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The first openly trans person to run for Missouri’s legislature shares why she quit

On Sept. 24, Kendall Martinez-Wright announced she was suspending her Missouri House 5th District campaign — and opened up on Twitter about the factors leading to that decision.

“I knew what was in-store for me [being a candidate] who is running in rural Missouri and living as an Afro-Puerto Rican Transgender Woman,” the Democrat wrote in part. “I was not aware in terms [of] what the campaign would do to me and my mental health.”

Earlier that month, Martinez-Wright attempted to take her own life. She has subsequently received treatment and a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Palmyra, Missouri, resident Kendall Martinez-Wright recently suspended her campaign to represent the state’s 5th House District.
Kendall Martinez-Wright
Kendall Martinez-Wright recently suspended her campaign to represent Missouri’s 5th House District.

Leading up to that, she told St. Louis on the Air’s Sarah Fenske, she had been sexually assaulted while visiting St. Louis. Her experience as the first openly trans person to run for Missouri’s House of Representatives contributed to her mental health problems, she said.

Martinez-Wright lives in Palmyra, which is the county seat of Marion County, near Hannibal.

“It [has to do with] me running in a place that everybody literally watched me grow up in,” she said. “I moved to Palmyra when I was 3 years old. And everybody knows me as my past gender. But when it comes down to me expressing my gender identity, me expressing my authentic self, that was really hard on me.”

Martinez-Wright said she was frustrated by people’s failure to understand her identity as a transgender woman.

“They’d literally just say, ‘Oh, Kendall, he’s the gay guy — he just dresses like a girl.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m not a gay guy; I’m currently going through hormone therapy, and I’m transitioning to a woman.’ … It was very difficult,” she said.

She described the recent assault in St. Louis as “the icing on the cake in terms of my depressive episode,” saying the experience “made me feel like nothing.”

“That suicide monster, as I call it, was really screaming at me. And by the time I got [back] to Palmyra, not only [was I] tired, but I was physically, mentally, emotionally done,” Martinez-Wright said. “And I proceeded throughout that day to write three suicide notes — one to my mom and my sister, one to my friends, and then one specifically to the Missouri General Assembly.” She then took a near-lethal dose of pills.

She doesn’t remember what happened after that, but her mom has told her how she was going in and out of consciousness and struggling to breathe. While being transported to medical care, Martinez-Wright went into cardiac arrest.

Almost a month later, Martinez-Wright said she’s “getting a little bit better each week” and is on a new medication and therapy regimen. She’s also taking time for herself — something that was lacking over the past year, when her work as a lobbyist kept her extremely busy.

“I went from the regular session of the Missouri General Assembly to campaign life and then trying to do advocacy, and I burned myself out,” Martinez-Wright explained. “Now my energy and everything is slowly getting back to normal.”

Two weeks after her suicide attempt, she laughed for the first time since that awful day. Her mom took the laughter as a signal that her daughter was “in the process of getting better,” Martinez-Wright said.

Kendall Martinez-Wright on her decision to suspend historic campaign for Missouri House seat
Listen as the Palmyra-based Democrat shares her story with host Sarah Fenske.

She added that her mother has helped her reflect on what matters most, reminding her that House District 5, and politics as a whole, “will always be there.”

“She had to really get into the nitty-gritty, like, ‘Kendall, I know you want this, but let’s wait and possibly you could run in a different area,’” Martinez-Wright recalled. “‘But here, I could tell this was almost going to be your demise.’”

Despite her departure from the race, Martinez-Wright said she has no intention of leaving politics entirely — particularly the advocacy work she’s been involved in for more than a decade.

“I’m going back [to Jefferson City] this January,” she said. “I tell everybody it’s my love. Even on the bad days, I enjoy it. It brings me happiness, not only to be in the halls talking to various electeds but also just trying to make that impact which is needed and being that voice which is very vital.”

Among other pieces of legislation, she said she’s eager to see the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act pass. And she’s not ruling out a future run for office, either.

“Hopefully I’ll be in a different area where the pressure and the stress won’t be as great as it was here this past campaign,” Martinez-Wright said.

She encouraged others struggling to keep on holding on, and to know they’re not alone and can find help.

“It is not worth the pain of your family, it is not worth the heartache, it’s not worth it. ... Just know that when you think that there’s nobody or you feel like you’re a burden or anything,” Martinez said, “there’s people that will literally just hold you and let you cry.”

She added: “Trust and believe, it’s so much worth it [to live]. I just couldn’t imagine me not being here, how much of an impact that would have had, not only on my family and friends, but even for Missouri.”

If you or someone you know is in a crisis situation, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. Jane Mather-Glass is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie was a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.