Those who attended Nika Lomazzo‘s first stand-up show at AS220 were met with a bit of an apt misnomer: the show was titled “Imposter Syndrome,” but it was clear that Lomazzo, an outspoken figure in her neighborhood of Federal Hill in Providence, was nothing but the real deal. Her trenchant critiques of local politics, delivered with an acerbic wit, showed that Lomazzo was keen to use her background as a young activist, used to “scream[ing] out injustice on the streets,” as she says, to provide a new perspective on the absurd aspects of Providence’s political scene—as well as aspects which call out for reform.
Lomazzo was then campaigning against Rep. John Lombardi for his District 8 seat, and it was this approach—the young “outsider” with exciting, and crucial, plans for progressive changes in her neighborhood and the city—which invested Lomazzo’s race with an exciting energy since. Then however, earlier this month, Lomazzo announced on Twitter that she was stepping down from the race.
I spoke with Lomazzo last week, before Providence’s Pride weekend, to ask her where that energy is going nex. She reflected on her brief campaign, what she hopes to do now instead of running for office, and what events like Pride mean to her as a vocal advocate for trans rights in the state.
Lomazzo told me that a large part of why she stepped down from her race was that it had been difficult to merge her priorities as both an activist and as a potential elected official. Balancing the particular demands of the two, she said, had been both tricky and a central part of her initial motivation to run.
“I had a fundraiser last summer for trans rights at The Dark Lady, and there weren’t any elected officials there,” she said. “The mayor hadn’t come, the governor didn’t show up, no one showed up. Not only that, but I hadn’t been able to send out specific invites as a lot of the other queer people who had been engaged in this fundraiser didn’t want any officials coming, because they didn’t want them to use it as a photo op. So it was a really weird, frustrating experience to be in, because I totally empathized with the distrust of my activist friends who didn’t want this being used as a photo op, but I did understand, and still do, that if you’re taking time out of your day as a politician to come to an event, you’re going to want it to be a little bit of a photo op. I wanted to start running to be that middle ground, to bring those two together, and to create a feeling a trust between elected officials and activists.”
“Then, once I started running, I realized that’s a lot more idealistic than what it felt like in the moment—that being an elected is very different from being an activist, just like being an activist is a totally different ballgame than being an advocate.”
On what Rep. Lombardi’s campaign could still learn from the activist energy of her own race, Lomazzo said, “I think the one blind spot is just—for a lot of electeds right now, who are older—not seeing how the tides are turning, and not really realizing how millennials and the generation beneath us are coming out in record numbers now who are organizing and running for office. If you’re not paying attention to them, that’s a total blindspot. When we had our conversation, I brought that up a lot, that you have to work collaboratively with people who are 20, 30 years younger than you. I told him, and I stand by this, that I want to act as a liason for him in the community, act as a pipeline.”
“But we’re totally on the same base when it comes to affordable housing, we’re totally on the same base when it comes to fighting back against the rapid gentrification in the community, so that’s all been really good.”
Lomazzo told me that, post-campaign, she aims to step down and focus more on city politics. “It’s always kind of been where my passion and love has been,” she said. “I was born and raised in Providence, and I know Providence like the back of my hand. That’s what I’m most passionate about. Affordable housing is kind of the biggest issue right now—and there are things that can be done on the state level, but I would like to see ordinances passed. D.A.R.E. right now is trying to pass an ordinance regarding rent-control and rent stabilization, and I’m still trying to get behind that and remain active in that fight, trying to figure out tangible ways to put a stop to gentrification in Federal Hill.”
The conversation turned to Pride—when asked whether elected officials should use the event as a direct dialogue with queer and trans issues, or keep their distance and respect the queer and trans communities’ space, Lomazzo told me, “I think it’s awesome to have elected officials marching in Pride, but also, I want to know what you’ve done for the community throughout your time in office. I’ve seen Governor Raimondo is marching—and she’s had an OK track record, I think she was secretary of state when gay marriage was passed, it might have been even before. I haven’t seen her do anything directly for the gay community, queer community or for the trans community; it doesn’t mean that she hasn’t, and that goes for a lot of electeds. If you engage with your queer constituents all year long, and you’re doing the work to give us a seat at the table, then yeah, march, I’ll support you. But most of the time it feels like—oh, the primary is in September, Pride’s in June, it kind of feels like another photo op, and a way for Pride to be co-opted yet again.”
“You know, Pride literally started out as a riot against cops who would not leave LGBTQIA alone for years,” she added. “In Providence, The Dark Lady has been a queer space since the the ’60s, and the Providence police raided that place all the time, over and over again, well into the late ’70s. It started out as a riot against the cops, it didn’t start as us dancing with cops in the street, and I don’t think that cops belong at Pride. LGBTQIA people of color and trans people across the board have said time and time again, ’This is triggering, this makes us uncomfortable, this is our space.’”
Lomazzo said that she saw this first hand when she was included in the March for Equality at last year’s events alongside Mr. Gay Rhode Island 2016 Joe DiMauro and Mr. Gay Rhode Island 2017 Tim Rondeau, who she named as fellow proponents for trans rights in the state. She told me that organizers had declared, “We don’t want any cops there. We don’t want to see them there, we don’t want them around us, that’s that.” “It happened,” she added, “they weren’t there, and we were fine. We marched from the State House to city hall, raised a flag, people in the streets let us march there. Communities can police themselves. That was a really beautiful example of how a community can work together without police forces monitoring you.”
Following Pride, she told me “she would love to take this energy and become even more plugged in” to trans activism in the state, which she said she feels occasionally divided from. On the differences in approach between her own work and other trans activists, she said, “There’s a big fear, which I don’t necessarily identify with, that if we put things into the legislature, we’re giving energy to opposition groups to drum up opposition pieces. I don’t think that’s the best way to go about things; it’s always kind of frustrated me. I don’t think we should be walking around with our heads held down, doing things in the dark. Opposition groups are there anyways, and people are always going to hate trans people unfortunately—hopefully the number thins throughout the years.”
“I would love to be the person who gets people organized, and who helps especially trans people organize to start even lobbying at the State House for non ‘trans’ issues, because all these issues affect us,” Lomazzo said. “Gun reform is an issue of trans rights, because trans women are killed in record numbers by gun violence, especially in cases of domestic violence. Affordable housing is an issue of trans rights because so many trans people, trans women—not in Rhode Island, because we have all sorts of great protections, but in other states—they get turned away from housing and jobs. I’ve even seen it in Rhode Island, even with the protections we have. I’ve seen friends who are visibly trans and don’t have a government ID which reflects their gender and name not get a job, even if they’re extremely qualified. They just know that it was the reason—of course you can’t pinpoint it then and there, but you know. So these issues are trans rights, and I started realizing that while I was running.”
“You didn’t just have to fight for specific trans rights to better your community, that all of these issues affect us,” she said. “I’d like to see more trans people lobbying the State House, working on campaigns, knocking doors, working on bills. There’s so much we can do on small and big levels throughout the state and city.”
Yet apart from a feeling of political conviction, Lomazzo also urged queer and trans Pride attendees to use the space to celebrate. Towards the end of our conversation, Lomazzo brimmed with excitement—this was the first year she was going to ride in a Pride parade float, her dream “since [she] was a little baby queer in Providence.”