Several months ago, I started volunteering at the local school system, Eastern Carver County Schools, District 112. I had reached out to them after moving to Victoria, and offered to collaborate in whatever way they thought might be helpful.
Since I often speak to middle and high school GSAs (Gender and Sexuality Alliances) across America, District 112 invited me to talk to the queer kids in their alternative high school. What incredible humans did I meet! Those young people were self-aware, spirited, smart, and hurting — because of the marginalization that comes simply from being young and queer.
After listening to their stories, I told those kids that they mattered and that they were worthy. I affirmed their journeys toward self-acceptance and offered to be an ear if they ever needed someone to talk to (with parental consent).
Soon, I was asked to talk to middle schoolers. As I did that, I watched as educators interacted with the students, and frankly, I was in awe of how they made every student feel seen and heard.
Then out of left field came a text suggesting that I run for the local school board, which has four seats open this election cycle.
My first reaction was Really? No, I don’t think so. I have never run for political office and my schtick is to simply be a speaker who comes in and does her thing and then leaves. The idea of campaigning for several months was not only foreign, but also a bit terrifying.
The woman who sent the text replied that, given my commitment to students, she thought that I would make a great school board member. At the same time, she cautioned that my status as a transgender woman likely would generate some strong negativity, and given that, she would understand if I wanted to pass on running.
Despite my reservations, I told the woman that I would think about it. As I did that mulling, I became concerned that any negativity directed at me might traumatize the queer kids that I had talked with. The last thing I want is to add to another human’s suffering.
I reached out to several leaders in the LGBTQ+ community and asked if they thought my candidacy would cause secondary trauma in young queer humans. Uniformly, they replied that any trauma would be outweighed by the simple fact that me running for school board would demonstrate courage from which queer kids could gain strength.
On top of this, there was another confidant who, when confronted with the question of whether I should run, responded with, “What would Bobby tell you to do?”
Frankly, that was a cheap shot channeling one of my most precious heroes, Bobby Kennedy. But the response certainly nudged me.
Still, I wasn’t totally convinced about running.
That changed after I sat in a Chaska living room with 20 strangers, where I gave a very rough stump speech that was well received. I repeatedly heard, “We think you should run, and we think you can win.”
While that buoyed my spirits, the clincher came later that evening when a young woman, maybe 19n years old, came up to me as the strangers moved from living room folding chairs to kitchen breakfast bar stools and munchies. The young woman was shaking and appeared on the verge of tears. I thought, What did I say wrong?
Instead of criticism, what I heard was affirmation.
“Ellie, I hope that you run for school board. I graduated last year and never felt that I could come out as lesbian,” she whispered. “Only this summer did I finally feel brave enough to come out to my mother.”
The young woman began to cry. Between the tears, she went on.
“But if you run, kids will feel safer in coming out. It will be different for them; you will spark their courage.”
The young woman’s tears became more intense. I had no idea that simply running for something like a school board position could be that meaningful to someone.
It was a vivid reminder of how we humans can ripple to each other.
I hugged the young woman and thanked her for talking to me. I said that I would seriously consider running.
That was a lie. Because of what she had said, I had just made the decision.
Recently I filed papers to run for the District 112 school board. I will be one of at least 11 candidates vying for four open seats.
Wish me luck. I will try my best to ripple.