With Taylor Small
We sat down with Vermont’s first openly transgender legislator, and fifth in the United States, to talk about what the future may hold for her and the whole nation
BY JENNIFER HAKIM
“I hope for a future when we can look at ourselves and understand our greatness, and understand that we have such amazing gifts to give to our community. ”
BY JENNIFER HAKIM
1 January 2021
When Taylor Small sat down for our interview, it had been just over two weeks since she had been elected to the Vermont House of Representatives in the 2020 general election. The Winooski-based Director of the Health and Wellness program at Pride Center of Vermont made history on 4 November 2020, becoming the state’s first openly transgender legislator, and fifth in the United States. One of the faces of the ‘Rainbow Wave’ of LGBTQ wins during the US elections, Small made headlines worldwide, but one thing quickly became clear during her 2 hour long Zoom conversation with our editor in chief: her achievements go way beyond her identity, and must be celebrated all the same.
Small did not have the most typical headstart into a political career, and the idea to run for a seat at the House of Representatives came from another familiar face: “It was just a week before the filing date that representative Diana Gonzalez, who has served here in Winooski for the past 6 years, reached out and asked if I’d be interested in running for office. My initial thought was not right now.” Indeed the political landscape, and more specifically the American political landscape, is not one that appears to be welcoming of young LGBTQ candidates. “That’s not the narrative that we’re told”, Small explains. “We’re not shown that young people should move into these positions. Just one week before filing, I made the decision to go for it within 24 hours, and it was 36 hours after that where my campaign manager and I put a full campaign together during lunch: a website, social media presence, press release, the full thing.”
credit: Taylor Small
Once her decision was made, Small, who is 26, built momentum by connecting with her fellow Winooski residents and talking about their needs, rather than her own identity, which she wishes was less of a focal point in the media. “There is no separation of the two” she explains. “I know that there’s going to be a focus on my trans identity, but something that I’ve held very firm onto and learned from Danica Roam, the first out trans legislator in the United States, is that you are the one who controls your narrative. If you are focused on the issues, that is what people are going to pay attention to.” Instead she built a relationship with her community to make a visible change locally, while keeping a door open for questions. “Here we talk about what’s impacting folks instead, like the F-35’s flying over us daily, how folks are losing their health insurance in the middle of a global pandemic, and housing infrastructures.” But Small is proud to represent the LGBTQ community and to show trans people they belong in those spaces. “If that identifier wasn’t made then, folks who are like me wouldn’t see themselves reflected and wouldn’t be able to reach out and connect, so I want it to be a part of the conversation, just not a focus of the conversation.”
Small’s first week post election was as epic as her entry into politics. “It’s been quite overwhelming, in a few different ways”, she says. “One being the excitement of being able to move into this next chapter and being a new legislator in the state of Vermont, but also from the national and international recognition around this election, which really clued me into just how much the world is watching when it comes to US politics right now, and the direct impacts that it has, not just for us in the US, but for everyone across the world.”
Small didn’t immediately realise she would make history worldwide if she won, and reality hit her when the results were announced. “I can’t say that this is what I expected”, she says. “When signing up to run, or even expectations of winning, I just had this assumption that there would be a nice little local news pop, maybe some regional, maybe something national, but it has been relatively non-stop since the election, of just being able to connect with people across the country and across the world around this.”
Sudden international recognition could be scary for some, and this new amount of scrutiny could seem daunting, but Small has had years of invaluable training for a life in politics before the big day, in a not so unexpected place: drag. As Nikki Champagne, she won Vermont Drag Idol in 2014, and runs Drag Queen Story Hours events throughout the state with her colleague Emoji Nightmare, an initiative that sees drag queens reading stories to children in libraries, schools, and bookstores.
