“What’s the huge news? I’ll bite,” I said over the phone.
I will take tips on silver platters when I can get them. I don’t consider myself to be a lazy columnist who dabbles in journalism, but it would be fair to describe me as a physically tired and sore one (message to new Bird riders: the brakes work. I’m fifty and still capable of a commando roll, thank you very much. Ouch…).
“The huge news is that we have made Chuck Fleischmann (U.S. Representative for the Third District of Tennessee) so nervous that President Trump is coming to Chattanooga before the election…”
Samantha Boucher is the Campaign Coordinator for Dr. Danielle Mitchell, M.D., Representative Fleischmann’s Democratic opponent. She was rather excited, in that subdued East Tennessee manner I have come to know well from my wife. Her first time as a campaign bigwig, and she helped bring Air Force One to someone’s political rescue. Nice.
“But I certainly wouldn’t say that it’s just our campaign that is making the GOP nervous, and in this cycle … we are part of a coordinated action, working with other candidates across the board to get this done. Pulling in the same direction is really what has gotten us where we are now, and it’s certainly a good sign that they are nervous enough to bring in their big guns.”
Samantha is a twenty-something transgender woman who grew up in the Chattanooga area. She transitioned a few years ago and threw herself into LGBTQ+ activism because she wanted to help other people who could not transition as safely as she did.
“I was extremely lucky…my grandparents and parents especially were really supportive and helpful,” Samantha said about her gender affirmation. “I think just like everyone else (in this part of the country) they were a little thrown. It was a very conservative household, and, you know, it wasn’t something that they had to deal with before … but it’s safe to say that my relationship with my family is probably much stronger than many folks.”
“When I moved back from the two years I spent in California, I threw myself headlong into local politics to really help my community at home” Samantha continued, explaining why she came back from what most LGBTQ+ people consider to be lesbigay paradise.
“Honestly, Chattanooga and East Tennessee has always really felt like home to me, and more than that California is safer for us. So, I felt a little bit of survivor’s guilt being there while the people I care about continue to deal with being in a part of the country without real protections.”
Is she a political animal? Not willingly, according to Samantha. “The reason I do what I do is because I have no choice,” she explained. Her skill set is political activism. That’s where she feels she can be of the most help to the LGBTQ+ community, and consequently herself. “One of my favorite slogans is ‘Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.’ I choose to employ my skills to the fullest in the fight for every one of us.”
Sure, she’s not a political animal…right. Then again, she does have experience with teamwork. Samantha cut her teeth working for tech startups out west and takes pride in deploying across the U.S. and internationally almost two dozen times as an analyst and coordinator for a volunteer disaster assistance organization.
“It’s really about organizing people and logistics … being a leader and providing servant-leadership principles,” Samantha explained about her work. “That’s why I have been successful with what I have been doing here (with the political campaign) … being a servant-leader and learning how to be a better leader from the people surrounding me.”
“The concept of servant leadership comes from the military,” Samantha continued. “The goal is to make sure that the people you are serving are successful in order to accomplish the mission. My job, broadly speaking, is to make sure that the people in my community are well-equipped to fight for themselves and to seek the protections that they need to live their lives.”
“Do you mean the local LGBTQ+ community, or other communities too?” I asked. Both, she cheerfully answered.
“I think that a lot of Chattanoogans face adversity. That’s why I’m passionate about working with Dr. Mitchell’s campaign. She is someone who intimately understands the health care needs of people who live here. As a small business owner with a health clinic serving the health care needs of over 1,500 Chattanoogans, she sees the struggle that people are facing day in and day out with health care…She’s running for Congress because she wants to make sure that those struggles are eased, and that people get the care that they really need.”
“Her opponent (Rep. Fleischmann) voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act,” Samantha continued. “Which is the only reason that many of our LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers have access to health care, because of some of the provisions in that act. Not only just our LGBTQ+ family, but also all Chattanoogans.”
(No, Samantha is not a political animal. Remember that…)
“Tennessee is number one in the country for bankruptcies due to medical care,” she continued passionately. “We’re number two per capita for hospital closures, and number one for rural hospital closures. We are in a place where our political representatives have failed to expand Medicaid, to do all the things that they should have been doing to take care of our people – and I mean everybody, not just the LGBTQ+ community. And that’s why Dr. Mitchell wants to make sure that every single citizen in this country has healthcare, regardless of their ability to pay.”
Before she was tasked with Dr. Mitchell’s congressional campaign, Samantha was spearheading the local LGBTQ+ voting drive and a campaign for full equality for Chattanooga and Hamilton County LGBTQ+ citizens. She also helped to form the Chattanooga Queer Community Forum and is the security officer for Tennessee Valley Pride.
She put together this past summer a public remembrance ceremony for the victims of the Pulse shootings. Many in the Chattanooga LGBTQ+ community came to pay their respects. So did the police chief, so did the mayor. But I heard rumors of drama behind the scenes. I asked what happened…
“I was deeply disappointed, and frankly infuriated, by the actions of (the majority of) our city council members on that day,” she began.
We intentionally coordinated the (Chattanooga Pulse) memorial in such a way that it would begin after the City Council meeting ended… Every single City Council member was directly invited multiple times, including the night of the memorial. (Except for two of our Council members, one of whom was sick but sent her best wishes) every single other Council member who was at the City Council that evening left out the back door and did not come out front. (They) did not engage with our community, nor did they pay their respects to not only the dead of the Pulse nightclub shooting, but also to those whom we have lost in our own community.
If they cannot be trusted to come to a memorial service literally upon their doorstep, it says a lot about their regard for our community, and not only that, their regard for everyday Chattanoogans.”
That is the most passionately I have ever heard Ms. Boucher speak.
“The trick of being an organizer in the South, especially in a small city like Chattanooga, is that there are very few of us, and many things to accomplish,” Samantha followed when I asked how she felt about stepping away from being an LGBTQ+ activist for the time being to help run a political campaign. “If you are in the trenches and someone throws you a rifle, you don’t tell them no.”
“I’m using [this experience],” she said, “to the best of my ability here to fight not only for our community, but also for every single person in Chattanooga, and every single person in our district no less.”
“Sounds to me like you are a community organizer in the spirit of Mr. Obama, ma’am,” I said.
Laughing, she said, “That’s pretty evil of you to say, Julie.”
I could see the smile on the other end of the line. “So when are you running for Mayor of Chattanooga?” I asked.
She laughed a little more, then paused. “No comment.” Beware the bold and queer Chattanooga.