Vermont could elect first transgender legislator

Published: Jun. 10, 2020 at 7:58 AM EDT
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Two years after Christine Hallquist ran for governor as the first openly transgender candidate on a major party ballot in Vermont, three transgender women are running for seats in the Statehouse.

Taylor Small, Ember Quinn and Jamie Dufour are all first-time Democratic candidates vying for House seats in this August's primary election in Winooski, Milton and Manchester, respectively. If any one of them goes on to win in November, they will be the first openly transgender person elected to the Vermont Legislature.

The candidates say Hallquist's run was inspiring to them as members of the LGBTQ community, paving the way for better representation in the Statehouse for marginalized individuals. But the candidates say what really influenced their immediate decision to campaign was the change they say needs to happen in their own backyards.

"I feel like we, as a progressive state, are typically very ahead of the curve, and this is one where we are recognizing that the voices represented in our Legislature right now are not congruent with the voices that are across the state of Vermont," said Small.

"It's important when we, as transgender people, get to hold a position that people look up to and that kids can look up to," said Quinn.

"I recognize that if it happens, yeah, that would be great, but it's not about me," said Dufour.

Right now, New England only has two lawmakers who identify as trans. Gerri Cannon and Lisa Bunker were elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 2018. It was only a few years ago, in 2017, when Virginia elected the first openly transgender person to a U.S. statehouse. Democrat Danica Roem unseated a socially conservative lawmaker in the Virginia House of Delegates. There's only four out trans legislators in the U.S., and Democrat Brianna Titone of the Colorado General Assembly is the most recently elected.

Small, Quinn and Dufour agree that while they'd be proud to make state history, they're running primarily to support the communities in which they live.

Small, the health and wellness director at the Pride Center of Vermont, is focusing on public health and affordable housing. She's competing against Democratic incumbent Rep. Hal Colston, D-Winooski, and Jordan Matte.

Quinn, a substitute teacher in Milton, is focusing on economic equity and LGBTQ education in schools. She's up against Emily Hecker in the primary.

Dufour, a small business owner in Manchester, is focusing on uplifting companies like her own. She's running against Kathleen James and Seth Bongartz in the Democratic primary.

All three say addressing local issues is the goal, and they don't want someone to vote for or against them because of their gender identity. But they acknowledge being a trans lawmaker is inherently a means of achieving progress in Vermont politics.

"It's a blessing to be in this race with other folks in the LGBTQ community or other folks who hold these marginalized identities because it's showing we are truly moving towards a change when we're looking at our systems," said Small.

Brenda Churchill of the LGBTQIA Alliance of Vermont says while she lobbies for LGBTQ+ rights in the Statehouse, it's vital the Legislature has community voices in positions of power.

"They can sponsor bills, they can build coalitions, they can work on other bills within committees that I testify to, but they actually will write laws, make laws and pass laws," said Churchill.

WCAX News asked Christine Hallquist about her thoughts on the candidates' campaigns and she responded in a statement saying: "I am very proud of the fact that we have three transgender women running for the Vermont Legislature this year. I am also proud of Vermonters as we move another step forward in civil rights. As we have witnessed the racial tension across America, there is still much work to be done."