“The best preparation I’ve had for this political run is my drag career, because drag is inherently political” she explains. “It’s about being an unapologetic queer role model, and a personality within the community that is pushing for equal rights as well as equal representation.” Drag gave her practical skills that she later used to build her campaign, almost overnight. “There is a hustle that runs along with it. Here in Vermont, we don’t have an LGBTQ bar or space, so that means that we have that additional barrier of finding a venue that will host us for the evening. We create a community space for folks to come together and have that safe environment, but it’s also so much more than what people see on the surface.”
Of course having a drag career out in the open could have been an obstacle to her political one, and the question to separate drag from politics came up. “I was more nervous about my drag personality interacting with my political sphere than I was about my trans identity”, she shares. “That really came from a history of doing ‘Drag Queen Story Hours’ here in Vermont, where we focused on youth literacy and showed that libraries are spaces for everyone to learn, and what materials libraries had available, and getting a lot of push back online.” But according to Small, the pros often outweighed the cons. “The hate just kind of fuelled more participation from the community, so every time we would get really nasty remarks online, it just meant that we had bigger attendance when we went to the event” she adds. “Once, we had an event in Montpelier (the capital of Vermont) and this woman on Twitter wanted to shut us down, but we had over 150 people show up for the story time and it was all love. But yes I was really worried about the same tropes coming up in politics, and especially in a derogatory way.”
Still fully employed at the Pride Center of Vermont, Small is juggling careers but she gets it done efficiently while keeping her eyes on the prize: to have a meaningful impact in her community. “It is my personality to put everything on my plate and see how much I can do. I kinda thrive in the chaos of things, which is perfect for politics.” And the Vermont legislature also adds another layer of intricate planning necessary to navigate her new position at the House of Representatives. “We have a part time legislature, meaning that the expectation is to hold another position while serving, or to work as a legislator for half a year, and hold a position somewhere else for the other half”, she says. “It’s really down to the basis of not having this separation between government and citizens. But of course that is not the case across the board.” Small sees the existing discrepancies between the written legislature and the reality of living in America. “There are plenty of folks in our legislature who are retired or have personal wealth that allow them to purely just serve. My plan is to maintain some of my hours at the Pride Center while serving in the legislature, and for full transparency it is for health insurance, because in the United States we have a system where health insurance is directly tied to employment.”
Healthcare is the very first topic Small hopes to work on once she is assigned to a committee this year. “Vermont is an all payer system, which is a really capitalistic view of having private insurance companies compete to help lessen the burden on people within the community, and it works in a sense but it doesn’t work for everyone”, she says. “This is the exact reason why I am really pushing for us to move to a single payer healthcare system. My goal is one of two options: one is pushing for national advocacy and asking for our Congress on the US level to really start moving forward with Medicare for All. Everyone who endorsed Medicare for All in their campaign made it into Congress this year, which is just showing that the American people want this. We want a healthcare system where we’re not paying so much money out of pocket.”
The American healthcare system is one big issue that transcends Vermont, but change can start locally. Small plans to start there, keeping community in mind. “In Vermont, we have surveys that go out every two years, one done by our Department of Health and one that I want to focus on is the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey. It last came out in 2018 and showed that LGBTQ people as well as people who have a disability in Vermont are statistically more likely to delay care due to cost. They wait until their symptoms become acute or unbearable and the majority of the time it means that there are more extensive tests that are happening.” The timing of Small’s priorities couldn't be more right, at a time where the American health system has been tested without precedent during a pandemic that the Trump administration let run rampant. In the end, as demonstrated by the past year, leaving symptoms untreated affects both patients and their community, whether direct or indirect. It also defeats the whole purpose of saving on medical costs, in or out of the Covid-19 crisis.
“There’s more medication involved and hospital stays, which just racks up the price” Small says. “But people who have the wealth, privilege and access to health insurance currently do not see our healthcare system as an issue. They worry it will come to an end if we move to Medicare for All, if we move to a single payer healthcare system. But why can’t everyone have their health insurance? Why is that not the standard for everyone here in the United States? They are already paying so much money into this system, it’s truly not going to change, just where that money goes is different - and they’ll probably pay less money in the long run. On the other end, when we think of marginalised communities we know the barriers that come up with healthcare and that our voices aren’t truly heard in the government.”
