Amita Kuttner on being Canada’s first trans political party leader: ‘I have zero intention of playing by the rules’

New Green Party of Canada leader Amita Kuttner talks trans joy and breaking barriers

The Green Party of Canada has a new leader.

Astrophysicist and policy writer Amita Kuttner was appointed interim Green Party leader last week, officially becoming the first openly trans or non-binary person to lead a major Canadian political party.

They inherit a rudderless party in the wake of former leader Annamie Paul’s departure. After less than two years on the job, Paul resigned following a tumultuous 2021 that saw MP Jenica Atwin defect to the Liberals and the Greens post a significantly diminished share of the popular vote compared to the 2019 election. 

There’s rebuilding to be done. But it’s not Kuttner’s first foray into politics. They ran for the Greens in the 2019 federal election in the riding of Burnaby-North Seymour, coming in fourth, and put their name forward for Green Party leadership against Paul in the 2020 campaign.

Kuttner’s tenure as interim party leader will last until a permanent leader is appointed. A permanent leadership race must begin within the next six months, and Kuttner says they have no plans to pursue the permanent role. 

But until then, it’s Kuttner’s time in the spotlight. And they say they have visions to not only rebuild the party and its image after a tumultuous few years, but to highlight trans excellence and showcase their lived experience as a trans and non-binary person on the big stage. 

Xtra spoke to Kuttner about their choice to pursue leadership, being thrust into the spotlight in the midst of second puberty and finding moments of trans joy in politics. 

During your political career, you’ve been vocal about the transphobia and other issues you faced both within the Green Party and outside of it. What made you decide to step forward into this interim role, especially when the party is where it is right now? 

The transphobia I faced—it was shocking to me. And it was mostly during a leadership race. Before that, the stuff that was there was very unintentional—microaggressions and some actual aggressions, but mostly because people are just clueless. But once I launched into the leadership contest, there was some really strong hate out there. And this included people saying things to my face. It was people saying very dehumanizing things directly to my face like, “You’re not real” and just refusing to use my pronouns or calling me an “irrelevant woman” and stuff like that. 

Looking at the whole picture, it’s a lot of lack of education and it’s systemic stuff that is coming up in a very direct and personal way, from really discriminatory organizations—not just the Green Party itself, but Canadian politics and politics in general. When you have a government formed on colonialism, white supremacy, patriarchy and heteronormativity, you’re going to see this and you’re going to see it exacerbated in political organizing. And basically anybody and any organization that decides that they don’t want to have that has to do a lot of diligent work to get rid of it. 


The Green Party is going through growing pains. So [transphobia] is going to show up with great intensity. But on the whole, that’s not what drives the organization; that’s not what is actually there through the majority of the membership and that’s not what’s there in governance. It’s definitely not what is there now. Now we have a federal council that’s very diverse and very accepting and very respectful. So I’m basically offering an olive branch in the sense of saying, “Come meet me in a place of trust to learn about each other and then get back to work.” I care about a lot of people in the organization and I think I have the right skill set to help.

Lots of people have used various colloquialisms to describe what happened to the Green Party in the past year or so—“dumpster fire” is the first that comes to mind. You’re coming in at this point of great upheaval. What are your goals for your term? 

Given the amount of rebuilding work we have to do, I think it would make more sense to have a longer period before launching a permanent leadership contest, and then a short leadership race. My goal is to help structure that leadership race to actually get us a good leader and also not run into some of the problems that we had in the last leadership race, which I had a nice front-row seat to. Really doing on-the-ground organizing, hearing feedback from the membership and from volunteers and asking, “What do you need to be as effective as possible?” in order to build for people as well on the ground locally, because I think that’s really where our strength is. 

Showing up as real people connected to the community, that’s a big part of it. Fundraising is a big part of it, and then supporting caucus. We want to make sure that our two MPs have all the help they can possibly get. Generally, having a couple of Greens elected makes a big difference. We see that in B.C. right now, in terms of providing feedback to the government. 

And lastly, unification and making sure that people have the space necessary to work through some of this. And I really don’t think it’s the most of the membership but for those who have been really hurt and who’ve been hurt by association, or just by watching it happen to the decades of work that put in that they have the disappointed ability to go through some sort of process to move forward. That’s going to take everybody. It’s on all of us to do this work together. But I’m here to help guide as best I can.

You are the first openly trans person to lead a major political party in Canada. What does it mean to you to be that person kind of breaking through that glass ceiling?

After my experience in the last leadership race, I’m not sure that it’s easy to elect trans people yet. I’m really hoping that changes soon. And that may be just because party leadership is one of those things, but a lot of the feedback was, “Well, we don’t think the country’s ready for you.” And my response was: that’s not your decision. 

On the inside, I know people get really afraid of how anything could be damaging. But I think that we might very well be able to elect trans MPs and trans MLAs. Will it happen? I think so. 

