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Winooski Poised To Send First Openly Transgender Lawmaker To The Statehouse

Taylor Small holds a blue, pink and white campaign sign, wearing a winter coat and mask in the snow
Liam Elder-Connors
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VPR
Unofficial results are in, and Taylor Small of Winooski is poised to be the first openly transgender person to serve in the Vermont Legislature, as a Progressive-Democratic representative to the House.

On Tuesday, first-time candidate Taylor Small of Winooski won one of two seats in the Vermont House for the Chittenden 6-7 district. Small is a Progressive-Democrat, and though results are still unofficial, she is slated to be the first openly transgender person to serve in the Vermont Legislature.Our guest is:

  • Taylor Small, Progressive-Democratic winner of one of Winooski's two House seats and Vermont's first openly transgender lawmaker

Broadcast live on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020 at noon. Rebroadcast at 7 p.m. Listen to the full episode here.

The following conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

For live updates on races for Vermont's Legislature in the 2020 General Election, follow VPR’s liveblog.

Jane Lindholm: What did it feel like to realize that you had won a seat last night?

Taylor Small: You know it was overwhelming in a lot of ways, and very emotional, because I see this win as not only something for myself, or the LGBTQ community here in Vermont, but understanding that our representation, that we need in the Statehouse – or even nationally – has to be representative of the people that we serve.

And I think this is the perfect indication of where the people of Winooski would like to see that progress going, as well as the state of Vermont overall.

What is it that you think the people of Winooski are saying? You mentioned that you are representing not only Winooski, but also representing the LGBTQIA community around Vermont.

This is a historic victory for you, as the first openly transgender person to win a seat in the Vermont Legislature. What is it that you think, Winooski voters are saying, "Yes, this is why we want you to come and represent us in the Statehouse?"

Well, I think something that's resounding when it comes to marginalized communities, is the lens that we are able to bring when it comes to crafting new legislation and being able to focus on those most impacted.

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Because from my experiences of being a trans person here in the state of Vermont, or working at the Pride Center and working within these marginalized communities, I’ve seen how our systems and previous legislation have not been supportive of all folks, or have left folks out of the conversation or to go unheard.

And so, during this campaign, I think it's difficult to separate oneself from their identities because it is so important and integral to who we are.

But I think running on the issues that are impacting the folks of Winooski, one of our most diverse cities in the state of Vermont, and seeing that, not only am I here as a neighbor and community member who is willing listen, but listen deeply, and understanding those diverse impacts that are happening for all of us, both of course in Winooski and across the state.

Taylor, you aligned your campaign with that of Kesha Ram, who also won last night and also had a historic victory, becoming the first woman of color to serve in the Vermont Senate. It seems like for both of you, this question of inclusion, this question of diversity, was one that you were both really passionate about and willing to align yourselves together on.

Do you see the two of you winning together as well, given how closely you campaigned together?

Absolutely. It has been such a pleasure to campaign and work with Kesha – someone whom I have looked up to for so long. And actually ... one of the first three people that I called when deciding to run. Because as a young person herself, who served in the Legislature as a woman of color, I needed to hear: ‘Is it worth it? Am I going to make those changes that I want to see happen?’

And she was immensely supportive from the beginning, saying, 'Yes, we need your voice in the Statehouse. Yes, you need to do this. And yes, we can make this change happen.'

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Are there specific pieces of legislation that you hope to introduce in your first term as a lawmaker?

There are two major pieces of legislation that I'm really focused on in my first year. The first piece being, in my role at Pride Center of Vermont, I'm the director of the Health and Wellness Program. So health equity and equitable health access is something that I hold so near and dear. And especially, what has been highlighted during the pandemic, is seeing folks losing their health insurance coverage when they lose their position or job due to the pandemic.

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I want to see Vermont move in a direction where we have health insurance not tied to employment, so that folks truly have access to health care and know that health care is a human right, rather than a privilege that is afforded to some. And I know that there is a larger conversation that we need to be having on the national stage around "Medicare for All" and making sure that folks have access to health insurance, but I know that we can make those moves here locally, in the state, to make sure those protections are in place.

And the other piece that comes up is recognizing that Winooski also passed a historic charter change last night, in passing all-resident voting for documented residents here in the city of Winooski, for any municipal matters.

And that's whether or not they have U.S. citizenship?

That is correct.

And even though the people of Winooski have voted and passed this charter change, it still needs to pass through our state Legislature before it can go into effect.

… As it does in Montpelier, which has also made a similar decision.

Exactly. But what we have not seen yet, is the all-resident voting go into effect for Montpelier because it has not passed in our state Legislature.

My hope is to make sure that these changes that the people of Winooski and the people of Montpelier would like to see actually come to fruition within the next year, so that we can make sure that we're moving towards a truer representative democracy, where the folks in our community actually have a voice and can be heard.

Candidates stand outside polling place, with masks
Credit Abagael Giles / VPR
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VPR
Rep. Taylor Small, right, greets voters alongside fellow candidates and campaign volunteers outside the Winooski Senior Center on Vermont's 2020 Primary Day.

It’s challenging enough to be a new lawmaker; more challenging to start in a pandemic, especially when you probably aren't going to have a chance to mingle at the Statehouse with your fellow legislators and get to know one another and align yourselves, and get that kind of backing for the legislation that you want to introduce by forming bonds.

So how are you going to get to know your fellow lawmakers?

Oh, that is such a great question.

And I've heard all about being able to eat in the lunchroom and these robust conversations outside of session, and I think just like we did in the elections during COVID, we have to get creative in finding ways to build coalition and alignment among all of the various new representatives that are coming in. We see a wonderful Progressive wave and a wave of women leadership. Of course, you just had Molly Gray on, which is amazing. Kesha Ram moving into the Senate, Becca Balint [hopefully] moving into [Senate] Pro Tem.

There's just so much change that I am seeing happening. And I think it’s fostering those connections and recognizing again that the issues are not necessarily unique to locations within the state of Vermont, but that there are pieces that are across the state line, or across those boundaries, that we can come together and focus on, and make that distinct change together.

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