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Ep. 44: Big Tents & Iowa (w/ Victoria Rodriguez-Roldán, Dr. Steven Thrasher, & Christine Hallquist)

Feb. 11, 2020

Ep. 44: Big Tents & Iowa (w/ Victoria Rodriguez-Roldán, Dr. Steven Thrasher, & Christine Hallquist)

Briahna explains why Bernie won Iowa despite efforts to discount predominantly minority and working-class voters.

Victoria Rodriguez-Roldán, a transgender and disability activist, argues that the concerns of her communities cannot be separated from universal programs like Medicare for All.

Journalist and professor Dr. Steven Thrasher explains why LGBTQIA+ communities are often the first and worst affected by scourges like HIV/AIDS.

Christine Hallquist, an entrepreneur and the first openly transgender major party nominee for governor in the United States, talks building a coalition with those "on the other side" without compromising your values.

Victoria on Twitter: twitter.com/yovimi

Dr. Thrasher on Twitter: twitter.com/thrasherxy

Christine on Twitter: twitter.com/christine4world

Transcript

Briahna Joy Gray: I want to clear up some confusion about what it means to have a big tent. It doesn't mean compromising your values to make your party palatable to the lowest common denominator. It does mean backing policies that are so helpful to such huge numbers of struggling people that folks from across the political divide see their differences as less important than the values which unite us.

A big tent movement acknowledges that 78% of workers live paycheck to paycheck and addresses that problem with a plan to raise the minimum wage, provide free at point of service health care, double union membership, and to vote against trade deals that ship American jobs overseas. A big tent should mean compromising with Republicans to cut Social Security as Joe Biden has voted to do. And it certainly doesn't require Pete to welcome donors from the health care and pharmaceutical industries into his tent and subsequently flip-flop on Medicare for All.

It's crucial to understand this difference. Our tent is defined by progressive humanistic values that are shared by a majority of Americans. Not the preferences of some imaginary moderate voter whose preferences happen to always align with those of the special interest groups that control our government.

A big tent means that everyone who stands with at the ballot box might not agree on every issue, but we stand together despite our differences because we have more in common than what separates us.

Last weekend, I attended the Alabama Democratic Conference annual convention where Dr. Joe Reed, a figure head in the state Democratic party, said something that really resonated with me. He said, "Never leave an old friend to make a new one." And at big tent, inclusivity can't come at the expense of other members of the coalition, of our old friends. And even though at times, members of our own party haven't played by those rules, throwing Social Security, welfare, over police communities, et cetera, under the bus, we understand that solidarity is non-negotiable. Intersectionality isn't about dividing us up or hierarchies of oppression, it's about understanding how many of our needs are overlapping and using those commonalities as the basis of a movement that can be powerful enough to defeat the strongest enemy.

Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán: We often are singularly obsessed with, oh, here's racial justice-

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán: ... here's women's issues, here's LGBTQ issues and so on, because we keep seeing them as these different buckets when in reality, it needs to be seen as this single, big, progressive ball of wibbly-wobbly activisty stuff basically. Like it needs to be seen as a single progressive movement, which is what this campaign is about.

About being the most progressive possible and seeing that intersectionality.

Briahna Joy Gray: This is Hear the Bern, a podcast about the people, ideas and policies that are driving the Bernie 2020 campaign and the movement to secure a dignified life for everyone living in this country. My name is Briahna Joy Gray, and I'm coming to you from campaign headquarters here in Washington, D.C.

On this week's episode, I spoke to several LGBTQIA supporters of the campaign about our big tent, including trans and disability activist, Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán, who I grabbed for a five-minute chat last week. Victoria had no patience for a version of intersectionality that treats trans issues as distinct from broader economic and health concerns.

Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán: People call it often rainbow capitalism, the whole idea that, oh, yes, we're woke because we put up a rainbow flag in our corporate logo, but we're not gonna talk about our support for private prisons, for example, which Bernie intends to abolish, or towards criminal justice reform, which is another big issue for the LGBTQ community, or towards health care discrimination when we see insurance companies, health insurance companies, in June, putting up rainbow logos-

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán: ... basically-

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán: ... which tells you a lot. We talk about Medicare for All; it would cover not just transition related care for trans people, but it also protects nondiscrimination against the LGBTQ community. And this is important at a time when sex discrimination provisions, such as the Affordable Care Act, are under siege by the Trump administration.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Victoria Rodríguez-Roldán: Likewise, we often talk about issues like, Social Security, like access to fair wages, like employment nondiscrimination, and at a time when the community faces so much persecution and discrimination in the employment context, that access to a fair wage, to greater access to union protections and so on, is essential to the community.

Briahna Joy Gray: Victoria is 100% correct, and her remarks are a perfect jumping off point for both of this week's interviews. First, I spoke to Dr. Steven Thrasher, a recipient of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association Award and a professor at Northwestern University, whose scholarship focuses on HIV criminalization, racism and homophobia. Dr. Thrasher explained why he sees Bernie's platform as best suited to address the needs of marginalized communities, including rural Americans, LGBTQ Americans and Black Americans, groups that intersect more often than lots of folks acknowledge.

Next, I spoke to Christine Hallquist, a trans woman who, with Bernie's endorsement, ran for governor of Vermont in 2018. Now, she lost her general election race, but not before becoming the first openly transgender person to win the Democratic nomination for governor. She talked to me about why Vermont has been such a welcoming space for members of the LGBTQ community and how both she and Bernie have been able to build progressive coalitions in the surprisingly conservative state of Vermont without compromising their values.

