Twenty-four-year old Varisha Khan is Redmond’s first Muslim woman to serve on Redmond City Council.
Khan was officially sworn in on Dec. 17 and her term expires on Dec. 31, 2023. She will replace councilmember Hank Myers in council Pos. 1.
The new councilmember was born in Dallas and moved to Redmond with her family at the age of 7. Khan recalls the transition being difficult.
However, during this time of change Khan remembers feeling a sense of community within her neighborhood. She said everyone was supportive of her family being there.
“We always felt that sense of closeness — like a family,” she said.
During her campaign, Khan canvassed that same neighborhood. There, she knocked on several doors and encountered new residents who knew her old neighbors. One resident, in particular, asked Khan if she was a part of the family who participated in the neighborhood makeshift table tennis tournaments. And laughing, Khan responded, “that was my dad.”
Being in her old neighborhood, Khan said it brought back many memories. Especially memories of being in her neighbor’s garage, watching her dad and neighbor play an intense game of table tennis.
“It came back full circle on my campaign trail,” Khan said, “This is what brought me back. This is what made me want to run and give back to the community because I think of the people here…It makes me proud to be here.”
Community is what brought Khan back to Redmond and she is always thinking about what Redmond could be.
From a young age, Khan said she knew had to put herself in politics to affect the change she wanted to see. Through negative experiences such as being bullied for her religion and stereotyping, Khan realized she needed to fight systemic racism and change the system of oppression and marginalization of minority communities.
“My friends would ask me questions about being Muslim and some would call me Islamophobic names,” Khan said. “That was the first time I had to ask the question about why would anyone think this way.”
Since then, Khan made it her life mission to change the system to be more inclusive and more representative.
To achieve that, Khan graduated from the University of Washington where she received a degree in political science and communication-journalism. Since graduating, Khan has worked at numerous nonprofit organizations where she has focused her work on making media and politics more representative and inclusive.
Khan said it all changed for her this year. After working with other local officials to support their communities and encouraging diverse candidates to run for office, Khan said she wanted to see a change in her local government.
“I saw that City Hall [did] not reflect the city,” she said. “It really became clear, through at my least my own election…that people were asking for change. People were waiting for change.”
Because of her identity of being a young Muslim woman and even being a renter in Redmond, Khan said she learned to see those perspectives as her strengths. Those were the perspectives the city was missing.
Commenting on Khan’s win, mayor-elect Angela Birney said Khan will bring a different perspective to the council.
“She is young, she grew up in the area and she’s been active with work in the region,” Birney said. “She’s going to bring a great perspective for Redmond — our growing, changing Redmond.”
Khan has stayed true to her identity from a young age. It was her mother Noreen Khan who reminded her that being different is a good thing. Varisha’s mother told her that her ethnic background, her religion and her lived experiences are unique.
Noreen said she was happy when she found out that Varisha was running for city council.
“I am so happy that my girl is going to take a big role. She wants to do big things,” Noreen said. “It’s amazing that the council is going to look different now…My whole family is proud of her.”
As a councilmember, Varisha said she wants to focus on environmental sustainability, efficient transportation, and linking communities. She hopes to bring in a green new deal to Redmond, more diverse portable housing options for residents and she wants to push for environmental sustainability and raise inclusiveness among Redmond’s diverse community.