reclamation District.
Brady-Davis is the first Black transgender person appointed to public office in Cook County as well as the first trans person to serve on a water reclamation board in U.S. history. The board makes decisions on water use and conservation in Cook County — from wastewater and stormwater to protecting Lake Michigan.
Brady-Davis entered the national spotlight in 2016 when she became the first trans bride to appear on the hit TLC reality show “Say Yes to the Dress.”
She also released a memoir I Have Always Been Me in 2021 where she shares details from her tumultuous childhood and talks about her life as a trans woman. Former Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot chose to display the book in her office during her time in City Hall.
Gov. JB Pritzker appointed Brady-Davis last week to fill the vacancy left by former commissioner Kim du Buclet, who is heading to the Illinois General Assembly. The seat will be up for election in 2024.
Friends and family of Brady-Davis packed the Center on Halsted, an LGBTQ+ community center on the North Side, for the swearing-in ceremony, filling up every seat in the theater.
After swearing in, Brady-Davis spoke with WBEZ about her historic achievement and what she hopes to accomplish. The interview was condensed and edited for publication.
On her inspiration to seek public office
“I was inspired by former Commissioner Deb Shore. She’s now the Regional Director at the EPA. She was the first lesbian elected in Cook County and represented the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District for so many years. And I feel like I stand on her shoulders, as an environmentalist, as a Black trans woman, with the importance of protecting Lake Michigan, which is a part of the largest body of freshwater on Earth.”
On the meaning of being the first Black trans appointee in county history
“It’s humbling. I may be the first, but I don’t want to be the last. I think it does show young people that you can be whatever you want in this life, no matter the stigma or the barriers that surround us. It’s really a victorious moment.
It’s kind of overwhelming. But I know that this is a momentary moment. I’ve got to win an election [Editor’s note: since Brady-Davis was appointed mid-term, she will face a general election in 2024]. And so I’m thinking about how I reach voters across the county, but I also now have a job to do.
I want people to see the great depth that trans people have, that we have expertise. When people think about our lives, they only think about our marginalization. They don’t think about our expertise. And now I’m looking forward to serving those folks and protecting our water.”
On what she hopes to accomplish
“I’d like to see the district transition to 100% renewable energy. I’d like to expand green infrastructure across the county and do more with the Space to Grow program, which is our playground program at the district in which they have permeable pavement at the playgrounds, and preventing flooding.”
On being surrounded by friends and family at her swearing-in
“I wanted a ceremony threaded in community. And that’s exactly what happened.”
Noah Jennings is an intern on WBEZ’s audio desk.