But first, we gotta address Iowa. Bernie won. It is as simple as that. 6,000 more Iowans voted for Bernie than the next most popular candidate. Moreover, as Bernie was on track to close the gap in the state delegate count, which is a metric that shouldn't really even matter, the counting was halted by DNC Chair, Tom Perez. The votes that were never counted were from satellite caucus sites, sites which were set up for those who couldn't make normal caucus times because they were laborers or folks who were bilingual and needed language assistance. These caucus sites were among the most diverse, most working-class caucuses in the state.

And one of the most exciting parts of February 3rd were the stories which poured in about caucuses at mosques and pork packing plants, where Bernie won nearly every single vote in the room.

Polls now tell us that Bernie won 98% of every Latino satellite caucus, but Mayor Pete, who won only 5% of the Latino vote, spent all of last week fighting for those votes not to be counted. The thing is, those votes mattered. They were fought for by volunteers and staffers who did the hard work of making our democracy stronger by convincing immigrants and others who had never caucused before, who don't necessarily see themselves as a part of our democracy, that this was their country too.

Adom Getachew: So much of this campaign for me is about expanding the electorate and getting people into politics who are not normally part of the electoral process and who don't think of themselves as political people in this country.

Briahna Joy Gray: That was Adom Getachew, an Ethiopian-American Bernie supporter, who pitched in to help translate for Ethiopian immigrants at a satellite caucus site.

Adom Getachew: I called folks, I guess some time in January, who all worked at the slaughter house, who are in part speakers, Ethiopian immigrants, going out to the plant that these folks work at and standing outside the door in the middle of the night, being like, "Hey, we have folks who can speak in Amharic if that's necessary. All of these are like parts of a process of reaching people and getting people onboard who are not normally part of the process.

Briahna Joy Gray: Investing in these communities, putting in the work, it paid off. Here's Charisa Wotherspoon, another volunteer who worked at the Ottumwa caucus where a diverse group of meat packers handed Bernie a decisive win.

Charisa Wotherspoon: So, there were 15 people who participated in the caucuses as voters. There was one Warren field organizer who caucused for Warren, and then, the rest, the other 14 were Bernie folks, all from the JBS plant. You know, all but one of the attendees were our people and seems like pretty encouraging great way to start off the caucuses, that one being the first one to take place.

Briahna Joy Gray: Being present matters. And offering voters policies that will materially change their lives, that matters too.

Charisa Wotherspoon: They're like, oh, yeah, she was there at 2:00 in the morning in the snow and the cold. Yes, I believe in what she's told me about this candidate, gonna make an effort and be there, but a lot of it, it was the same issues as for most other voters, primarily being health care, the economy in terms of, you know, wages and pro-union policies. You know, Bernie's the son of an immigrant who came to the U.S. not speaking English with not a dollar in his pocket. A lot of those folks could really identify with his story.

Briahna Joy Gray: As of recording this, the DNC has capitulated to the Buttigieg campaign and is declining to count the outstanding satellite caucus votes that are likely to hand Bernie the state delegate win on top of the popular vote victory he already holds. The consequences of this could be lasting.

Adom Getachew: One of the hardest things about talking to folks is encountering people who voted for Bernie in the 2016 primary and then feel like their vote didn't matter, that they were ignored and disregarded. And I think it is an incredibly difficult thing to surmount if like we ask people to engage in the process, we created opportunities for the first time for them to engage in that process, and then we say, "Actually, just kidding. You don't count again." I think the work we would have to do in November and then going forward after that to say, to get those people reengaged is it's gonna be an insurmountable challenge for the Democrat party.

So, I think if the Democratic party's really serious about defeating Trump in 2020 but also building a wider coalition that transforms this country, it behooves them to pursue processes that widen out the possibilities for people for engagement instead of closing them out.

Briahna Joy Gray: Despite the success of the new satellite caucuses though, I learned from Charisa that the same day registration available at all the regular caucus sites was not made available to this disproportionately nonwhite, disproportionately working-class group. She said that as many as 40 people expressed an interest in coming to caucus for Bernie, but given the stricter registration requirements, only 15 could.

Charisa Wotherspoon: The triumph of the satellite caucus is kind of a bittersweet one because the people who actually were able to caucus for Bernie at the satellite caucuses, they represent such a small minority of those who would've liked to if they had the chance, if the caucuses were accessible to everyone.

Briahna Joy Gray: The indifference that DNC has shown to these caucusers and their votes is disappointing. But as we record this, the Bernie campaign has just requested a recanvass of some precincts. Hopefully, by the time you hear this, we will have resolved the Iowa debacle. But regardless, here, on this podcast, on this campaign, we are going to honor the hard work of volunteers and staffers like Adom and Charisa and importantly, the voters they served. And we are going to take a righteous, positive energy right into New Hampshire and beyond. My last question is a little silly, but how do you say “Not me, us” in Amharic?

Adom Getachew: Okay. You say, [foreign language 00:13:38].

Briahna Joy Gray: I'm very glad to be joined today by Dr. Steven Thrasher who is both a journalist and a professor at Northwestern to talk about some of the ways that Bernie Sanders’ policies intersect with the particular kind of, health needs of the LGBT community. So, thank you so much, Dr. Thrasher, for joining me today.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: Thanks so much for having me. Excited to talk with you, Briahna.

Briahna Joy Gray: So, you have both written about and spoke about extensively the HIV crisis and how you think Medicare for All would help to address it, right, in the LGBT, health issues more generally speaking. And something that's interesting to me being as part of this campaign is sometimes, we silo these issues, right? What is an LGBT issue, what is a health issue? Can you talk to me a little bit about how you see those things as intersectionally related?

