When a Bakersfield Selectboard member announced their resignation this past spring, Brenda Churchill, a board member of Emerge Vermont and a 2018 bootcamp alumna, decided to look at the job description.
“That’s all in my skill set, those are all things I can do,” Brenda said, describing the selectboard job in an interview with Emerge Vermont. Upon discovering the similarities between a selectboard member’s job and her own interests, she made the choice to run. Last week, she was approached to run for Justice of the Peace in Bakersfield as well.
Although Brenda is a first-time candidate, she has been a leader on many fronts in Vermont for a long time. Apart from being an asset to Emerge’s program and board, Brenda is also the State House Liaison for the LGBTQIA Alliance of Vermont, and is currently working for the US Census. Brenda made history by working on Christine Hallquist’s campaign for Governor in 2018 – the first Gubernatorial campaign for an openly transgender nominee in the United States. Now, Brenda says she wants to focus on her local community.
Although running for office during a pandemic is extraordinarily difficult – especially when you’re running two campaigns- Brenda says her work with Emerge prepared her for this ride.
“[Emerge] laid all the framework for being able to campaign, even [during] COVID,” Brenda said. “I think our Emerge classes then and now are especially well-prepared because we’re teaching through the pandemic.”
Because the position on the Bakersfield Selectboard opened due to a resignation, if Brenda wins the election on August 11th, she will have to run again in March. Her election for Justice of the Peace takes place in November. Regardless of the outcome of her election in August, Brenda has a long seven months of campaigning ahead. This makes it all the more important to connect with voters, which she has been doing digitally.
“Social media has revolutionized campaigning in a way that I don’t think anybody really envisioned, especially during this time of COVID,” Brenda said. “If you aren’t mastering or grasping social media… you’re not really going to be able to [talk to] a lot of people; you’re not going to be shaking hands, [and] you’re not going to be doing…speeches.”
As someone driven by connecting with others and changing her community for good, running for office seemed like a natural choice.
“Having [an] inquisitive mind and loving to talk to people is really second nature to me,” Brenda said. “It has been ever since I got elected to student government back in elementary school. It’s been an interesting, long career.”
I always will offer expertise where my subject matter takes me.
LGBTQIA advocacy is a big part of Brenda’s career. Brenda runs “Ask a Transgender Person”, or AATP, a joint project with colleague Arron Marcus. Both Brenda and Arron identify as transgender, and seek to educate Vermonters about their experiences. They have run AATP at farmer’s markets, schools, political organizations, churches, and anywhere else they are invited.
“I always will offer expertise where my subject matter takes me, which is in gender bias and racial bias,” Brenda said.
She adapted AATP for an Emerge workshop this past Spring. She also collaborated with Tabitha Moore, director of Vermont’s chapter of the NAACP, to create a training for Emerge last Fall about gender and racial bias.
As a State House liaison for the LGBTQIA Alliance of Vermont, she has helped make huge strides in the legislature. In 2018, she helped lead the passing House Bill 333, which mandates that all public Vermont single-use restrooms be labelled as gender neutral. The following year, she advocated for a change on Vermont driver’s licenses and identifications to include a third gender option, which resulted in a new statewide policy and precedent.
Brenda’s familiarity with Vermont systems of government means she is able to connect the bigger picture of statewide government to her local area.
“Most people are not critically aware of the local footprint, and I think that’s what I bring; the ability to tie that in,” Brenda said.
Bakersfield, a town with many remote, curvy dirt roads, often suffers when storms hit. In an infamous rainstorm last Halloween, Brenda recalls not being able to leave her house for several days due to the damage on the roads. Bakersfield ended up reaching out for Federal help. As a Selectboard member, Brenda says she is committed to working with state systems and the resources we have here in Vermont to solve local problems.
As for Justice of the Peace: Brenda is deeply committed to fighting for equality and making her community a safe place for all its inhabitants, making her a strong candidate for this position as well. Brenda’s incredible skill set is clearly quite versatile.
Emerge is so grateful for all the work Brenda is doing for our state, its people, and for our Emerge programs. She is an incredible advocate and leader, and we cannot wait to see what she does next!
Emerge has one goal: To increase the number of Democratic women in office who are reflective of the incredible diversity of the Democratic party by recruiting, training and providing a powerful network.
To support more women like Brenda, contribute to Emerge Vermont today!