If 2020 has shown us one thing in America, it’s the crumble of the ‘American dream’. “This pandemic highlighted these systemic flaws”, Small says. “We know these systems aren’t working and haven’t been working this entire time, and yet it takes this global catastrophe for people to see how inequitable this system is.” Yet Small does not expect miracles. “I think we have moved in a wonderful direction by electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris into President and Vice President elect for the United States. But do I think this system is going to change in the next four years in the United States? No, I don’t, because what we need is leadership from the top who unequivocally supports Medicare for All, and that is not the model.” Although she remains hopeful for the future, following presidential elections that millions watched while holding their breath, Small thinks about what the American system is actually asking of its citizens. “There are so many people in the United States who have the same American dream, of what it would mean to strive here in the United States, but how do you live the American dream? You ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’.” If she had a penny for every time she was told to do exactly that, Small says she would have become a venture capitalist herself. “That individualistic mindset promotes greed and selfishness of wanting access to healthcare for yourself, or wanting to be financially well off and not taking a step back to worry about our community”, she adds. “These systems are completely set up against anyone who is in poverty. We criminalise poverty in the United States, which is so detrimental because so many of us are impoverished or on the line of being impoverished. We need a mindset that is community focused, that wants to see not only the personal thrive but the community all together thrive.”
As highlighted by Small, the American dream itself and the self-reliance rhetoric fuel social inequities in the United States. “Some people can’t pull themselves up by the bootstraps and succeed because they’re constantly stuck in this cycle of not being able to do or have things that support them” she says. “A lot of my work at Pride Center is focused on health inequities, and one I think about right now is the HIV epidemic: we have programmes in place to support the people living with HIV, to make sure that they are able to be connected to their treatment, but when it comes to a preventative measure, if you are not insured and you want to take ownership of your health and prevent the transmission of HIV, it can cost up to 7,000 dollars for a 90 day supply of PrEP.”
While healthcare is at the top of Small’s priorities, so are human services: “They have a great intersection with healthcare, but also move into the realm of substance use and mental health, and climate justice. These issues are intermingled and cannot be separated,” she says. But when it comes to making a change in areas as pressing as the environment, Small reflects on the hurdles along the way. “They can’t be changed on a national level; we need to make these leaps and bounds to divest from fossil fuels, and really lean into our renewable energy resources” she says. “It’s going to take significant people power to break away from corporate greed, but I’m optimistic in a lot of ways.”
Biden’s election leaves Small optimistic about what it means for activism, and democracy as a whole. “The change of President doesn’t mean we’re not going to see less protests or people backing down on these issues,” she says. “I see this as an opportunity to more safely speak up against what is happening on a national level. In our first amendment rights we have the right to protest, we have the right to speak up because we created a system that says that it is by and for the people.” Small admits there won’t be a radical change with Biden, but America’s transition into a more equitable society might be around the corner: “I do think that there is some level of accountability and some level of action that he will be willing to take that will be a drastic change from what we’ve been seeing.”
But what is different this time around for Biden, who already served as Vice President in the Obama administration from 2009 to 2017? For Small, the difference is recognition. “Going back to Biden’s acceptance speech when he was announced as President elect, it was the first time that a President coming into office addressed marriage equality, talked about trans issues and trans rights, talked about the inequities for Black, Indigeneous people of colour here in the United States, and thanked them,” Small explains. “Where the apprehension comes from on my end is the fact that words can have a lot of impact and they can make a lot of change, but it’s the action that I want to see.” Indeed not everything has been forgotten, and Small is hyper-aware of the domino effect the actions of one administration can have on another. “It was the Trump administration that utilised cages to lock down children and separate them from their families, and created modern day concentration camps in the United States, and yet this system was truly built during the Obama administration, under the guidance of Obama and Biden”, she says. “They may not have been utilised at that time, but they were built and set up for someone like Trump to be able to use in such a horrific way. So that is where I will continue to hold apprehension, knowing that there is still corporate greed and corporate influence regardless of whether you are Democrat or Republican.” Ultimately, Small would love to see someone outside the two-party system leading America into this change, which is why she is a proud Progressive Democrat, a fusion party in Vermont. “I think there is a lot of toxicity and binaries, and black or white, thinking of right and wrong and not recognising that every single issue has this grey area.”