Dr. Steven Thrasher: certainly. So, these things should not be siloed, we should look at them as in fact all kinds of people across society. And I try to often center LGBTQ people, particularly, queer and trans people of color in my work, one, because, you know, of course, our lives are important. But often, we've been the canaries and the coal mine-

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Dr. Steven Thrasher: ... for really terrible things that are happening across the society. And so, when we look at these issues, we can see how they're affecting particular people, but we can see how they're affecting, the issues that are perhaps harming us first and foremost, affect all kinds of people. So, recently, I wrote in The New York Times about how the HIV crisis is coming to rural America.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Dr. Steven Thrasher: And there's always been cases of HIV in rural America, but we're particularly seeing these really fast and very dangerous outbreaks happening in places like West Virginia and Scott County, Indiana. And these are happening because of the opioid crisis.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: And they're happening really quickly because these are places where HIV prevention work hasn't happened and also, because these are the places where people just have low access to health care. And this is historically a position that has harmed LGBTQ people for a long time, that we've had health disparities, particularly around HIV and AIDS, but other issues as well, we have these health disparities and, we're the first ones to see and be getting hurt, we're the first ones to be getting ill and to be dying. And so, if journalism and- and policy looked to their lives, we'd see that these things are happening. But there are things that are gonna happen to other people as well.

And so, even though HIV and AIDS hit hardest in particular, particularly in cities originally and among queer people of color, because these were happening to us very hard, we organized, we did work to try to get these, issues on the table and to get the needs that we met. But then eventually, these things did go on to harm other people as well and they tie into a really important universal need for access to health care.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Dr. Steven Thrasher: That's one of the most important things that we've seen that's come out of organizing around HIV and AIDS is that everybody really needs health care and act up, which was one of the most effective organizing groups around health care... or around HIV and AIDS in the early years.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Dr. Steven Thrasher: They really called for the equivalent of Medicare for All. They wanted everyone to have access to health care. And they did this because they saw how much their siblings, their friends, their lovers needed access to health care for HIV and AIDS, but they wanted to have kind of a- a sense of queer liberation-

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: ... from a lot of the systems that were harming them. They wanted people to have health care regardless of whether or not they had a job and they wanted people, even before same sex marriage was an option, they wanted people to have access, queer people to have access to, Medicare whether or not they were married-

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Dr. Steven Thrasher: ... or to have access to health care whether or not they're married. And so, in their vision of queer liberation, everyone was gonna have access to health care. And that would let them explore creatively, explore professionally, not be tied down to marriages or jobs that weren't healthy for them, but that it would have everyone have access to it. And so, that's one of the reasons why I think it's- it's really important to look at the issues that are happening to queer people with HIV and AIDS, but to see that, a- and it's not just us that would benefit from it, everybody would- would benefit from these benefits.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah. I really like that point about the- the kind of liberatory aspects of- of universal health care, because there's a way that these policies aren't always perceived as having, a kind of a broader social significance and being kind of the basis of a lot of freedoms that aren't always characterized as such. So, the freedom to have health care without needing to be married, the freedom to have health care without needing to be stuck in a job environment that might be discriminatory or abusive in some way, the ability to exhibit a host of freedoms, because you're not tied into, you know, let's say, an at-will employment situation, right, where that fosters discrimination in different ways.

And so, it's wonderful to be a part of a campaign where we're talking differently about issues that are very much relevant to a broad range of communities, but aren't always pitched or haven't historically been pitched as an LGBTQ issue or a black issue, et cetera, et cetera. And being able to develop a much more expansive view about what kind of rights and interests are relevant to communities. And I- I appreciate your work, work in that arena as well.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: Thank you.

Briahna Joy Gray: So, why don't you drill down to your article a little bit more. And in the beginning of it, you give a kind of a gloss on what the state of the HIV crisis is currently. And you talk about how it's actually, infection rates are going down, generally speaking, especially in major cities. But can you- can you talk a little bit more about what's going in rural communities and why it is that rural communities are seeing an increase in infection rates?

Dr. Steven Thrasher: Sure. So, cities have been doing really good, important, difficult and long-term work on the crisis, and that means addressing the root causes of HIV and AIDS. We had the medicine for a little more than 20 years now that can make HIV a completely normative part of life, it can be very controlled, people who get on medication when they're newly... when they've newly acquired the virus will go on to lead lives quite normally to what they would've lived anyway. And the science is there. The business and the capitalism have not allowed this to happen. The drug companies have kept the medications out of price financially-

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Dr. Steven Thrasher: ... particularly, even when they have drugs that the patent should've reverted back to U.S. government, U.S. government funds most of the research.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: So, that's one of the reasons why the epidemic has continued, and it's really concentrated in communities where people- where people don't have access to protection or the drugs. 'Cause when people take the medication, they can't transmit on the virus. So, the communities have got the drugs, the virus has gone down quite a bit, and those who haven't gotten it can continue to spire a lot of control.

Cities have been very proactive about addressing the root causes of HIV and AIDS, which are racism, homophobia, homelessness-

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Dr. Steven Thrasher: ... stigma around drug use and a lack of access to medical care. And so, cities like San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, have taken very comprehensive approaches that have, not just dealt with the virus, but have also dealt with homelessness and these root causes.

