by Denny Meyer
Hallquist has won the Democratic primary to be
the nominee for Governor of Vermont in the
upcoming November mid term election. She's
not the first woman to run for governor of a
state, nor will she be the first to have won.
We've had women governors, and Black governors,
and a few women Presidential candidates.
was honored to have met the first Black woman to
run for President, Shirley Chisholm, in 1972 as
my accidental airplane seatmate in coach on a
flight from Washington DC to New York. We
had a lovely long chat although I had no idea
who she was until we deplaned. In parting
she thanked me for the lovely chat and said she
hoped I'd vote for her as she was running for
President, and told me who she was. I'm still
gasping with excited incredulity all these years
Now, I've met
someone equally exciting. I believe
Ms. Hallquist is the first known Transgender
person running for Governor in this county
(Europe is way ahead of us, with both gay and
lesbian Prime Ministers and transgender EU
elected officials). After speaking
with her over the phone for over an hour, it was
clear to me that her gender identity is not why
she is running and is not why Vermonters voted
for her. Our LGBT lives matter. But
in the current era when America's values and
Zeitgeist are in danger of catastrophic
collapse, her LGBT status has no relevance to
why she felt the need to run for Governor, nor
is that of the slightest concern to Vermont's
voters. What matters is her constituents'
courage in voting for someone representing
Vermont's progressive independence.
She was one of
seven children in a Catholic family led by what
she described as "wonderful" social activist
parents. As a boy in Catholic elementary
school, she was ridiculed and beaten up; not
because she was perceived as a different kind of
boy, but simply because she was gifted.
Apparently her inquiring mind caused her to "ask
too many questions" which made people nervous
-including the teachers. Sadly, this was
an early lesson in the ignorance of
By the time she
was seven or eight years old, she in fact began
to realize that she was different.
Apparently the nuns noticed too. Her
parents were called in by the Monsignor and it
was suggested that she needed and exorcism.
Imagine! That was the last straw; her
parents took her out in outrage and enrolled her
in public school. But, sadly, the lesson
sank in that this child had to hide whoever she
was, even if an eight year old could hardly know
who she was. At age 11, she dressed as
Little Red Riding Hood and told her mother that
she wanted to be a girl. Her mother
admonished her to "never say that again!" Tragically, she began to learn
to pretend to 'act' more like
a little man to avoid discrimination. It
was not until her mid forties in late 2015 that
she overcame that encumbrance and achieved self
realization. And her fellow Vermonters
welcomed her as who she is.
But early lessons
in activism also were imbued by her parents.
When her mother took her to Palm Sunday classes
in a church that welcomed homeless, black and
other minority people, she asked, "why did you
bring me here, mom?" And she was told,
"This is God's community, remember that!"
And she did. Who she became began to be
formed at that early age.
Ms Hallquist is
not a veteran, but it was not because she didn't
want to serve. As a high school senior
around 1975, she was in fact ready and gung-ho
to sign up for special forces. She even
attended an 'experience' weekend program at an
Army base. But, she was deeply put off by
having to hear a barrage of profoundly offensive
racially discriminatory remarks from her hosts.
She even wrote a letter to the Army explaining
why she could not serve amidst such bias.
The Army actually sent two officials to
personally apologize to her; but she was not
persuaded. How many more of us might not
have served, had we had the nerve to speak up
before we signed up, I wonder. If I had
had an advance 'weekend' indoctrination, I might
have been so horrified by the incessant racism
and crude homophobic threats and comments that
I'd have perhaps had the sense to think, "Maybe
this isn't such a good idea after all!"
I'd have saved myself from ten years of trauma
and delayed education. Nevertheless, I remain proud as
hell of my service, and I'd do it all over again
if I could.
Fast forward to
2016 when she attended a weeklong program at
West Point's Thayer School of Leadership.
Things had changed considerably. There was
a focus on collaborative leadership and
diversity. She was welcomed as a trans
woman. She was impressed, she noted, by
the improvement in attitude and leadership.
I asked her about
labels, to try to see where she is on the new
spectrum of left leaning leaders. She was
clear, she is not part of any labeled movement,
"labels divide people," she noted. She
then listed the things that are important to
her: recognizing the transfer of wealth from the
working class to the wealthy, raising the
minimum wage and benefits, homelessness,
healthcare for all, climate change, and much more. I
suggested that she sounds like Vermont's Senator
Sanders. They, in fact, share the same
office building in Burlington, she noted. "His message
is my message," she said. But she does not
buy into the labels. She considers herself
a patriot, deeply respecting those who served,
yet who believes that we need to become more
civilized. She loves her state and her
country, she noted. "We are an aspirational
country; we must aspire to improve the lives of
all marginalized Americans."
She is running
for governor because she saw so many things that
needed doing. She said she heard high
school senior girls speaking out about
harassment at a youth march. She saw the
rise of right wing hate groups, name calling,
victim blaming, and labeling leading to
disunity. Her goal, on the other hand, is
unity, she noted. She not only wants to
unite people at the individual, group, and local
level; she wants to improve Medicare by uniting
with other states to lower costs. Her
pragmatism and experience in organizing and
leading enables her know how these things can be
done. In her view, the only way to vote is
for someone who says 'Can Do,' and dismiss those
who obstruct progress.
Being LGBT has
simply enabled her to understand
marginalization. In her view being
civilized means being inclusive of all.
She said that she had never dreamed of being the
Democratic candidate for Governor; but "nothing
is impossible when you are on the side of