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Christine Hallquist

Candidate for
Governor of Vermont

by Denny Meyer

Christine 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.

I 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 later.

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 discrimination.

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 Justice."

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