I will soon turn 66. I had thought that by this age, I would mostly be doing the two things I love most — writing and riding my bike (or in the winter, my Peloton).
It turns out that I have not been able to do either for months.
There seems to be a switch in my brain that I cannot flick off. Those who know me have heard me talk about how that switch has been sending a pulse for decades, after I first watched and read about Dr. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. These “Special Ks” taught me as a kid that we have an obligation to make the world better.
I have not been able to turn off that switch, despite being an age at which many people are dialing back and napping at 3. The pulse is relentless.
For one, I ran to be elected to my local Carver County school board. Last April, a friend convinced me to attend a meeting at her house to discuss the idea, where I met 20 strangers who were not put off by me being a transgender woman who looks like a chick but sounds like a dude.
After hearing a bit of my story, and how I believe in our educators and students, and how I am dedicated to spreading compassion to all, they told me they thought I could win a school board seat.
What sealed my decision to run was a young woman, now a freshman college student, who approached me after everyone else had migrated to the kitchen for appetizers and drinks. Tears welled as she explained that she was a recent graduate of one of the local high schools. She never felt it possible there to come out as lesbian. As she started to cry, she whispered, “Ellie, if you run for the school board, queer kids will believe it is okay to come out as who they are. You simply running would give them permission.”
Within a few weeks, I filed the papers to be a candidate. A couple days after that, I saw that 12 candidates (including two incumbents) were vying for the four seats. Ugh. This was not going to be easy.
When I met with those 20 people who ended up urging me to run, I was counseled that — given our school district’s history and demographics — there was a real probability that I would be attacked for being transgender. At the same time, those 20 people said they would support me no matter what.
To my pleasant surprise, we went through all of August and September, and a candidate forum in October with all 12 candidates, without a peep about me being transgender. I was amazed and thankful.
However, two weeks before the election, the friend who got me into all of this texted, “I am so sorry, Ellie.” Attached to the text was the link to a video with a 30-second clip of me at the candidate forum where I said that I would never support book bans. The video displayed text implying that I wanted children to read gay porn. From there, the video — violating copyright laws — showed text from LGBTQ+-focused books in the district’s middle and high school libraries.
The implication was that I was a “groomer,” if not an outright pedophile, seeking to turn students into gay or transgender people.
In response, I posted on Facebook that I believe we need to prepare students for the diverse world they will soon enter. I talked about being the only lawyer among the candidates and that — with all the national acrimony about book bans and whatever else is on the horizon — I would always support diversity if elected.
It was all I could do.
Many strangers came to my defense. On Facebook, again and again, people I did not know wrote (paraphrasing): “Leave her alone,” “You don’t know her,” “That is not who she is.”
It quickly became apparent that the “Friends of Ellie” were winning the social media battle. I never would have predicted that. It so touched me — many people with kind hearts and an appetite for change showing up for me, a distinctly different candidate. Wow.
Fast forward to election day — or more accurately to the day after, since results were not final until the early morning hours. I woke up at 5:15am, opened my laptop computer, and in an instant I saw that I had garnered the third highest vote tally — right behind the two incumbents, who were soundly re-elected. We were all ahead of three of the four conservative candidates. Quite unbelievable!
I am still in a bit of shock, trust me.
And now I have four years of meetings, constituent calls, and who knows what else ahead of me, leading into my 70th birthday. Based on what I am seeing with some school districts across America, difficult stuff might be on its way.
But it does not matter. The Special K idealist in me knows this is better than sitting around waiting for a 3pm nap.