Sunday, 25 June 2017

Interview with Danielle Pellett

Monika: Today it is my pleasure and honor to interview Danielle J Pellett, an inspirational American woman, New Deal Democrat, trans rights activist. She is running for the Democratic nomination to represent Texas 32nd district in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2018. She was the founding President of the first Transgender student organization at a Texas University, and later on, she worked with the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance and the Progressive Alliance. Hello Danielle!
Danielle: Howdy, Monika, and thanks for the opportunity to get my message out there.
Monika: Could you say a few words about yourself?
Danielle: I think you covered a lot of it in the introduction; I was born on the border in Brownsville, Texas to a mixed-race couple: David Ellsworth and Maria del Rosario.

Speaking at a Secular Candidate meet-and-greet.
Dani for Congress website

Monika: When I saw your announcement to run for the nomination, I was so excited. We miss the representation of young energetic women in politics so much …
Danielle: Growing up, I realized that my mother was much more feminist than her Catholic upbringing would have allowed back then. She even had a physical impairment that had her in leg braces for the first two decades of her life. 
Her father was always telling her that she can’t do things, while she defiantly did it anyways. Even now, people tell me that someone like me ‘has no chance’, and I can just imagine my mom’s voice saying back “okay, watch me.”
Monika: Your political platform includes the focus on an environmental jobs program, strengthening the laws against illegal tax shelters, and removing corporate lobbyists from being super delegates. Could you elaborate more on these?
Danielle: During the 2016 Texas Democratic State convention, I lead a group of over 120 state delegates to do something that was considered impossible: direct democracy to put ideas onto the platform. We had to get 50% of all attendees to sign petitions in order to have it pass, or hit at least 30% to put it up to a vote on the last day. So we naturally did three.
This all started due to the release of the Panama Papers, which came out just after the Senate District Conventions that feed into the State Convention. Obama’s FATCA law was proven ineffective at curbing offshore tax shelter abuse, so I wanted to strengthen it and make the acronym more appealing. In the end, the first of the three resolutions that we passed was called the FATCATS resolution and was possibly the easiest one to gather signatures for.

At Transgender Lobby Day at Texas Legislature
 in Austin.

Monika: Does your agenda include the promotion of the rights of the LGBTQ community? 
Danielle: I filed to run for office before the 2016 election finished (as there was no Democratic challenger to the incumbent) and had assumed that Trump would lose the election.
When I was putting together the issues that matter most to Texans, I wasn’t expecting the assault on LGBTQ rights that we’ve seen. Now that we’re living under President Trump and the Texas Legislature is going out of their way to force laws that would give us ‘potty police’ that would require us to carry our birth certificates at all times.
I’m definitely worried about the LGBTQ community. We need to roll back the damage that’s currently being done and work at being proactive in supporting equality for sexual orientation and gender identity.
Monika: Do you find any difference in the way the Republicans and Democrats address these rights?
Danielle: The easiest example I can point out is the bathroom bills. While Democrats think that citing the negative impact of a boycott due to an anti-trans law getting passed will hurt businesses, Republicans see that as literally putting a price tag on the safety of their wives and children.
Of course, transgender people aren’t the sexual predators that pop culture and horror movies have perpetuated for decades, but the homophobic dog whistle that ‘the queers will come after your children’ still remains today. It just isn’t used against gays and lesbians as much anymore, but it still works on the transgender community since we overlap between sexism and homophobia.

Promotional photo by Grace Hill Images.

Monika: As transgender people, we represent 0.2-0.3% of the global population whereas American politics is based on the interaction with different interest groups that wish to pursue their specific goals. Can you see any possible allies outside of the LGBTQ group to generate more political leverage?
Danielle: There was a study that said marriage equality was possible once at least 15% of the people knew at least one gay or lesbian individual. And because of transgender people getting involved in various interest groups outside of just the LGBTQ community, we’re quickly building allies and are hitting a tipping point where people realize that we’re just like everyone else.
Particularly I see the feminist community becoming an ally as the crackdown on transgender people is focused upon appearances. In claiming it’s about rooting out predators, anti-LGBTQ forces are forcing us to fit into rigid gender stereotypes where having hair too short and no makeup could get a non-transgender woman harassed and attacked for simply not being feminine enough.
Monika: The transgender cause is usually manifested together with the other LGBTQ communities. Being the penultimate letter in this abbreviation, is the transgender community able to promote its own cause within the LGBTQ group?
Danielle: I’m currently a board member of the Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, and I’ve found it’s quite easy to promote our causes with the proper context. Of course, having run my own Transgender-advocacy student organization, I can also see the appeal of having our own space for support and activism. 
Monika: At what age did you transition into a woman yourself? Was it a difficult process? 
Danielle: It was 2004-2005. I was two months away from signing a contract to be an officer in the United States Air Force, as my ambition since high school was to be a pilot. The primary Core Value of the USAF is “Integrity First”, which conflicted with the official policy of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

Protesting outside of Incumbent Pete Sessions' office for
affordable healthcare reform.