And now, we are looking at places in the country that have not been doing this work and which have traditionally had a lower rate of HIV because they're much less dense in terms of their population.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Dr. Steven Thrasher: But what's really dangerous that's happened is that there are hundreds of counties in this country that have gotten rid of all sexually transmitted disease testing and education. Many of them are in states with absence only education-

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Dr. Steven Thrasher: ... sex education. They certainly don't have any kind of queer, trans, public sex education. And so, when the opioid crisis has started to hit, which as you know and- and which the senator knows from- from your campaign work, it's a- it's a scourge across the country-

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Dr. Steven Thrasher: ... really perpetuated by drug companies in many ways, when the opioid crisis has hit in these places, often, people will be using these prescription drugs, the rates go up when they're unemployed and when they don't have access to health care or unemployment insurance, and then people will move from the opioid drugs to Fentanyl and to heroin and other street drugs, and they'll be using needles. And when they do, that's when if, HIV gets in- involved in- in these communities, it can move very quickly. And it moves quickly because there aren't prevention efforts, there aren't large scale public health interventions. Many state governments and local governments are trying to make clean needle exchanges illegal even though we know that those can help stop the crisis.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Dr. Steven Thrasher: But again, it comes into this broader issue of the lack of access to health care and education and economic stability that people need. And if they had, you know, safe housing, if they had when they were laid off from their job, social support, financial support to help them survive, if they were seeing doctors regularly, then the virus wouldn't move so quickly. But we have in these rural communities places where HIV's been lower, where it can just move very fast because they are lacking all of these public supports. And so, I think that addresses a lot of the issues that Senator Sanders is trying to raise in this election, and speak to just how we need health care access for everyone.

I have numerous colleagues who've worked in places like New Orleans and the rural south, and they've had patients come in who have died of AIDS within days of coming in.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: And this is really unacceptable because HIV is actually relatively a weak virus. It takes 10 to 15 years for it to become lethal.

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: And these people are dying because of stigma, but also because they simply haven't seen a doctor in 10 to 15 years.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Dr. Steven Thrasher: And so, they come in when they're finally, you know, very, very afraid and they're on death’s door, and at that point, there's nothing that could be done for them. But if they were having health care access and they were just seeing a doctor once a year and those doctors were performing HIV test, these would be completely manageable and there's no reason that these people would have to die. And so, that... I think that really taps into Senator Sanders' larger campaign and the, you know, this is something very specific to- to my community and my research, but this of course speaks to all kinds of preventable health disparities and deaths that are happening to people in the United States throughout the country.

Briahna Joy Gray: So, Dr. Thrasher, Medicare for All is such a sweeping policy. It encompasses so much. Can you tell me specifically what aspects of Medicare for All and Bernie's policies more broadly you feel like are best responsive to the issues that you just laid out?

Dr. Steven Thrasher: Well, Medicare for All is a generally good thing that would help everybody around the country, and I think that it would particularly help LGBT people and people of color and queer people of color because we have so many disparities already. I think also that Senator Sanders and, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have gone very effectively after the drug companies who are a real barrier to, how many of these diseases, particularly around HIV and AIDS, companies like Gilead, that they have medicine that people need and they are price gouging. And they often seem to be illegally price gouging and holding on to patents that need to be made available to the public.

Senator Sanders has also, throughout his career, made issues like abortion access and LGBTQ health care the center of his campaign and that not only helps of course the people who actually need health care, but it helps lower the stigma. Stigma's a huge barrier-

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: ... a huge reason why people are suffering needlessly. And then to pivot a little bit, one of the policies, I think, that is so important that Senator Sanders has raised is the issue of free college for everybody, free public college for everybody.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: And it ties into some of these issues, particularly for queer people of color and queer and trans people, LGBT people, but it really speaks to everyone. I really started thinking about this when the- the debates were happening a couple months ago and Mayor Buttigieg was talking about, you know, only having college access for some. Senator Sanders was holding out for college for everyone.

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: And it got me thinking to how often queer and trans young people are in a really precarious position around their education in these years. Because they are, you know, once- once you're 18 years old, you are legally an adult, you can be drafted and sent to the military to die for this country, but in terms of financing around education, you have to ask your parents, if you have a relationship with them, to fill out the facts with them, they have to give their financial information.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yes.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: And so, that's actually something that, and the same thing with not just with college but also with health care. For young people, they're expected to get on their parents' insurance from 18 to 26, which presupposes that they have relationship with their parents-

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: ... that their parents have health care, and it's particularly dangerous for queer and trans young people, because if they've started to go through the process of gender-affirming surgery, of taking hormones or needing health care to their needs, they're under the thumb of their parents for another eight years after they're legally adults. And when I started thinking about this, this just seemed really absurd to me.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: Not just, you know, particularly for queer and trans young people, but I started thinking, why do all young people have to go to their parents once they're legally adults? And that is a real burden on queer and trans young people, for those who are estranged with their parents, for those who might have had abusive relationship with their parents.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Dr. Steven Thrasher: And so, I started thinking about how Senator Sanders' plans for college for all would allow young people to begin their lives of study and study the things that they want to study without having to go through their parents, and also that Medicare for All would also allow them to be getting the kind of health needs they may have as queer trans people that they might need for reproductive health in terms of birth control or things like that without needing to go through their parents.

And even though my starting place in thinking about this was really queer and trans people, the more I thought about it, I thought the current system makes no sense that these young people who are legally adults are having to ask their parents for these things when if they were just given to them as adults in the society and given access to them, the same way they're given access to be drafted-

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: ... that would allow for a lot more freedom for them and allow them to meet their health care needs and their education needs as they see fit as legal adults.

Briahna Joy Gray: That's such a powerful point. I mean, it really is ridiculous that so many fundamental rights are contingent on these relationships that are by... for no means, guaranteed by people, whether it's because you're not married or because you don't have a relationship with your parents. One of the things that makes me most angry when some people in this race characterize our debt cancellation plan and our free public college plan as somehow a giveaway to the rich when in fact, it is more often than not some of the most vulnerable populations in our country that are burdened by student debt, namely black women have more student debt than any other group, for instance. And when you compound that with other identity factors, you know, there's an extraordinary amount of vulnerability there. So, I really appreciate you making that point.

