Respect Equality

Becca Balint could become Vermont’s first woman and openly gay rep in Congress

(Provided by the Becca Balint Campaign)

Story at a glance

  • Vermont this year is set to send its first woman to Congress, making it the last state in the nation to do so.
  • One of the candidates in the race for Vermont’s open House seat is Becca Balint, who could be the state’s first-ever female and first openly gay representative.
  • Balint said she worries for the nation’s LGBTQ+ youth, who have been the target of more than 300 bills under consideration in state legislatures since the beginning of the year.

Vermont this year is poised to hit a new milestone: sending its first woman to Congress. It would make the Green Mountain State the final state in the union to do so, leaving one less glass ceiling intact in women’s ascent to Washington.

With Becca Balint, Vermont, which celebrated its 231st birthday this month, could have its first-ever female and first openly gay representative in the United States House of Representatives.

For Balint, a former middle school social studies teacher, the road to living authentically has not been an easy one — but it has been fruitful.

In an interview this week with Changing America, Balint recalled growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s, when homophobic slurs were part of the vernacular and positive queer representation in places like classrooms was virtually nonexistent.


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Once, as an adult, Balint found the word “dyke” scratched into her car shortly after moving back to Vermont following a short stint in Wyoming where her wife, Elizabeth Wohl, had been working for a federal judge.

On the day the couple — who married in 2009 after same-sex marriage was legalized in Vermont — closed on a home in Balint’s hometown of Brattleboro, a neighbor displayed a large anti-gay sign on their garage door.

“We looked at each other like, ‘oh my gosh, like what have we done?’” Balint told Changing America. She looks back on that memory during difficult days in the state legislature, where, despite its liberal majority, she still has to work with people who do not support her.

“We still had to show up day after day with those neighbors and make it work,” Balint said. “I served in the Senate in Vermont with people who voted against civil unions and civil marriage, and I still had to show up and do the work with them. That guides me.”

As a leader, Balint said she’s constantly searching for the overlap between herself and her colleagues, who voted unanimously last year to make her the state Senate’s first woman and first openly gay president pro tempore.

“We can’t let our personal animosities get in the way of doing good work for our constituents,” Balint said, though she noted that she still maintains her strongly held convictions.

“Sometimes I have to show up with fire,” she said. “Sometimes I have to show up with water, which is wearing away at the rock.”

In Vermont, just one piece of legislation – introduced in the House of Representatives – this year targets the state’s LGBTQ+ population by protecting the “fundamental right of conscience” of health care providers. Under the bill, medical professionals would be permitted to decline to provide treatment that would “violate their consciences,” such as gender-affirming care, which the legislation refers to as “sterilization.”

According to Balint, a Democrat, the bill doesn’t “have a snowball’s chance in hell” of crossing over to the Senate, but if it does, she’s certain it won’t get very far. Vermont’s Senate in recent years has been a strong ally for the state’s LGBTQ+ community, passing legislation expanding access to queer-focused mental health resources and outlawing conversion therapy and the gay and trans “panic” defense.

More recently, legislators have been considering a bill which would make it easier for Vermonters to amend their birth certificates to reflect their gender identity.

But Vermont is not a microcosm of the entire United States, which has introduced more than 300 bills this year seeking to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ people, the Human Rights Campaign said Friday during a press call.

When she hears about bills like Florida’s now-infamous Parental Rights in Education bill — known to its critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — Balint said she feels her stomach churn.

“I feel sweat on the back of my neck,” she said. “I feel my heart start beating faster.”

Balint said she’s especially worried about the nation’s transgender and nonbinary youth, who have been singled out in state legislative attacks against the LGBTQ+ community. The majority of recent anti-trans efforts target access to gender-affirming care, which has been described in many cases using inflammatory language like “mutilation.”

“As humans we all have to be very wary and on the watch for times when people in power are trying to scapegoat and demonize people,” Balint said, drawing parallels to stories she was told as a child about her grandfather, who was killed in an Austrian concentration camp during the Holocaust over his identity.

“I grew up with a really strong sense within my family that you cannot take democracy for granted,” she said. “I’m always encouraging my colleagues, whether it’s in the legislature or when I was a teacher, or even as a community member, that we have to show up and have hard conversations with people to make sure that hate doesn’t take hold; to make sure that we don’t have simplistic views of each other.”


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