Small believes in the impact of action over words, and knows how to be an effective activist that adapts to different situations. “I am one to march on the streets when it feels appropriate, especially when we had our rise of the Black Lives Matter movement here, and really focusing on police brutality and excessive force, in the direct ways that we’ve seen in our communities”, she explains. “I also think there is a level of advocacy that happens online, but you have to take it with a grain of salt. We do need to listen to each other, we do need to be involved, although I’m not saying you need to listen to blatant hate that is said about you and your community.” Small herself has experienced her fair share of abuse online, and understands some people are just keyboard warriors without substance. But she encourages people to have online conversations, even if they’re challenging: “If someone is willing to engage in that difficult dialogue of learning, of accepting and understanding ignorance or bias, that is when the change is happening. Fighting with someone online is not changing anyone’s mind.” She praises the Internet for spreading useful information, especially in times of crisis. “I see the Internet as a way to share resources, holding the people that are closest to me accountable, and making sure that they’re in line with their values and my values.”
Of course battling bias is a 24/7 type of job, something Small knows as both a person from a marginalised community, a political figure and an American citizen who has seen the reckoning across the nation in 2020. For Small, anti-racism starts at home. “I don’t think people understand the ways white supremacy and xenophobia really infiltrate human beings, how insidious they can be, and the impacts that our family members are making.” And people with biases are present everywhere in the system, from schools to hospitals. For Small, we are all responsible for challenging biases from the people closest to us, so the chain of repercussions within the system ends. “By having conversations with your family you’re moving the needle to make sure that their practices are going to be more inclusive. That’s the exchange, that’s the work. It’s about getting into the discomfort.”
Small sees areas for change everywhere, and is looking forward to more representation in politics. “I’m very lucky to come into this legislature from a class of amazingly Progressive women”, she says. “Our entire class of new legislators are mostly queer women. It’s amazing to know that it doesn’t fall on my shoulders alone to have conversations about representation.” However she deplores the lack of acknowledgement of the achievements made by women, women of colour and LGBTQ people in the very government buildings where they strive. “We must understand the accomplishments that have happened across the board, whether they were in the State House or outside of it, and it is going to be a shift this year.”
About her relationship with her Rainbow Wave peers, Small only has good things to say. “I am part of a wonderful Twitter chat with all of the trans legislators who were elected across the nation”, she says. “It has just been really wonderful and heartwarming to be able to have these conversations with folks.” On the national level, the person she had the longest conversation with was Danica Roem,the first person to be elected and serve while openly transgender in the US state legislature. “I definitely look forward to being in our roles and getting this change going, to see how we’re going to build that national coalition, to come together and make that change.”
Working at the Vermont House of Representatives will not exactly look like what Small may have imagined when she started running, as she will have to take on an extra challenge: serving from home. “From our current understanding we will be doing our swearing in ceremony and our first day in person, but we will be doing the majority of our legislating in the next year over video calls, which is very challenging when it comes to relationship building”, she explains. But for Small, a problem usually has a solution. “I’m trying to find creative ways to get that relationship going, because it is needed. Politics is about constituents’ support and relationships, and knowing that the only way you’re able to make these bills move forward or to make this change happen is to have a coalition.”
