By Eric Timmons
As an 18-year-old high school senior, K.C. Cayo was homeless in Milwaukee, sometimes sleeping in a tent by the Milwaukee Bridge or couch surfing at friends’ houses.
“My parents and I did not see eye to eye on my queerness,” said the 24-year-old.
Fast-forward to now, and Cayo is a student at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse who is about to embark on a write-in campaign for La Crosse Common Council in District 9*. They will compete against Chris Woodard for the seat in the April elections. Phil Ostrem, the incumbent, is stepping down.
Cayo was motivated to enter the race late in part due to disappointment in Woodard’s campaign and his dismissive and belligerent tone to those who have criticized some of his positions on social media. But Cayo would rather not dwell on that part of the campaign, as they have their eyes set on much bigger things.
“I intend on representing the whole of District 9, not just people like me,” they said. “But I think it would be amazing to have a queer, non-binary, student who uses neopronouns like me on the council.”
That perspective is missing at City Hall, Cayo said, and perhaps as a result “so much policy deliberately excludes me by using only he or her pronouns to describe it.”
Cayo is far from a single-issue candidate, however. As a renter, they also intend to fight for greater protections for tenants on the council.
“I can definitely speak to some of the hardships I’ve found in renting with landlords,” they said. “I would work to craft a tenant’s bill of rights if I win.”
Cayo would also bring the perspective of someone who has directly experienced homelessness to the council. They support a Housing First policy, which means providing housing unconditionally to those who need it and ending homelessness rather than managing it. Cayo also wants to work to dismiss lazy stereotypes of those who experience homelessness.
“When I was homeless, it wasn’t because I was an addict and it wasn’t because I’d mismanaged my funds, it was because I was 18 and a school student and queer,” they said. “The people who I met in those spaces, whether I was couch surfing or putting up a tent by the Milwaukee Bridge, were kind and full of light and helped me navigate things.”
Cayo also wants to raise up BIPOC voices in La Crosse, and work to reduce and reallocate police spending, which they say has been prioritized over funding for other public services like the library and city parks.
“I think it is our duty as white people to uplift and empower BIPOC individuals in the La Crosse area and I would intend on reaching out to them whenever possible,” they said.
One thing is certain about Cayo’s campaign. They will not be intimidated from running for what they believe in and to represent who they are.
Cayo’s fearlessness was on display last year during the presidential campaign in Iowa. They attended an event at which now president Joe Biden spoke. Cayo was working as an activist to birddog the candidates, asking unprompted questions to try and challenge and expose the candidates’ stances. When they challenged Biden on some of his past positions on abortion, he was not appreciative and got in Cayo’s face, wagging his finger at them. A picture of the incident went viral and in that picture, you can see Cayo’s determination. That is what they will carry into their race against Woodard.
To learn more about Cayo’s campaign, visit their Facebook page at this link.
*District 9 roughly encompasses the area west of 8th Street and South Avenue on the city’s southside, including the Gundersen Lutheran Medical Center and parts of the Washburn and Powell-Poage-Hamilton neighborhood associations (click here to view a map of council districts).
Click here to find out how you can support our journalism by becoming a member of the La Crosse Independent for just $5.75 a month.