YA 29-year-old political activist is seeking to become the first openly transgender Member of Parliament (MP) to sit in the House of Representatives.
Rich Richards, whose given name is Richana, has said that he will run as an independent candidate in the St Andrew North Eastern constituency in the next general election, constitutionally due in 2021. The constituency is presently represented by Delroy Chuck of the ruling Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
Richards, who broke ranks with the People's National Party on Monday, said he had been a member of the party since he was 15 years old.
“There has been a change of plan. As of today (Monday) I am in the process of putting together a campaign team. I'm going to be running as an independent candidate. It's complicated; it's very complicated and people [try] to be politically correct when it comes to LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning or queer) people speaking out. It gets challenging but I will be a candidate in the next general election,” Richards said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.
He was responding to questions regarding his decision to run on his own ticket.
Richards said he began as a constituency representative for the PNP's youth organisation, before moving on to a campaign officer for John-Paul White, who ran unsuccessfully in St Andrew North Eastern.
“I was booted off that campaign by [someone] because of the obvious. I was a part of another campaign team, I was the front-runner on another campaign team organising the workers' list and all of that. I've sat on the executive of the constituency for the party as the vice-chair and as the youth organisation's representative.
“Today I've taken a decision to run independently. I'm not bitter [nor want to] badmouth the party; I'm just not leaving my future up to a decision from the party,” he stated.
Eyes on the prize
Richards said running as an independent candidate will have its advantages. He pointed out, too, that he is familiar with the constituency and its constituents. He also said being born in the constituency has its advantages, as well.
“I know North East St Andrew like the back of my hand — all 72 PDs (polling divisions) — having canvassed them. A man will not necessarily vote for you because he will say you're a Labourite or a Comrade, but being independent does allow me access to boost voters [from the] JLP and PNP. It also allows me access to those young people because I'm also a promoter who has kept party in the spaces in North East St Andrew. So, that will allow young people to vote for me because of my name,” he said.
He said since his time in politics, he has implemented several programmes across the constituency, including special teaching classes at schools there.
“I also had a programme where I assisted young boys who had fallen out of school to get back. So I have been here and I have been doing what needed to be done,” he noted.
He told the Observer that being transgender will not affect his chances at the polls, despite the stigma surrounding those in the LGBTQ community.
“I think my sexuality gives me an advantage because LGBTQ persons aren't naturally prone to voting and I live in upper St Andrew. [In] this constituency most of the communities are large so that will give me an advantage, whether it's a familiar face or a person of said persuasion.
“I also think it's the right time. We're at a place where we've left from Karlene Kirlew, who has done so much in her one term as Member of Parliament, to Delroy Chuck, whom the JLP rewarded as Minister of Justice. He has served so many positions in the JLP and, to be frank this constituency is the smallest constituency in terms of size across Jamaica and the constituency with the least lower level (poor) constituents and he has done very little. He is receiving the same amount of money as South St Andrew, East Kingston and East Rural St Andrew, which are big constituencies and there is no work done by Delroy Chuck in North East St Andrew. He has been here for almost 18 years and we don't have a community centre. We don't have any form of social activity geared towards children or at-risk youth. There is no stamp that the Member of Parliament has made in North East St Andrew and look and be non-partisan and say he has done a good job,” Richards stated.