When asked whether the reality of her new political career holds up to her expectations, Small reflects: “I was given very realistic expectations coming into this role”, she says. “In a lot of these meetings and introductions there’s a focus on norms, how things should be done, and expectations on new legislators. There’s a strong emphasis on having to listen and learn, and not talk about bills. But if there’s anything I don’t jive with, it’s norms or expectations.” Small does not want her community to keep waiting for change to happen. “I think it hampers our ways of being creative and new, and finding solutions. I’m happy to learn, but I don’t think I need to learn first, act second. How about learning and acting at the same time, and not holding back on making the change that I want to see? Because ultimately, it just hampers the whole situation, and honestly panders to the folks who are already in those positions of power.”
Small always keeps her city of Winooski close to her priorities, and has views on all-resident voting. The charter change passed by the city in 2020 which would allow all documented residents of Winooski, regardless of their citizenship status, the ability to vote on poll matters, elect their city councillors and mayor, and decide how their local taxes are utilised. “That means moving closer to a true democracy where everyone has a voice”, she says. “I know the pathways to citizenship are filled with hurdles and pitfalls that don’t allow folks to have equitable ability to become a citizen. Yet they’re still expected to pay taxes, they’re still expected to work, with nothing to say for it.”
Small was born in Maine to Canadian parents, moved to Massachusetts when she was 5, then moved back to Vermont with her mother when she was 16. The immigration issue is something Small’s family has experienced first hand. “My mum immigrated to the United States when she was 4 years old, and still to this day, she holds a Green Card and has not been able to attain citizenship because of those significant barriers”, she explains. “With this charter change, if she were to move to my city, she would finally be able to have her voice heard; she would be able to vote for the first time in her life.” Yet legislation work takes time, but Small has no intention of giving up. “That charter is still sitting in the halls of the legislature and has not been brought to the floor to be discussed or passed. My hope is to bring to fruition what the people of Winooski have voted and asked for, and to make sure that this change happens.”
Small is aware that there are considerable levels of checks and balances in the American government system that slow down a process like a charter change, but her opinion is nuanced when it comes to making this system national rather than statal. “There are frustrating aspects that I would wish to change, such as allowing elections to just have their results be seen and to not have to go through an extra level through a state legislature, especially when it is not a statewide change”, she says. “But I also look at our state and local governments as protected factors from what is happening on the national level.” Indeed America has seen the crucial need for state protections when Trump’s America almost tipped towards totalitarianism in 2020. “In these past 4 years we have seen this consistent rollback on rights and protections, especially for marginalised communities, and one that worried me was that determination from our President to remove the protections from the Affordable Care Act”, she explains. “Our local legislator passed all aspects of the ACA on the state level, which meant that we would still have those protections in Vermont; but it’s not equitable across the board. If you are living in a different state, your access to rights and protections could be widely different. I wish we were in a just and equitable society, and that our laws were truly there to uphold everyone and support everyone, but knowing that has not been the case historically and probably won’t be the case moving forwards, I think there is still a state separation that is needed in protective factors - and I say this from the privilege of living in Vermont and knowing the rights and protection that I have here.”
When asked about trans rights, one thing is clear when it comes to Small’s view of politics: everything is intersectional. “My top issues are trans inclusive, because everything is intersecting”, she says. “When we talk about climate justice we’re creating a world in which trans people are able to thrive and exist in the future; and when we talk about healthcare reform, we’re talking about updating a health care system where everyone has equitable access regardless of their identity into that system; and when we talk about economic development, like this push in Vermont for liveable wage, we’re putting the protections out there for our entry-level workers and minimum wage workers, who are particularly marginalised folks and trans or BIPOC folks”. The work has only just begun for Small, but she is ready for the challenge: “Each of these issues are so big and so extensive, they need to be tackled.”