Is there anything else that you wanted to- to talk about before- before we wrap up today?

Dr. Steven Thrasher: I spend a lot of time with young people who are- who are beginning their lives, who have so much enthusiasm and hope about what they want to do, and the barriers to them achieving these things are solvable, but may take a pretty large scale intervention. If they had access to health care and housing and these kinds of things, they can really rock the world. And the same is true for older people as well. One of the things I deal with a lot in my research has been the- the criminalization of HIV.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: How and when people have been prosecuted for HIV. And it's a terrible way to deal with the crisis. It doesn't lower rates of HIV. It creates more stigma dealing with these matters personally and not health wise just d- doesn't help anyone. But when... I'll often get questions when I lecture about this to people who don't know about it, the U.S. is one of about 70 countries that in some way criminalize HIV.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: And I'll get asked, you know, isn't... doesn't punishing it reduce rates in some way? And I say no, the U.S. does not have low rates of HIV. One in two black men who have sex with men are expected to become HIV positive in their- their life, which is the highest rate in the world.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: What countries have that lowers the rate of HIV is I'm sure no surprise to you or Senator Sanders is access to health care, that's the way that you bring the HIV crisis down. And so, these understandable but totally doable approaches like that, that Senator Sanders are behind are things that would actually help the society and help people live longer and give them the ability to have more meaningful lives with less worry. And so, that's one of the reasons why I'm really excited about this campaign.

Briahna Joy Gray: Well, thank you for that, Dr. Thrasher. Could you tell people, listeners and watchers, where they can find you or your work or any projects that you're working on?

Dr. Steven Thrasher: I am on Twitter at @thrasherxy, although I've been on a little bit of a hiatus while I'm working on a book.

Briahna Joy Gray: Ooh, exciting.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: But you can find me there, and I write regularly for BuzzFeed and The New York Times and I'm gonna be a little quieter this year while I finish this book, but that's where you can find a lot of my stuff.

Briahna Joy Gray: Okay. Well, thank you so much and I hope to see, out on the trail sometime soon.

Dr. Steven Thrasher: Thank you very much. I appreciate it, Briahna.

Bernie Sanders: Now my ears may have been playing a trick on me, but I thought I heard the gentleman a moment ago say something "about homos in the military." Was I right in hearing that expression?

Duke Cunningham: Absolutely. Putting homosexuals in the military.

Bernie Sanders: You said something about homos in the military. Was the gentleman referring to the many thousands and thousands of gay people who have put their lives on the line in countless wars defending this country? Was that-

Duke Cunningham: I'm talking...

Bernie Sanders: ... group of people that the gentleman was referring to?

Duke Cunningham: I'm talking about the military people in the military do not support the current bill.

Bernie Sanders: That's not what we were talking about. You used the word homos in the military. You have insulted thousands of men and women who have put their lives [crosstalk 00:31:53]...

Duke Cunningham: I'm talking about [crosstalk 00:31:54]...

Briahna Joy Gray: Well, I'm so glad to be joined today by Christine Hallquist who is the first openly transgender person to run for a major... on a major party ticket.

Christine Hallquist: That's correct, yes.

Briahna Joy Gray: So...

Christine Hallquist: The Vermonters, elected me as their Democratic candidate l, in 2018.

Briahna Joy Gray: For governor?

Christine Hallquist: For governor, yes

Briahna Joy Gray: So, help us understand a little bit about Vermont because sometimes, because Bernie Sanders is from Vermont and Bernie Sanders is known to be this progressive icon, there's a presumption that Vermont is just this longtime lefty state where it's really easy to get elected as a Democrat and everyone just throws parades for any progressive that- that comes through. Is that the case?

Christine Hallquist: I think Vermonters are actually a l, more conservative than people would think.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: But the nice thing about Vermont, Vermont is a very inclusive and welcoming state.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: But they are conservative in their politics. You know, we c- we consistently elect Republican governors. It's middle of the road democracy. You know, it's certainly, I would say that there are a large contingent of progressives in Vermont, but it's still probably just 10% of the- of the population.

Briahna Joy Gray: Okay. Did you grow up in Vermont?

Christine Hallquist: No, I'm... I grew up in Northern New York state and I moved to Vermont in 1976, so I've been here for long time.

Briahna Joy Gray: Oh, okay. So, you [laughs]- you have some Vermont bona fides for sure. What,

Christine Hallquist: Yeah [laughs].

Briahna Joy Gray: ... what prompted the move?

Christine Hallquist: My, family moved here while I was in college, but when I m-

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: ... when I landed in Vermont, I fell in love with the state, and I said, "I'm gonna stay here." There was... I had six siblings, seven kids in the family, I'm the only one left in the state. It's a beautiful state from the standpoint, especially, you know, considering that I'm transgender and the welcoming nature of the state.

Briahna Joy Gray: Well, can you tell me a little bit about that? Because of course, I've read about how Burlington became a mecca of sorts in the 1980s and how there's this long legacy of kind of LGBTQIA inclusion in the state, but I haven't had an opportunity to talk to someone who was living there at the time.

Christine Hallquist: It's become so much part of our DNA to be welcoming that people don't really recognize that difference, you know. It's funny. There was a- there was a bar, a gay bar that was around for quite a while, but then, it disappeared because people who, from the LGBT community, we were welcomed in every bar.

Briahna Joy Gray: [laughs].

Christine Hallquist: So, it- it's interesting because it created some level of a problem because that of course, you know, you go to a bar and you don't know who's LGBT or [laughs]- or straight and hetero and all that.

Briahna Joy Gray: [laughs].

