It’s always a treat to speak with one of the women on our Board of Directors, but when that woman has also been through the Emerge program it’s even more special. This week I spoke with Brenda Churchill, the Statehouse Liaison for the LGBTQIA Alliance of Vermont. Brenda’s roles include being a representative for LGBTQ organizations in the stathouse to ensure that they are represented in laws and bills, and that the language in those laws is inclusive. Much of her career and activism was motivated by her transition, and she continues to give back within her community and for the state as an advocate for people who do not have a voice or platform to stand up for LGBTQ rights.
Brenda moved to Vermont 30 years ago, and after retiring from a previous career path, she realized the need for more protection and representation for LGBTQIA+ organizations and individuals. Strengthening the queer communitiy in Vermont is something she’s particularly passionate about, and the numerous projects and legistlative changes she’s put into action is nothing short of admirable. I asked Brenda about her introduction to Emerge, and the way she came to be involved was not as traditional as most women who go through the program. In 2018, Brenda attended a women’s march alongside her good friend and fellow political activist. After seeing the inspiring turnout and demonstrations of demand for action, her friend voiced her desire to run for governor. Brenda’s support was unwavering, and she embarked to help her friend along the campaign trail. Through her work in the legislature, Brenda was introduced to Ruth Hardy—the previous Executive Director of Emerge Vermont. In an effort to better understand the process of running for office and familiarize herself with the roles of a candidate, Brenda enrolled in Emerge’s Candidate Bootcamp. Brenda went through the program to better herself as a candidate staff member, as she was still working with her friend who was running for governor. With her outgoing presence and commitment to being the voice for change, Ruth Hardy recognized her characteristics as someone who would flourish and contribute infinitely to Emerge Vermont’s Board of Directors.
Since assuming this position, Brenda has worked tirelessly to be a representative for the LGBTQIA community at the state level. One project she’s particularly proud of is H.333—a bill signed into law mandating that all of Vermont’s single-use bathrooms in public places be labeled as gender neutral. Another project she undertook in 2018 was adding a third gender to Vermont driver’s licenses and identification. The process of getting this took 18 months, but as of June 2019 a third gender has been added. Since this addition, 400 Vermont residents have changed their status to the status they actually identify with. This is a huge step towards changing the language and dialogue surrounding non-binary folks, and putting these laws into actions can help to make sure the rights of all people are protected. Brenda said that often times, when LGBTQ rights are not explicity outlined in bills or laws, that tends to act as an excuse to exclude them. Brenda’s efforts to combat these inequalities is seen in her presence at the statehouse—whether it be sitting in on hearings or testifying in committee meetings. As a community, she says, we have to work to stop the perpetuation of stereotypes by being mindful of the language and actions we use in policy.
I asked Brenda about her thoughts on the barriers that women face in the political sphere. Women often have to work harder to establish their credibility to run for political office than their male counterparts, and the issue of finding a balance between their personal lives and a political career is something which many women face. For working mothers, they don’t have as much freedom in separating their roles as a parent from their roles in their careers. This gender bias is hard to overcome, but there is no shortage of smart capable women ready to take on that challenge. In looking towards the future of women in politics, Brenda spoke adamantly about keeping states blue in an effort to overcome the damage done by the current administration. In electing more women to office, we can swing the pendulum back towards a state of progression rather than regression. We need not be complacent about the current state of our country and instead act in ways that will protect the rights of those underrepresented, and getting women into higher office is the right place to start.
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.