Let’s start out with the same question you’ve been asked in every interview: What inspired you to run for office this year?
I wish there was one decisive moment where I sat down and said, “This is it. This is why I’m running for office.” For me, it’s a little more complicated. I’m 57 years old. I was a teacher. I taught public school for over 30 years, 29 of which were here in Wichita. I retired a year ago, in June of 2019. As an educator, especially in Kansas, this is during the time that our governor decided that it might be a great tax experiment to reduce all our LLCs to a 0% tax and see how that would work. The end result was that our funding got to the point where we were close to the edge of bankruptcy. We were taking money out of educator pensions to pay for necessary governmental services, and for some people, that wasn’t enough. They wanted to see it go even further.
At that time, I was not politically motivated, other than voting and speaking out and every now and then. I was too busy trying to run a band program and an orchestra program at one of the largest public high schools here in the state of Kansas. Through that whole process, though, I saw what the end results were: They would make a cut on education funding, and then word would come down through our district that all the principals had to cut their budgets by a certain percentage. I was a department chair. That meant that we had classrooms with textbooks that were being held together with duct tape. We were trying to do whatever we could to extend those budgets and to make things work, and that impacted the kids. It impacted the parents when they would come in and look at the condition of the building.
Teachers weren’t getting cost of living increases during this course of time, and meanwhile, the cost of milk was still going up, the cost of bread was still going up, and the cost of utilities were still going up. You began to pay a lot of attention to what happens when those people who are looking at numbers on a page forget what happens to the humanity of the people impacted by those numbers. That got me started thinking that maybe if there was an opportunity for me to give a voice, that maybe my voice would be a voice that could be heard. Having been a band director for 20 or 30 years, my voice is very loud when I want it to be.
Was there a particular moment where you realized that the time was right for you to run?
I was transitioning to my authentic self during the same timeframe. In 2014, I came out to be my authentic self and my principal nominated me for GLSEN National Educator of the Year. They honored me with this national award in New York City. I got to speak at a big rally there for GLSEN. And then after I retired last year, GLSEN called me up again and said, “There’s this decision that’s being handled here at the Supreme Court and they’re entering into oral arguments. Have you heard of the Bostock case? Would you like to come and be a voice at the ACLU rally for this?”
I was standing there in October in front of the Supreme Court, outside on the sidewalk, speaking to a crowd about these very things: about how Kansas is one of the states where its nondiscrimination ordinance does not include sexual orientation or gender identity. I talked about how important it is for students to have a teacher that looks like them, who they can say, “That person’s like me, they were successful.” I’m standing out with the Supreme Court building behind me, and the other side of the park is the dome of the Capitol Building. I thought, “Maybe I can really make a difference. Maybe this will make a change.”