Christine Hallquist: 'Cause we're all mixed in together. But in general, people are pretty welcoming. Now, there are differences in the state just like there are in our country.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: You know, you get to some of the rural outpost in Vermont, it does get, deep red and it is difficult, more difficult in those rural areas for the LGBT community. But I would say, rural Vermont is still much more welcoming than rural America.

Briahna Joy Gray: Why do you think that is?

Christine Hallquist: I think it's a matter of difference. I think, you know, it's the way our brains are wired. You know, we see something different and we immediately jump into fear.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: You know, it's kind of our limbic reptilian response. But the- the beauty of humans is we have this thinking brain that allows us to overcome that instinctive response. But if you haven't experienced, for example, me being transgender, I've gone into communities, many, many communities in Vermont where they never had met a transgender person before.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: And so, it's very important for me during my campaign to be very present in rural Vermont because it's hard to hate when you look somebody in the eye.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm. So, obviously, being present and just kinda meeting people where they are was part of your approach, did you discover anything else in the course of your- your candidacy about kind of tricks of the trades to communicate with people and- and get them, people who might have been hesitant about your candidacy, to get onboard?

Christine Hallquist: Oh, I have a great story, which I have many examples, but I like telling this one story. It was actually in my hometown. I do enjoy going to the- the pub or the bar to have a beer, you know. So, I have my favorite watering hole in town. So, after well into the campaign, I'm at this watering hole and everybody knows me there, but this new kid from town came up, I mean he was from the town for a while, new kid to the bar, and he pulls up next to me, he says, "You liberal," he said something even worse but I'm not gonna use the word.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: But he, you know, "You liberals are the reason this country's falling apart." And I turned to him with a smile and I said, "Tell me more."

Briahna Joy Gray: [laughs].

Christine Hallquist: You know, being very... being a curious person I am. And he proceeds to tell me that, you know, he used some of these... this language has been around for long time, he says, "Oh, well, you know, you- you allow these welfare queens to just live off the- the rolls of the state and the country." So, I turned to him and said, "Hey, let's talk about the CEO that makes $30 million a year and pays no taxes."

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: I said, "How many welfare queens is that worth?" And he stopped dead in his tracks, responded to me, he says, "I work at the local hardware and some of the wealthy people come in with tax exempt forms," he says, "and it really gets me angry."

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: So, I immediately, you know, once I made that connection, I immediately shifted. I shifted and said to him, "Tell me what's important to you."

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: And he's a young kid, he was in his 20s, he said, "Well, you know, I just want to live in this town. I love this town. I want to grow up here, raise a family, get married." I said, "Dude," [laughs], I said, "I am you."

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Christine Hallquist: "I'm, you know, we don't look the same, but I'm on the other side of that. I wanted to live in this town, I love this town, I raised a family here, and I'm still here."

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Christine Hallquist: And we instantly built a relationship. I'm not gonna go to say he voted for me-

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Christine Hallquist: ... but we became friends at that moment.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Christine Hallquist: You know? So- so that was... that's kind of the story I think of how we need to move forward. And I really, you know, I'll put in a plug for Bernie here on this one.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Christine Hallquist: Because this is what we call the big tent.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Christine Hallquist: We want to welcome everybody. I wonder, when people say, you know, this person believe this so they can't... they... Bernie should not welcome them. What I love about Bernie is the fact that he does welcome everybody.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Christine Hallquist: Because our differences really aren't that great when you get down to it. That person who was calling me names in the beginning of the conversation and I had almost the same values, but we came from completely different walks in life.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah. I love this. This subject, this subject of how to kind of reach across ideological divisions, how to get past what has been I think, this one kind of broadly accepted as intractable political Balkanization in this country, right? And whether it's along partisan lines or other kinds of ideological lines, there's something that's emerged that really troubles me, which is this idea that to attempt to communicate across ideological differences is to somehow be a traitor to the ideology that you hold dear or to the b- to the belief system that you hold personally dear.

This idea that people's beliefs are kinda fixed and immutable and almost like biological, like it's a part of them and that can never change, right? And if that's what you believe, then it strikes me as an odd choice to go into politics in the first instance or to want to put yourself in a position where you're responsible as a- as a leader for the lives of people who you find to be contemptible or deplorable. And I- I agree with you that, that's one of the things that I really value the most about Bernie Sanders is his ability to and his willingness to connect with all kinds of people. It seems to me because he keeps their kind of humanity front and center. And that, I think, is what's core to your story. You were able to access what you two had in common, that you share these values and your love of where you live and your basic desires to support your families and- and live a happy life.

And also, you were able to identify mutual enemy, the person who's genuinely causing the problems in this guy's life [laughs] as opposed to whatever like identity factor that he was reacting to negatively. So, I really- I really appreciate that anecdote. And I'm curious, do you think that Vermont in particular, 'cause we hear these stories about Vermont, including from you, do you think that there's something about Vermont in particular, whether it's historical or just like kinda culturally, that seems to make people more open to having those kinds of conversations into interacting with people a- across kinda political lines?

Christine Hallquist: Oh, I definitely think there's something to the Vermont culture. And, you know, what I was hoping that I did during my campaign was show people what democracy should really look like.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: Vermont can show the rest of the world what democracy looks like. Because you cannot get elected for high office like governor if you're trashing the other candidate.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: Phil Scott, one of the things that I struggled with when I started my campaign was, I voted for Phil Scott. The person I was running against, I voted for in 2016. I like Phil Scott. I think he's a very nice man.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: But the problem is, you know, lack of vision, you know, and- and no- no planning round the future. You know, it's-

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: ... so it's not like we have bad candidates, I- I suppose there are some bad candidates.

