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Among the endorsements from a business owner and residents listed on Stephen Cope's campaign website for Provo mayor is one attributed to "my mom": "I'm so proud of you, Stephen! I love you!!!" it reads.
"That's real," Cope said with a laugh during an interview.
It's an early indication that Cope has launched a highly unconventional and unusually lighthearted bid for office in one of Utah's most conservative cities, where mayors have almost exclusively been straight, white, male and Mormon since 1851. Cope hopes to break that pattern, despite facing tough odds.
For one thing, the 27-year-old identifies as gender nonbinary meaning not exclusively masculine or feminine and preferring the pronouns "they," "their" and "them." Cope is likely the first LGBT candidate to campaign for Provo's top post, which is officially nonpartisan.
"There are a lot of cultural stigmas surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity and presentation," they said. "If other people see LGBT persons in [government] positions, it increases the visibility, helps normalize it."
Often sporting a long beard and a dress, Cope has gotten quite a few "weird looks" walking and biking the streets of Provo. And while "not the candidate you'd expect people to vote for or expect to see running in Provo," Cope said it's important to have diverse voices in elective offices.
"I want to be a role model or something, just an example that you can run for office even if you're not the traditional Provo image," they added.
Cope, a Brigham Young University graduate, owns Studio Studio Dada in Provo, 235 S. 900 East, working with songwriters from Utah County and punk bands from Salt Lake City. Cope also sings for the band Officer Jenny and plays the organ for Quiet House, teaching music production during the day at the Walden School of Liberal Arts.
If elected in November, Cope would replace outgoing Mayor John Curtis. Curtis is finishing his eighth year in office and will not seek re-election. He is, though, weighing a bid for Rep. Jason Chaffetz's U.S. House seat after the congressman announced his plans for an early departure.
Cope's campaign looks to build on initiatives Curtis initiated: increasing affordable housing which Cope said "Provo has a desperate lack of" and improving public transit, including more bike access throughout the city.
As a millennial and member of the Green Party, this is Cope's first run for political office.
"We can make policies that benefit everyone," they said, "and don't have to exist at the expense of one unheard group of people."
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