Taylor Small is poised to become the first out transgender legislator in Vermont history. Expected to win one of the two open seats in her district, Chittenden 6-7, she is overwhelmed by the thought of breaking such an important barrier for the transgender community in her state.
“Being the first means being that representation,” Small told LGBTQ Nation, “and being that guiding light. In a lot of ways I don’t see it as a historical moment for myself, but more of a historical moment for the community.”
Small decided to run for the Vermont House after one of Chittenden 6-7’s current representative, Diana Gonzalez – Vermont’s first out woman of color in the state legislature – announced her decision to retire after her term. In fact, Gonzalez called Small and encouraged her to run.
“She reached out and said, you are doing all of this work in the community,” said Small, “You’re creating space for folks to come together…I think you’d be an amazing role model in the state legislature.”
The call came with only a week until the filing deadline, but Small knew she wanted to do this. Within thirty-six hours, she had began an entire campaign, complete with a website, platform, and social media presence.
“Once I am set to do a project, I will do it full steam ahead,” she said.
Small has been touched by the number of queer, trans, and gender-nonconforming people who have reached out to her, many saying she has inspired them to step up and lead themselves. “It has been so heartwarming to know that this can inspire such beautiful change,” she said.
Small added that with this election, Vermonters have the potential to double its LGBTQ representation, with the possibility of growing from 6 to 12 out legislators in the state House of Representatives.
“Something that is really important when we focus on marginalized communities is the lens we bring when looking at bills and legislation. When people in power are typically white, older, wealthier, cisgender, [and] straight, their lens is in supporting the systems of power that already exist,” she explained.
“When you bring folks that have marginalized identities that aren’t typically seen in positions of power, it allows those most impacted to be at the forefront of those bills, and understanding the legislation we are making goes beyond ourselves, but is truly community-oriented and focused.”
Small is currently the Director of the Health & Wellness program at the Pride Center of Vermont, for which she works with the Vermont Department of Health to confront health disparities in the LGBTQ community. As such, a huge priority for her is safe, affordable, and equitable healthcare.
“I think one of the best ways we can do that is through a single-payer system and really moving towards Medicare For All here in the state of Vermont… I think Vermont can be the leader in letting folks know how it can be done and how it can be done in a way that actually supports all members of our community.”
Beyond her work with the Pride Center, Small has been deeply involved in her community for some time. She worked at Spectrum Youth and Family Services to support homeless and runaway youth, and in mental health services at both Howard Center and Northwestern Counseling and Support. She was also on the Board of Directors for the non-profit, Outright Vermont, which works to build healthy environments for LGBTQ youth and their families.
But that’s not all about Small you should know. She also has a drag persona, Nikki Champagne, who she said had garnered her some local fame before her candidacy. Alongside her business partner, Emoji Nightmare, she began performing at local libraries to improve youth literacy, among other things.
“Drag is inherently political,” she said, considering drag a crucial part of her activism. “Being able to create community space and shows and do Drag Queen Story Hour is just as radical as being an out trans person serving in the legislature.”
Small is running as a ‘fusion’ candidate, as a member of both the Democratic and Progressive parties. Vermont, she explained, is one of a few states that has a strong third party. Attributing her politics under more than one column is not an issue.
“We see a lot of our queer and trans folks who are running as progressives, or again as fusion candidates like myself, where it’s pushing this needle and saying yes, we can have a Democratic-held legislature, but being progressive means really shooting for the stars, making sure we are looking at the radical change that is needed and ever so highlighted during times like COVID-19.”
Headed into the final days before the election, Small wants to remind voters not to expect to find their perfect candidate, but instead to vote for whoever will get them as close as possible to what they want.
“I like to think of voting as a bus metaphor,” she explained. “When you’re voting, what you’re looking for is to find the route that is going get you closest to the destination you’re trying to go. Sometimes, it will drop you off right outside, and the majority of the time it’s going to get you just close enough, or you may have to take another bus to get there.
Right before the election, she concludes with a message we could all take note of. “At the end of the day, we may not love all the candidates we’re voting for,” she says, “but we need to be voting to make sure we’re still moving forward, rather than riding a bus that’s taking us to somewhere we do not want to go.”