Morally I couldn’t get myself to suppress and lie for a decade or so, and I wound up not going into the Air Force and instead decided to transition and be a political activist due to the domestic policies that hindered me from serving my country.
Monika: At that time of your transition, did you have any transgender role models that you followed?
Danielle: I didn’t have any at first; just the fellow trans people I went to school with. Then I heard about Calpernia Addams and Jennifer Finney Boylan, and while their paths felt similar to mine, it wasn’t really a role model that I would try to emulate.
Monika: We all pay the highest price for the fulfillment of our dreams to be ourselves. As a result, many trans women lose their families, friends, jobs, and social positions. Did you pay such a high price as well? What was the hardest thing about your coming out? 
Danielle: I lost a few jobs as Texas is a ‘right to work’ state (meaning that an employer has the right to terminate you at any time) as I tried to come out or tried to live in stealth. The relationship I was in when I first started to transition wound up failing, but we have ultimately built a strong friendship since then. The hardest thing about coming out was possibly her telling me that the face of the man she fell in love with slowly melted away when someone else took ‘his’ place.
Monika: The transgender community is said to be thriving now. As Laverne Cox announced, “Trans is beautiful.” Teenage girls become models and dancers, talented ladies become writers, singers, and actresses. Those ladies with an interest in politics, science, and business become successful politicians, academics, and businesswomen. What do you think in general about the present situation of transgender women in contemporary society? Are we just scratching the surface or the change is really happening?
Danielle: We’re getting attention, which is good in many ways. Of course with every step forward we take, there’s going to be a backlash. It is my hope that gender identity becomes something less ‘flashy’ for headlines and that any transgender individuals who are given a microphone and platform will be responsible and use that time to raise awareness for others who are downtrodden.

Promotional photo by Grace Hill Images.

Only with intersectionality (understanding that most social ills are intrinsically linked and affect poor minorities of color the most) will we be able to overcome prejudice in society today. So in short, yes… we’re just scratching the surface.
Monika: On the other hand, the restroom war is raging on and transgender women are killed on the streets…
Danielle: And unfortunately the minority that faces the brunt of the violence is trans women of color. Here in Dallas, there’s an annual convention for Black Trans Advocacy and I finally got my Black Trans Lives Matter shirt that lists the names of trans people of color who have died.
If I, as a biracial trans woman who can pass for white, can bring attention to this matter, I will. I recognize my white privilege that if I were to be arrested, I wouldn’t be mistreated by the police nor automatically charged as a sex worker. Not everyone is as lucky as I am, though.
Monika: Do you think that in our lifetime we could live to see the day when a transgender lady could become the President of the USA? Or the First Lady at least?☺
Danielle: With people like Misty Snow, Brianna Westbrook, and Brianna Wu running for the US House this year? I can definitely see us getting as high as a cabinet appointment or the Senate.
Monika: Do you like fashion? What kind of outfits do you usually wear? Any special fashion brands, colors, or trends?
Danielle: I was not expecting a fashion question here; but as my day job is being a chemist, I don’t get to wear the fashion that I’d normally like. Most of the time I’m in nice jeans and a t-shirt with a pop-cultural reference on it (either science-based or on a TV show I watch) and I dress it up with a blazer.
If I could wear whatever I wanted on a daily basis, I’d wear a range of business suits or bodycon dresses with a bolero with colors that reflect my personality: classic with a splash of bold and daring.
Monika: Many transgender ladies write their memoirs. Have you ever thought about writing such a book yourself?
Danielle: I love writing, but I’ve never been published. I don’t know where I’d begin if I were.

At a New Leader's Council meeting, planning
the best way to Build the Bench of tomorrow's
progressive leaders.

Monika: Could you tell me about the importance of love in your life?
Danielle: I’ve been with my wife JJ for over 11 years now, and got married before marriage equality due to Texas’ bigoted laws stating that I’d always be seen as male for marriage purposes.
In this case, it was a loophole in my favor. Even so, we were turned down multiple times by various justices of the peace and judges because nobody wanted to deal with a ‘gay marriage’ even though we are opposite sexes by the eyes of the law.
Monika: What would you recommend to all transgender girls struggling with gender dysphoria?
Danielle: Find a therapist and support group. You don’t have to do this alone, even if it’s just a few online friends.
Monika: My pen friend Gina Grahame wrote to me once that we should not limit our potential because of how we were born or by what we see other transsexuals and transgender people doing. Our dreams should not end on an operating table; that’s where they begin. Do you agree with this?
Danielle: I agree in part; my philosophy is that life is like a forest, and many people are on various paths where you might meet, merge, and part from. The goal isn’t to get to the end of the path, nor to escape the forest, but to enjoy the journey.
Being transgender isn’t defined by an operation. Your gender identity shouldn’t depend on a doctor and a scalpel. It should be on how you live, who you meet as you make your journey in the forest of life, and making certain the path you take helps others in their own journey through the forest. 
Monika: Danielle, thank you for the interview, and good luck with your nomination! 

For more information about Danielle's campaign, visit her website:

All the photos: courtesy of Danielle Pellett. 
The main photo credits: Grace Hill Images.
© 2017 - Monika Kowalska

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