Briahna Joy Gray: [laughs].

Christine Hallquist: But when I think about it, I think about when you're a business and you want to hire new CEO, you don't say to the recruiter, "Go find me, some bad CEOs to interview." You say, "Find me good candidates and let me choose the best."

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: And I think on the Democratic side, you know, the beauty of where we are today, we have a whole slate of fine candidates and for me, of course, Bernie's the best. And so, I think from the standpoint of the culture of Vermont, Vermonters in general put, you know, love thy neighbor as the number one goal.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: And so, no matter what our differences are, we know we're gonna see each other in the grocery store, you know.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: We're gonna know and see each other in school. We can't be mean to each other.

Briahna Joy Gray: [laughs].

Christine Hallquist: And wouldn't it be nice if the whole country behaved that way?

Briahna Joy Gray: One of the things that I find to be helpful is focusing on policy, and again, another thing I love about this campaign is h- how policy focused it is and how, when I talk to people who are supporters, they always have front of mind, really specific issues that are what is driving them to support Bernie. And so, I'm curious on your end what issues particularly motivate you about Bernie Sanders and particularly, whether there are aspects of his policy for trans Americans that resonate with you?

Christine Hallquist: Of course. Ah, you know, Bernie, you... first of all, I will tell you, when I- I started my campaign, I was much more of a centrist than when I finished my campaign.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: I became a progressive as a result of my campaign for governor. And the reason I became a progressive is because I got into some of the rural areas of Vermont where people are really struggling.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: And it occurs to me, there's a large number of people. This is Bernie's message, you know. The Bernie's message is, yes, the wealthy are benefiting from this growth, but that's the top, you know, 1% or 5%. The majority of Americans aren't seeing the benefits of this growing economy. And this is one thing I would say during my campaign and I say it today, things like living wage, the health care for all, that's not progressive, that's called a civilized society.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Christine Hallquist: And so, I still don't like labels. I'm much more comfortable calling myself a progressive now than I did two years ago.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: But the reason I don't like labels, because, my experience with labels is they are there to divide us.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: And the reality of the issues that Bernie is running on, they’re accusing Bernie of being a socialist. Holy cow.

Briahna Joy Gray: [laughs].

Christine Hallquist: These are... this is what a civilized society does.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: Making a profit on health care is not civilized. And now, if I tie that to the transgender community, which experiences four times the unemployment as-

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: ... as the cis community, CIS, C-I-S, I do see many of the candidates who say the right words-

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Christine Hallquist: ... but the policies have to really benefit those who are on the lowest part of the economic ladder-

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Christine Hallquist: ... which is the trans community is suffering from higher levels of unemployment, higher levels of oppression-

Briahna Joy Gray: Right.

Christine Hallquist: ... and when you look at an oppressed community, you know, oppressed communities t- tend to take on the things that are said about them.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: So, that's the other part, you know. We... of course we want to say the right things and do the right things, but we need to match that with policies.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: And that's where Bernie's been very clear, on the policies that benefit the transgender population and the LGBT population.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Christine Hallquist: And any of the oppressed communities.

Briahna Joy Gray: [crosstalk 00:44:35]...

Christine Hallquist: And I like that... I like to raise that abo- above from just transgender community, because there are many communities that suffer. Of course, I consider, you know, my comm... you know, there's some of us in the community who, you know, I faked it as a man for most of my life so I-

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: ... I come- I come from a privileged background.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm. Yeah, I... it always galls me when I hear people, you know, who maybe support another candidate or, kinda see themselves as different ideologically, who say, "Well, I like so and so because of their LGBT plans," and that candidate won't have a plan to address homelessness. When one out of [crosstalk 00:45:12]-

Christine Hallquist: Oh, exactly.

Briahna Joy Gray: ... transgender people experience homelessness in their lives, right?

Christine Hallquist: Yup.

Briahna Joy Gray: Or they don't have a substantive criminal justice plan, when so many people are getting caught up in the criminal justice system. And on and on and on. And so, there's this way in which I sometimes think that lingo, the saying the right thing as you put it or kind of this, kinda academic speak of intersectionality, which is enormously important in practice, but sometimes, I feel like the language sup... takes presidents over the practice. And the practice is understanding how all of these intersections of race and gender and sexual identity and class are affecting our ability to live our lives with equality and fruitfulness and joy. That kind of broad, holistic perspective that Bernie Sanders brings to the table is unmatched and I think really undersung.

I also wanted to pick up on something that you said about labels, because this is actually something I haven't decided how I feel about it. Because I really... the idea that- that labels can be used to divide resonates with me, but I'm also sensitive to the concern of people who say, well, without identifying what we are, like without labeling us, you can't track us and you can't see how well this group is doing and you can't identify when there are harms that are, you know, identity specific. And so, there are people in, I believe it's an EU thing where they can't track... they're not allowed to track certain kind of racial factors because of The Holocaust.

And so, a good faith rule was started after The Holocaust, well, let's not track people because we don't want it to be used to exploit the Jewish population or to be antisemitic and have that sort of thing happen again. At the same time, the... on the backend, the consequences that there's very few metrics in the EU about what's going on with other kinds of marginalized groups. And so, I go back and forth on that. I don't know. Have you- have you thought about that at all?

Christine Hallquist: Yes, I thought about that a lot, you know.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Christine Hallquist: And, when I transitioned, you know, I spent five years preparing for my transition-

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: ... and working with a tran... with a counselor. I wanted to... my counselor asked me when I started, you know, "What's your goal?" I said, "My goal when I transition is to be a strong leader as David was," my male side.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: You know, I was a strong leader and I've had confidence, but Christine was kinda kryptonite to who I was. So, when I transitioned, I was proud. I was very proud and ready. So, I started right from the transition saying, I'm a proud... I say it everywhere I go, "I'm a proud and out transgender woman. I'm a transgender woman."

