Metro Weekly

California Mayor Recalled After Coming Out as Transgender

Supporters of Calexico City Council Member and Mayor Raúl Ureña denounced the recall as a "calculated," transphobic attack.

Former Calexico Mayor Raúl Ureña – Photo:

A city council member for a U.S.-Mexico border town was overwhelmingly voted out of office in a recall election after she came out as transgender.

Calexico Council Member and former Mayor Raúl Ureña — who uses all pronouns but prefers “she” — was first elected to the city council in 2020, at age 23.

She was hailed in recent years as a progressive hero challenging the political status quo in the town of about 38,000, located in California, just across the border from Mexicali, Mexico.

In 2020, Ureña had succeeded former Council Member David Romero, who went to federal prison after being convicted in a bribery scandal.

Ureña was reelected to the council in 2022, and in 2023, held the title of mayor, assigned to council members on a rotating basis for one calendar year.

Shortly thereafter, she came out as gender-fluid and transgender. She began wearing dresses, using female-gendered pronouns, and makeup in official appearances, and became a target of harassment in the socially conservative city.

In May 2023, Ureña and fellow progressive councilmember Gilberto Manzanarez, were targeted for recall.

Maritza Hurtado, a former city council member and mayor, lead the campaign against them.

Hurtado claimed the two progressive council members were overly critical of police and blamed that rhetoric for contributing to increased crime, a deteriorating downtown area, and police understaffing.

Hurtado previously told the L.A. Times that the two council members — who she called “toxic,” left-wing activists — had dismissed citizens’ concerns about quality-of-life issues, including crime, drug users, and homelessness.

Echoing popular right-wing talking points, Hurtado said that Ureña had used her transgender identity “as a card this whole time,” to denote detractors with legitimate grievances as transphobic or racist.

Recall organizers also claimed that Manzanarez and Ureña regularly clashed with other council members, and accused them of speaking in Spanish without translation — which led some recall supporters to accuse them of being exclusionary to non-Spanish speakers.

Ureña, Manzanarez, and their supporters accused recall organizers of waging a campaign steeped in disinformation and transphobic rhetoric.

In the end, 74% of Calexico voters supported the recall of Ureña and 73% supported the recall of Manzanarez. Two of the council’s five seats are vacant until the council either appoints replacement members or calls for a special election. Only 23% of registered voters cast ballots in the low-turnout recall election. 

Manzanarez noted that it was unfair that members of the city’s political old guard blamed the progressive politicians for ills that existed in Calexico long before he and Ureña took office. 

“It’s very easy to point to downtown and make sure that people understand that it’s not okay. How long has it been that way? Did it start being that way in 2022? Absolutely not,” he said.

Despite her ouster from office, Ureña told the L.A. Times she remained “hopeful and optimistic, even with these results.”

“We will not give up on social justice in the Imperial Valley,” she said. “We’re not going anywhere.”

Equality California blasted recall organizers and accused them of having ulterior motives.

“We are deeply disappointed that a group of far-right extremists succeeded in recalling Calexico’s first out transgender Mayor Raúl Ureña, who has a proven track record of delivering for the people of Calexico,” Tony Hoang, the executive director of Equality California, said in a statement.

“This recall campaign was spearheaded by a group of disgruntled former politicians and littered with misinformation and transphobic rhetoric, focusing on Ureña’s identity and not the successful tangible results she has generated for her city. This was a calculated, anti-LGBTQ+ attack against Ureña that has sadly resulted in her recall and will no doubt lead to backsliding for a community already at a crossroads.”

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