Inside Christine Hallquist’s Battle to Become the Nation’s First Transgender Governor
By Julia Ioffe
Christine Hallquist in ballet flats stands six feet three inches and on the verge of making history. “Oh, you mean that I'm going to be the first person to defeat an incumbent governor since 1962?” she says archly as we sit in her tiny office. Of course, there's a more remarkable aspect of her candidacy—and moments later, during a fund-raising call, she acknowledges it. “Hi, I'm Christine Hallquist,” she says with her measured, slightly nasal cheer, “the transgender Democratic candidate for governor in Vermont.”
Hallquist's unassuming campaign HQ hardly looks like the setting for a barrier-busting political movement. Nevertheless, should Hallquist win, she'll become the first transgender governor in America. According to the Victory Fund, which works to elect LGBTQ candidates, there are only 13 openly transgender public officials serving in the United States at any level.
The fact that Hallquist is now within striking distance of the governor's mansion is made even more noteworthy by the fact that until this year she had been barely active in politics. After canvassing for Obama in 2008, she had, by her own admission, “checked out.” That began to change when Donald Trump won the White House.
This past January, her friend Brenda dragged her to the Women's March in Montpelier, the state capital. Hallquist had never marched before. As an energy executive, she'd been content to live in her wonky cocoon of power lines and electrical grids. But she watched four local high schoolers in hijabs doing slam poetry about the discrimination and harassment they faced every day. “And I cried,” she tells me. That's when an urge to do something big began to stir: She decided she would run for governor.
“I realized this is not the world I want to live in,” she says, “and I'm going to do everything I can to change it. Leave my job, leave everything, and before I leave this earth, I'm going to do everything I can to bring us back to our aspirational selves.”
Within weeks she had resigned as CEO of Vermont Electric Co-op and launched her first run for office—an immodest bid for the state's top job. Since she clinched her party's nomination in August, her success has thrilled many but has also unleashed a wave of hate mail and death threats—pronouncements so serious that campaign officials decided to keep the address of their headquarters private. Her staff insists the hostility is coming from out of state—but given the ease of masking one's location online, it's tough to know.
Hallquist says she's noticed that some regional papers around the country have called her a man in a dress or have written that she has mental-health issues. Her response, she says, is always the same: “Who the frick cares?”