Small is also conscious about the lens in which she tackles issues: whether it is the white lens, as she acknowledged on one of her Ask Me Anything sessions on Instagram, or the trans lens. These are crucial to understanding the perspectives with which you tackle issues. “Where I come in doing this work is having the lens of trans experience, and having the lens of someone who was raised within a lower-middle class household, within a family that has declared bankruptcy multiple times and had difficulty finding employment”, she says. “My focus will be on those most impacted. I look forward to a future in which trans, racial and environmental issues and all these pieces are seen in the legislation that we’re creating, so we don’t have to have bills that are specific to identity”. But Small admits there are also very identity-specific moves that must be made. She names a few, which are some of her top priorities: “We must make sure that gender affirming care is fully covered through insurance forms. We also need to have a deeper look into racial justice and reconciliation here in the state, and across the nation, and how we’re supporting Black and Indigeneous people of colour. We have abused their labor, we have destroyed their land, and have only discriminated against them. And we need to look at these major issues with an intersectional lens.”
Small’s win is inspirational for many, and congratulations have poured through from all around the globe. A whole generation of future leaders look up to Small and the other members of the Rainbow Wave, a responsibility that is not lost on her, and she wants to encourage them to speak up. “I just try my best to remind folks that your voice matters, that you are a member of society just like everyone else”, she says. “And know that none of that change can happen alone. I cannot do this run alone; I couldn’t have gone into this campaign and try to handle all this myself. I had to have a community that was there and willing to support me.” When asked about the next generation of activists following her closely, she says: “The youth that reached out to me may not be able to move into the political direction at their age, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t participate within their own ecosystems. So look at your school board. If there isn’t a youth position on your school board, then you demand a youth position on your school board, and you say that representation matters. When we put people who hold marginalised identities into positions of power, we uplift folks within that community to start acting, to start speaking up and to start saying the change they want to see.”
If Small has fans amongst the activist youth, the admiration goes both ways, as she is fascinated by their work. “Our youth are some of the best activists that we are seeing today”, she says. “When we look at the Black Lives Matter movement and climate justice movement, these are being led by young people, highschoolers, middle schoolers, people who are in college or under-grads; and the reason that there is such an uprising is because of access to information.” She recognises the role of technology in making a new generation of smart citizens fighting for a better future. “I think the internet allows folks not only the ability to connect worldwide, but to be able to access a variety of information, and being able to hold very knowledgeable conversations around these issues”, she explains. “Our upcoming generation understands the interconnectedness of these issues and so clearly articulates it, and moves it forward; and they understand that there isn’t much time that they can be an activist.” Indeed we are talking about a generation who simply does not have the luxury to wait, or leave those decisions to the very adults who have failed them and made the damage they now have to fix. “We need to move away from this adult-centric society where we think that with age comes knowledge and answers. Our youth are much more creative and much more intersectional with their ideas on how we can move forward, and we need to stop and listen” says Small.
Speaking of role models, Small names her friend, Senator elect Kesha Ram as hers. “She is someone I campaigned with a lot this year, and someone who I look up to”, she says. “She made history this year by becoming the first woman of color in her state’s senate. She is an unapologetic role model, being a young person and a fierce advocate, while understanding adversity and knowing how to overcome it with a smile.” Small points out she doesn’t say this to feed the narrative that women should smile, instead appreciates the positivity Ram brings into her work. “We do need joy in this work, and some kind of fulfilment”, she explains. Ram also gave Small valuable advice before she jumped into the political realm. “She once told me that your voice is necessary, but you are going to be the change that we need. That I’m going to come across folks who hold views that are widely different from my own but it’s the persistence and knowing that I’m not alone in the mix that is so helpful.”
Now that she’s gotten started, Small now contemplates a future in politics. “Unless something massively changes while I’m serving, I think this is definitely a trajectory that I will stick to and stay on, and who knows if it will just stay here in Vermont or on a national level”, she says. She recalls a recent podcast interview where she was asked whether she was planning to run for President, but laughs it off: “We do have an age restriction so the earliest something like that could ever happen would be 2032”.