But leadership is different. I obviously am hyper-aware of my transness right now, as my voice is dropping and I’m getting acne and going through transition. To be honest, that was my biggest apprehension in taking the role, having to step out on stage while I’m going through puberty. In a sense, I’m also sacrificing my right to privacy if I would ever want to be stealth, which I don’t. I was thinking about it yesterday when I was desperately trying to find clothes because I just can’t—I am too small for most men’s clothes. 

I think it all factors into how I feel about it. It’s a huge honour; it’s a huge responsibility. In this position, I really don’t have much influence over our policy focus, but I would feel like I would be doing everyone a disservice if I didn’t use this opportunity to raise awareness of LGBTQ2S+ issues in a way that is grounded in realism and what it means to be trans and non-binary.

For a lot of trans folks (myself included), I think we all feel right now like we’re stepping out into the world and reconnecting to people and it’s like, “Oh, well, here’s this person that I’ve spent the last few years creating, here you go world!” But as a party leader, you’re going to be facing so much more scrutiny and visibility and perception as an openly trans person. 

I had top surgery in April. I started hormones in May. I’m going to change physically over the next six months and I don’t really know if I have the right word to describe how I feel about doing that in front of everybody because I haven’t totally had that period of time to represent myself to everyone. And so all the pictures people are using of me, I’m desperately like, “Okay, I need to get pictures of me that I actually like” because most of the pictures people have are from last year or even before that. I don’t look like that anymore. Not just because my hair is slightly different or whatever, which is the usual problem with pictures, but my chest is flat now. 

Right now, as we’re watching this massive rise of transphobia, it’s a very particular place to be. And I have to be up for that responsibility and also try to get some feedback on what people would like to see. As we all know, every experience is so unique, and one of the biggest things that I’ve found during political organizing is that I have to be really careful that when I talk about my experience as a trans person, that people don’t assume my experience is true for every other trans person. 

I think in queer communities especially and in progressive communities in general, we often talk about how the system has failed us for so long and question the value of working within that system. What’s the significance of playing by the rules, going directly into the heart of these systems that have failed you and trans people in general in the past? 

I have zero intention of playing by the rules. A lot of people have asked me if I would run for permanent leader again and my answer is no—it was no before I even considered doing this. And the reason is that I don’t want to be a part of the whole system right now. 

I want to push for full transformation rebuilding. But I’ve also seen how important it is in the meantime to have people on the inside of the system being there to support people. And I’ve seen that just having somebody with lived experiences being able to stand up there and speak to it, it carries a weight that can mitigate harm. 

That’s why I think I’m actually so interested in doing this job, because it doesn’t consign me to having to go through actually staying in the system. It allows me to work on transforming our party during this time, to be one that actually follows our values, and also hopefully provide the networking support and the empowerment to people who are going to feel more comfortable getting elected. In this particular role, I get the best of both worlds.

As a trans astrophysicist, you’ve taken a very unique and circuitous route to get here. What advice do you have for young people—especially young trans people—who are looking at getting into politics? 

Like you said, my own trajectory is definitely unique. Astrophysics put me down the road to have an external perspective of the planet and how important it is for us to treat each other well and stuff like that. 

It’s tough to get out there, and politics can be so ugly and the systems are built to be oppressive and exclusionary. It’s going to take longer to see trans representation. That’s why I think full transformation is what’s necessary, because I don’t think just adding people to seats at a table is constructive for us—I don’t think it’ll achieve everything we want to be able to achieve.

But my advice would be to do it. And to bring your authentic selves. Don’t worry too much. And know that there’s a whole lot of goodness out there as well. The best thing that you can do for yourself, if you’re stepping up to join the political fray, is to make sure you come with a very, very strong personal support network. And to keep true to yourself. No matter what.

Trans joy is something we talk a lot about in our community. I want to hear about some of the trans joy you’ve experienced throughout all of this. 

Joy is my favourite, and trans joy specifically. 

It’s the small things that are really affirming; it’s the broad acceptance and non-judgment. Yeah, there’s hate. There’s especially a small, loud group of angry people that try to dominate the narrative. But the majority of people everywhere are actually not judgmental. They’re kind, they’re open, they’re welcoming, they don’t treat you differently. And they understand far more of that shared common experience of humanity than we’re led to believe.

It’s hard to describe, but there’s this aspect to all the changes and all the apprehensions I have about it that’s about going out there and being seen and getting that affirmation of being seen as my real self, in clothes I want to wear. And it can be harder to find sometimes, especially when family denies understanding us. But this is such an opportunity to to be able to to get out there and talk about all these things that are important, and to represent all of the things that are full of joy and recognition and euphoria.

With a weird rise and transphobia, my intention is to do the best job that I possibly can to just be a positive example. And then to share that joy in the best way I possibly can. 

Interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. 

Senior editor Mel Woods is an English-speaking Vancouver-based writer and audio producer and a former associate editor with HuffPost Canada. A proud prairie queer and ranch dressing expert, their work has also appeared in Vice, Slate, the Tyee, the CBC, the Globe and Mail and the Walrus.

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