As Texas voter turnout skews bluer by the day, this mathematician, minister, and member of the LGBT community wants to become her district’s first female U.S. Representative.
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The 21st Congressional District of Texas has long been something of an anomaly, and this year, it’s under the microscope of national curiosity. Covering the progressive cities of Austin and San Antonio, GOP districting efforts have historically made use of the deeply conservative stretch of land between the two. But, as the Texas Tribune reports, the days of Republican rule in TX-21 may be limited if this primary election’s record-breaking Democratic turnout is any indication of what’s to come in November.
The race for the district’s House seat is on, as Lamar Smith, House science chair, vocal climate-change denier and occasional re-tweeter of Breitbart stories is vacating his role. Among the Democratic candidates on the ballot March 6 primary is Mary Wilson, a longtime mathematician, minister, and out lesbian, who’s loudly advocated for LGBT issues, the protection of women’s reproductive rights, and separation of church and state.
In advance of the Democratic primary, Wilson discusses with DAME her platform on gun control, climate change, education, and the possibility of becoming TX-21’s first female U.S. Representative.
You’ve long been an advocate for quite a few women’s rights causes, including the preservation of Planned Parenthood. Why is it important to you?
There are several reasons for my support of Planned Parenthood. First, I firmly believe women should have the right to make medical decisions about their own bodies. Second, when women have options, such as comprehensive healthcare, job security, childcare, and community and family support, then they are more likely to continue their pregnancy. Simply being anti-abortion does not give women the full array of options necessary to care for a child. Third, in the state of Texas, the maternal mortality rate is the worst in the country and rivals poor economic nations. We are killing women by not providing comprehensive health care for pregnancies and postpartum. And last, but not least, in all areas, medical or otherwise, I believe women have a right to say what happens to their bodies.
How would you say being a mathematician and minister has prepared you for public office?
My two careers have given me a wealth of experience. First, from my mathematics background, I have the ability to sift through data, numbers, and information in order to pull out what is meaningful. This is useful when talking about climate change, immigration impact, or value of education, and much more. Secondly, I highly value education and believe our public schools should be supported to the best of our ability, including paying our teachers for the work they do, which is too often undervalued. Third, as a minister, I see people in the highs and lows of life. I am aware of those who fall through the cracks of our current safety nets. I’m aware that people in need often have no place to turn. In a country as wealthy as ours, we can do better. Furthermore, I have visited hospitals and have seen first hand what it is like for people struggling with healthcare costs and the impact it will have on their families. I have been to numerous detention centers, jails, etcetera, and have seen first hand how the for-profit system dehumanizes those detained, whether or not they’ve been convicted of a crime.
My goals as a minister are three-fold. One, show up. People won’t remember what you say (unless it’s really insensitive) in a time of crisis, but they will remember who stood with them. Two, listen attentively. Everyone wants to be heard and often times, when we believe we’ve been heard, anxiety and crises (are) lowered. Three, tell the truth. I think one of the most frustrating aspects of our current political environment is that people don’t trust politicians. I’d like to change that.
Last, but not least, I have been an activist and an advocate. I’ve lobbied, testified, and marched. And now, I’d like to have one of the votes that determine which policies become law.
Of the many issues to cover in your district, what do you consider to be your highest priorities?
In my district, I believe support for our public schools is a high priority. If we support the education process, then we will be able to prepare our children to enter a changing job market. Climate change plays a significant role in our district in that we have more jobs in solar and wind energy than we do in oil and gas. This is the direction our world needs to be moving and making sure we teach about it accurately helps everyone.
Given the national conversation that’s taking place right now, what’s your position on gun control?
Ban AR-15s and related weapons. They were designed to kill. Banning them will have zero impact on hunters, but we simply cannot ignore that it is the weapon of choice for those engaged in mass shootings. Universal background checks. A waiting period of no less than three days. As I minister I’m well aware that we require that for marriage certificates. Is marriage more dangerous than a gun? Close the gun-show loophole (which looks to be in discussion right now in the U.S. Senate), and close the “boyfriend” loophole. Women die as a result of this loophole due to easy access to guns. Speaking of easy access, we need to put up a few obstacles to purchase guns, if for no other reason than suicides via guns would be reduced if a waiting period was implemented. During that time, maybe lives would be saved because other resources would be made available. Let the CDC study gun violence. In other words, the Dickey Amendment has to go.
If elected, how would you protect and support the LGBT community?
Protecting and supporting the LGBT community is obviously important to me, since I belong to that community. We’ve seen in Texas a call for “religious” exhibitions to adoption, health care… simply because a couple or person belongs to this community. I would be a loud voice speaking out against using religion to practice discrimination. In addition, I would continue to live openly as a married lesbian in a long-term relationship, who also happens to be a mom and grandma. We live pretty ordinary lives for the most part.
You’re a member of the clergy, and you’ve been clear about your belief in the importance of separating church and state. Can you elaborate on your stance?
In our country, all faiths deserve the right to practice without discrimination in public life. I will continue to stand with people of other faiths in order to preserve this important right in our country.
I’ve also been very careful with how I practice this while I run. I don’t make my political goals part of our church goals. Ninety-nine percent of my congregation does not live in district 21. For me, this separation is important. It means when I’m functioning in my role as a minister to my congregation, there are no conflicting roles. I’m their pastor, not a politician.
On the other hand, I do talk about the work I do as a minister that I believe offers a useful perspective to political discussions when appropriate. But, I’m not on the campaign trail trying to preach. Having said that, there are people who have told me that they’ve never heard a Christian minister speak about social justice issues so passionately.
So, the separation of church and state is always going to have some gray areas. As people, we are who we are. We bring all of who we are to politics just like we do to every other facet of our lives. I don’t expect people to ignore their faith values. However, I do expect that we recognize that in our country, everyone has equal standing in the public sphere, there are no religious requirements to be considered good citizens, patriotic, or valued.
Given that Austin is known as the “Live Music Capital of the World” and San Antonio has its fair share of gifted musicians as well, it seems pertinent to ask: What have you been listening to throughout your campaign?
I’m a big fan of Sweet Honey in the Rock, an all-female African-American acapella group. I have a playlist entitled “Resistance” that includes Beyoncé, Pink, Amy Ray, Dixie Chicks, Disturbed, Melissa Etheridge, Steve Earle, Jars of Clay. I would lose my lesbian card if I didn’t also include the Indigo Girls. U2 and Coldplay also make it into the rounds.
This election signifies an opportunity for TX-21 to elect its first female U.S. Representative. What does that mean to you?
We need more women in Congress and the only way we do that is to first, run for office, and two, vote for qualified women who run. I believe I’m qualified and capable to serve in this role. I’d be thrilled to be the first female representative from TX-21.
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