One thing Small does want people to know is that nothing is ever set in stone. Her own journey is proof of that. “Four years ago, I found myself unemployed for 6 months of my life”, she says. “I didn’t have a lot of hope for the future. If you had told me then that I would be receiving international recognition for moving into this political realm today, I would have laughed because that wasn't a point that I was at”. Small’s life back then did not look like anything she is experiencing today, and it took some time to turn it around. “I was at a point in my life where I was being harassed for my identity”, she explains. “I didn't feel like I was living authentically and safely.” In the end it was her community that gave her the boost she needed. “It was volunteering at the Pride Center that moved me into a part time position, then into a full time position a year later, and then a director role at the Center 6 months later.” Looking back on those hard times, she shares: “It’s amazing all that we can accomplish when we don’t let go of hope. I’m grateful to be able to work at a Center that not only embraces my identity wholly, but also celebrates my identity and sees the leadership potential in it that other organisations just could not.”
The power of community is immense, and in Small’s case, saved her when the system failed her, offering a stepping stone for her to make history within only a handful of years. “Things can change so quickly”, she says, thinking of others going through desperate times. “It’s so cliche to say it gets better because sometimes it doesn’t feel like it will get better in that moment, and it doesn’t feel like it’s going to get better in the short term, but it is the power of community to maintain hope and hold that hope. Because it will change, it will get better, it is going to be different.”
Because of the lows, Small appreciates the highs and knows her worth. “I have a healthy ego in recognising my own greatness”, she explains. “For a lot of my life, I was judged for my gender representation or my sexual orientation, or what people assumed of me; and every single time my goal has been to combat that and show my greatness.” She points at an issue all marginalised can empathise with: “We are essentially told to shrink ourselves and to not think highly of ourselves. But white straight cisgender men never think twice, never ask ‘can i do this thing? Am I made for this position, am I meant to achieve greatness?’ It doesn’t come up as a question because the barriers don’t exist. I hope for a future when we can look at ourselves and understand our greatness, and understand that we have such amazing gifts to give to our community, and to give to those around us. That it will take the work of others understanding those gifts as well as persistence and not backing down, and understanding that we can be that change.”
She admits that people have tried to box her up in the past, but as Small puts it, “people try to put everyone into a box”. Small remembers how she used the box to survive in her younger years: “Finding that being outside of that box, or challenging those notions, has helped me thrive now”.
But the past is long behind her now, and the future is bright. When she won her seat at the House of Representatives on 4 November, Small celebrated the only way she could in 2020, in the Covid-19 proof pod she shares with Ram, which became a home office for the night. “There were a few of us all doing various political work. My results came in very early in the evening, so I had enough time to pop open a bottle of champagne, take a sip and do a little dance, before being on phone calls for the rest of the evening. It was just a hustle and bustle, all politically focused, but what a beautiful space to be in and to celebrate together. Making history is no small feat.”
When asked about that election ‘week’, which felt for many of us like a hundred years, Small remembers the struggle of juggling emotions. “It was a long week leading up to the election, and it was a long week following the election”, she shares. “I think that it was the reality of holding this very personal moment as well as this community moment, and also holding this uncertainty on this national level.” Coming into 2016 was wildly different from coming into 2020 for Small. “In 2016, I was optimistic,” she says. “I was in full belief that we were going to elect our first female President, and staying up until 3am and seeing these results come in for Trump was devastating, truly heartbreaking. Then coming into 2020 I was very pessimistic; I came in with this full belief that we would have four more years of Trump, and it was so reassuring to have those results coming in the weekend for Joe Biden.” But Small could not trust the early results at first, instead waiting to see an official statement from the Associated Press on Biden’s victory, which she says was resounding. “There were literal dance parties on the streets here in the United States”, she recalls. “It was wild. It was so exciting, and I think the message that I shared that day and the message that I continue to hold is that we can celebrate today, we can honour the achievement that is getting Joe Biden into office, and tomorrow we need to continue to fight. The systems are not changing just because we have a new President, but it is hopefully going to be a safer time to be able to speak up against inequities, and hopefully have a listening ear that is willing to take action.”