Kristen Browde is LGBTQ Victory Fund’s candidate for New York State Assembly in District 93. We checked in with Kristen about how her race is shaping up and how the campaign is adjusting to the coronavirus. If elected, Kristen will be New York’s first openly transgender elected official.
Victory Fund: There’s never been an openly trans candidate elected in the state of New York. What do you think it will mean for the trans community to finally reach that milestone?
Kristen Browde: The message from my election will be simple, and it’s one that the trans community as well as the larger community won’t miss: that not only do we, as transgender New Yorkers, care about the same things as cisgender New Yorkers, our competence to deal with those issues is identical as well; that in truth, being transgender has no more relevance to one’s worth in society or one’s contribution to society than does being left handed or right handed. And particularly for younger transgender New Yorkers – and probably those outside the state as well – I think it is a message of empowerment, showing, once again. that there is no ceiling imposed on you by virtue of your gender – that they, by starting now, can achieve even more and bring about even greater change in acceptance, and, ultimately, bring us to equality.
VF: This isn’t the first time you’ve run for office. What’s something you’ve learned and applied this time around?
KB: I learned that you can’t let your opposition distract you from your core message. It is my life experience as a parent, a journalist, an attorney working for and protecting families, an advocate finding pragmatic solutions to problems and as an appointee of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo Steering Committee of the New York State Council on Women and Girls that have shaped me and made me qualified for this position. No gender-based whisper campaign will get me off message. Those types of campaigns are “distraction oriented” and not substantive. Also, there is a major difference in running against an incumbent Republican and running for an open seat in a Democratic-leaning district.
And three years has also brought some real progress. In the last two major interviews I’ve done, one a half hour television show, and the other a magazine interview leading to a cover story, the word “transgender” never appeared at all. In both I’m referred to, properly, as the only woman in the race – a remarkable contrast to three years ago, when, instead of being the Democratic Party candidate, every media story was about the “transgender candidate.”
VF: In 2018, voters in New York changed the course of state politics when they stripped power from the IDC, a group of Democratic senators who caucused with Republicans and blocked votes on countless pieces of progressive measures. How are you thinking about the leftward shift in Democratic Party politics as it relates to what’s possible in a new post-IDC New York?
KB: I was a part of the anti-IDC coalition that worked very hard and quite successfully to rid the state of that group. I am proud of that. The IDC didn’t just caucus with the Republicans, they voted with the Republicans, blocking much-needed legislation. This included bills that banned conversion therapy, eliminated the trans and gay panic defenses and, perhaps most significantly, gave transgender New Yorkers identical anti-discrimination protections. Within days of the IDC being ousted we got all those bills through the State Legislature and now they are law.
Also, a small clarification — I wouldn’t call this a “leftward shift” I’d call it a moral shift. A shift towards equality and a shift towards human progress!
VF: Last week we learned of the tragic loss of your colleague at LeGaL, Richard Weber, who died from complications related to the coronavirus. New York in particular is already seeing the worst effects of this pandemic. How are you holding up? And what steps are you taking to stay safe?
KB: Richard’s loss was truly shocking. We had e-mailed a few nights before. He told me he was feeling better and on his way to recovery. This is so sad. Such a profound loss, both personally and as a community.
Myself, I am holding up well, I have a 16-year-old son whose school is closed, and keeping him occupied and learning while dealing with the realities of a suddenly changed campaign (no more in person events, cancelled fundraisers, entire towns that are virtually shut down) is a challenge. It can be a lot, but others are dealing with so much more. I want to do all that I can, for them.
And you are right. New York has been hard hit by the virus, both in the City and in my home County of Westchester. However, New Yorkers, we are a resilient people and we will do our best to protect and care for the sick and vulnerable. I’m doing what Governor Cuomo suggests: social distancing, pushing out good information, working and campaigning from home while helping my local community face these difficult challenges.
VF: What do you love about New York’s 93rd Assembly District?
KB: The people, though the natural beauty of the district is a pretty close second. It’s a district in which your neighbors constantly surprise you not just with their depth and range of knowledge or experience but with their sense of community, coming together in to face a challenge. We see it now with the virus and people making sure those who are either sick or elderly are cared for and, at the same time, are rallying around our local small businesses and towns. And this is not new, during Superstorm Sandy people who had power or who had generators would invite those who did not over for hot meals and showers. They’d make sure that no one was trapped in their homes. That sense of community extends from our more developed southern area to the distinctly bucolic north. If one has any doubts about the basic goodness of humanity, come to our district, we will restore it!
VF: If you could pass any bill, what would it be?
KB: Only one? I have a pretty long list already.
As a lawyer, and as a reporter before that, my focus has always been finding workable solutions to difficult challenges. As a society, we face so many challenges right now, all of them complicated by the personal and financial toll of the corona virus pandemic. Practical concerns and people’s health and safety will always be a top priority. We won’t know for another few months just how bad the damage is from the virus, and on many levels the severity of the damage is likely to limit the state’s short term ability to deal with the serious issues that need attention. But given the unwavering focus I have on equality issues and fairness, a focus I know is shared both by the leaders of both houses of the state legislature and Governor Cuomo – all of whom I’ve worked with on a wide range of issues – I know we can, at a minimum, pass bills that protect New Yorkers and empower them to live their best lives.
Kristen has what it takes to win this race – that’s why we endorsed her. But she faces a critical quarterly deadline and needs to finish out March with strong, grassroots support. Donate what you can to help Kristen make history in New York.