You’re running in a heavily Republican district. Does that worry you at all?
No, it doesn’t. Southeast Ohio gets written off a lot by the Democratic Party because it’s just understood as very Republican. But if you really look at the number of registered voters, there are more Republicans than Democrats, for sure, but there are more independents than Republicans. There are so many swing voters in this area who don’t feel like they have a political voice and I can see that in the numbers, but I also just know that from living here and being born and raised here.
And there just hasn’t been a candidate like me to reach people where they are and explain why progressive policy can uplift this district. Because no one can deny that we’re hurting. We can’t deny that we don’t have jobs. We can’t deny we don’t have housing. A progressive has never run for this seat, so we can’t say that it’s impossible because it’s never even been attempted. So it doesn’t worry me.
LGBTQ+ people living in more conservative parts of the country are often frustrated with the way their hometowns or home states can get written off. Have you ever been told, “You’re openly queer, so you can’t run in Southeast Ohio?”
No one has said that to me, to my face. I don’t think anyone would have the guts to say that to my face, but it was more I think an internalized fear for me. It took some time for me to build the courage to come out publicly because I was worried that people would say that. I was worried that that would add another target on my back. And in certain ways it does.
But I was already a young woman, a young progressive running for office in a conservative district in my hometown and that was scary on its own. To add that, I’m queer to that as well — it felt like it was too much for me to even consider when I first started this campaign. But as I continued to campaign, as I continued to meet people and understand myself and my platform and the privilege of my platform, it became more important to talk about being queer, to give this area that visibility and representation.
I know what it feels like to be a queer kid in Zanesville and not really know what queerness is, and I was lucky enough to go to college, to travel the world, to be exposed to a lot of things outside of southeast Ohio. But so many people in my district don’t have that access and don’t have that privilege, so if I can bring that back here and bring it proudly, that is so rewarding and so worth it, and it is worth any kind of comment that someone might make.
You’re 23 now. When did you come out?
I came out when I was in college, probably around my sophomore year, and only to close friends. I didn’t come out to my family until this year actually because, in my mind, it would be easier to tell them I’m queer if I were bringing a girl home. I thought maybe they wouldn’t be able to understand queerness unless they could see it, unless they could see me being queer.
But once I decided to come out publicly for the campaign, I knew I had to come out to my family. I am incredibly lucky to have a warm and loving family, so they, of course, accepted it and were grateful for my honesty and openness about it, but that was kind of the biggest one for me. I was really comfortable talking about it with friends and even strangers, but it was difficult for me to talk about with my family.
Why southeast Ohio? Why come back home instead of running off to some other part of the world that might be perceived as more glamorous?