Christine Hallquist is having quite a day. On Tuesday, August 14th, Vermont holds its state’s primary elections, and Hallquist, the former Vermont Electric Coop CEO, finds out if she’s on track to make history.
If she wins Tuesday’s race, she’ll become the country’s first openly transgender woman to be a gubernatorial nominee for a major political party. She’ll also move on to the general election in November, and if she wins that, she’ll become the first transgender governor in American history—and the first transgender person elected to a statewide position in Vermont.
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It’s a groundbreaking race that falls in a year of groundbreaking races, as more and more women are stepping up to run for office. It’s also a step toward a bright future, according to Hallquist, who tells me over the phone, “We’ve built a social construct of male leadership being in command and control. We should be leading through collaboration, and I think women have a lot to offer in terms of collaborative leadership.”
Hallquist is one of four Democratic candidates on the ballot (one of them is literally 14 years old), and, if she moves onto the general, she’ll most likely go up against Republican Gov. Phil Scott. Ahead, she discusses why she decided to run in the first place and why she knows she can’t make any mistakes.
What made you initially want to get into politics?
[Laughs] I chuckle because I’m not sure I really wanted to get into politics. I really wanted to mitigate the effects of climate change. But what did get me into politics started on Nov. 9, 2016. Like many folks in this country, I shed a lot of tears. I went into political depression and Jan. 20, 2017, I went down to Washington to march in the Women’s March, and, of course, came home feeling pretty excited. But things continued to get worse. I came down to Washington several months later for a climate march, came home, things continued to get worse. On Jan. 20 of this year, I was down in Montpelier for the Women’s March that was run by the youth in Vermont. And I listened to these four young women, all high schools seniors, who call themselves Muslim Girls Making Change. They were doing slam poetry on what it was like to live as Muslim in Vermont, and I cried. It was that moment that I realized we are not safe in Vermont.
What did the girls say in their poems that affected you so much?
The fact that they were getting harassed for wearing their hijabs and just the attacks that are being directed at them on a daily basis at their high school from other students. And on the streets. It’s hard to imagine. Of course being somebody who had just transitioned a couple of years earlier, I can certainly relate to what feels like being marginalized. But to hear it from these Muslim women was really hard for me to take.
You could become the first transgender gubernatorial candidate. How do you feel about that?
Of course, I feel a lot of joy. It’s a real testimony to Vermont. Now I don’t think I’m going to get elected because of that. I think I’m going to get elected for what I’m going to do for Vermont.
We’ve always been first in civil rights. In 2007, we passed transgender protection. And then, we even mandated that healthcare needs to provide for transgender [needs]. So we’ve already been pioneers in this area.
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I think about pioneers and I think about when I was kid… I loved to watch science and history, and I always admired those pioneers that allowed me to do that. But I don’t think anyone sets out to be a pioneer. You just follow your heart, and you end up in a place where maybe you’re creating a positive change for others. But I also tell you, I’m also riding the shoulders of thousands of Vermonters before me who made it possible.
Since you are the first person to do this, do you ever feel this pressure that you can’t make mistakes or you have to do it in a certain way?
Believe me, I do know that we are under the magnifying glass. I know we have to be perfect, do everything perfectly. And I rely heavily on my team. I recognize the importance that we have to execute this flawlessly. And I think we have. We have a really good team. I’ve got a great team surrounding me and helping me as an imperfect person to be perfect.
I read the piece about you on Politico, where you talked about not loving political labels. How do you feel about running as a Democrat and, in general, how we use labels in our two-party system?
Unfortunately we’re in a place where you look at the Republican platform on the last election, it was clearly anti-LGBT. I may offend some Republican LGBT folks on this one, but I can’t imagine how you can be Republican and be part of the LGBT community. I think that’s self abuse. So clearly there’s a difference between the two parties. But I think deep down, I’ve talked to thousands of Vermonters, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat, your values are similar. There just isn’t that much difference between what’s important to us all. But somehow our politics have divided us.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.