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: I don't claim to be a woman because I don't have those early childhood experiences.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: You know, I didn't transition 'til I was 58. So, I'm getting it to s... I'm- I'm saying this for a reason-

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: ... because I say I'm a proud and out transgender woman and immediately, there's stereotypes that come with that.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: But I'm not this, you know, I'm not... I don't totally buy in to some of the transgender values that other transgender folks go.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: I'm a proud and out transgender. I'm very proud of my past. I changed my name to Christine David Hallquist to respect my past. I'm very proud, and everything transitioned seamlessly. You know, I'm oversimplifying it. I did a lot of work.

But ultimately, to get it to the point where I could transition seamlessly. I'm very proud of the work I've done in order to be the proud and out person that I am. However, that immediately throws into a bunch of stereotypes that people form. You- you know, you get put into a box and you're boxed with everybody else, and that's a discredit for those people who may not want to be deadnamed. You know, deadnamed, called by their previous name.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: I want to respect everybody for their own individual needs. And I... and people say, "How should I treat a transgender person?" I said, "Just ask them," you know.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: Ask them how they want to be treated, how would you like to be called, what would your name like to be? But that's called respect.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Christine Hallquist: So, I do agree with you. For classification purposes, we have to identify who we are, and that's what I do. And I think it's real important to identify who you are. The problem we have with labels though is our labels ought to be designed to be inclusive-

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: ... as opposed to exclusive.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: And again, I go back to this natural human tendency to define boundaries with our communities. So, we define these boundaries and I'm in this community but you're out of that community.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm-hmm [affirmative].

Christine Hallquist: And again, I'm gonna go back to Bernie.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Christine Hallquist: You know, this is the big tent thing. We're all part of the community. There's seven point seven billion people in our community; this gets to climate change, right?

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Christine Hallquist: We've gotta view the whole world as our community.

Briahna Joy Gray: Absolutely.

Christine Hallquist: Oh, by the way, nationalism could get us all killed, right? Because ultimately, we've gotta learn how to work with countries we don't like, we have to work with people that don't look like us, they don't think like us, we may have to work with people we don't like in order to solve climate change. But they're all part of our community.

Briahna Joy Gray: Yeah.

Christine Hallquist: Does that make sense?

Briahna Joy Gray: Absolutely. I, what you are reminding of is an interview that we did recently with Barbara Smith, who is one of the founders of the Combahee River Collective, a black feminist socialist group from the 1970s, who founded the term, identity politics, and we were talking about how that term has become misused today and how, and her thinking and the thinking of her group, it was to say that we all have different identity factors that affect how we live our lives but by looking at those, we can see what we share and overlap and have in common without being kind of absent-minded or, excluding those specific concerns that might not be my concerns or that your, your concerns, you know, vice versa.

So, the point is to say, hey, we share concerns as women, you know? We share concerns as- as members of a community that might not have the same ability to have the professional advancement. And there might be discreet concerns that I have as a black person and discreet concerns you have as a trans person but at the end of the day, the commonality should be as important, if not more important to the projects of solidarity that identifying those things, which we also have to look out for to make sure that none of us get left behind. And keeping that solidarity focus I think is what keeps any kind of labeling inclusive rather than exclusive, as you so beautifully put.

And I'd like to think, I hope to think, we're working toward it being the- the case that, that solidarity project's essential to what's going on in this campaign and I really appreciate your support and your advocacy. Can you tell us a little bit about what you're doing these days?

Christine Hallquist: I formed a company whose mission is to solve climate change.

Briahna Joy Gray: Oh, wow.

Christine Hallquist: We're working on a new battery technology that's about three times as good as existing batter technology-

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Christine Hallquist: ... for storing solar and wind power.

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Christine Hallquist: So, I have a long history with the electric grid. I started working on this concept in 2005, the idea that the electric grid will solve climate change. It was actually a Republican governor that took a group of us up to Quebec to listen to the first intergovernmental climate change commission report.

Briahna Joy Gray: Hmm.

Christine Hallquist: And at that point, you know, I kinda made a life commitment to how the electric grid can solve climate change. Because everything has to be electrified.

Briahna Joy Gray: Mm.

Christine Hallquist: We have to move away from fossil fuels. So, batteries are key, you know. We need batteries that can have, incredible storage capability. So, I formed a joint venture with a couple other companies to develop a new technology battery that has, three to four times the storage density of the current crop of batteries.

Briahna Joy Gray: Oh, wow.

Christine Hallquist: And we get these batteries out there, you know, when the wind's not blowing and the sun's not shining, we can store that energy and use it at that time.

Briahna Joy Gray: Well, Christine, where can people find you? You mentioned your Twitter handle earlier. Where can people find you or any- any projects that you're working on?

Christine Hallquist: My company is Cross Border Power. You know, my Twitter handle is christine4world, with the numerical four, christine4world. I've got a Facebook following, just look for Christine Hallquist. If you google my name, you'll find- you'll find-

Briahna Joy Gray: Okay.

Christine Hallquist: ... lots of stuff.

Briahna Joy Gray: Okay. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today. I really appreciate it and I know our listeners really enjoy this conversation.

Christine Hallquist: Yeah, and thank you for everything you're doing.

Briahna Joy Gray: That's it for this week. Let us know what you think at [email protected], or send us a tweet with the hashtag #HearTheBern. If you haven't already, please take a moment to rate, review or like us on Apple podcasts, SoundCloud or wherever you're listening. Transcripts will be up soon. 'Til next time.