Interview: Brittany Novotny: Transforming Politics in Oklahoma
Those who follow politics closely often reach a point where opposing candidates and platforms stop looking unique or distinctive. And the more localized the race, often the more indistinguishable the two hopefuls seem. Bucking this trend in spectacular fashion is the showdown currently unfolding in Oklahoma’s House District 84, which is comprised of West Oklahoma City, between the state’s first transgender political candidate and a woman who’s infamous for having her belief that LGBT Americans are more dangerous to this country than terrorists posted on YouTube.
Brittany Novotny, born William Novotny, is an Oklahoma City born-and-raised attorney and the Democratic candidate for the state legislature. She’s facing incumbent Sally Kern, a Republican who has been quoted as saying that “the homosexual agenda is just destroying this nation.” Is such a showdown an intriguing but ultimately fleeting anomaly or a sign of more fundamental social and political changes taking place in the Heartland? Novotny took a short break in the midst of this busy campaign season to tell us a little more about herself and this race and help us understand what’s at stake in November.
The New Gay: Can you tell me a little about your experiences growing up and your transition?
Brittany Novotny: Well, I grew up in Oklahoma City. I knew from a very young age that I felt different about who I was compared to what people told me I should be, but I was a good kid, and tried very hard to be the person my elders insisted I be. As I grew older, I realized I could not continue to be a good community leader if I was not able to be honest about who I was, and so I transitioned so that people could get to know the real me. I had my ups and downs, but in the end, I’m happy with myself, I feel at peace spiritually, and now I’m able to be a better advocate for others, because I know what its like to be misunderstood.
TNG: Why did you decide to get involved in politics?
Novotny: I grew up very attracted to the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and our American commitment to freedom and small “d” democratic values. As I grew older, I realized that we don’t achieve those ideals without people working for them and fighting for them in the legal and political arena. I grew up in a fairly conservative household, so I’ve become worried in recent years about the anti-government mentality that is being stoked and considered mainstream in conservative politics these days. Conservatives used to be for preserving our public institutions, and now they seem to be against our public institutions. As a moderate, I feel compelled to bring a more reasonable voice to the political process. I don’t believe that government can solve every problem, but I do believe that government is necessary to ensure that the middle class in Oklahoma has an opportunity to grow and succeed.
TNG: What issues are most important to you and your district?
Novotny: When I’m out knocking on doors and listening to voters, young folks tell me they’re concerned about the lack of good jobs available right now, particularly considering the student debt they’ve amassed to get there; parents tell me they’re concerned about the educational opportunities for their children, particularly in light of recent teacher layoffs as a result of budget cuts; and seniors tell me they’re concerned about public transit, because they don’t feel as safe behind the wheel anymore, but they want to get out and take part in their community more. I believe that by focusing government in the areas of education and transportation infrastructure, we can create a climate of economic opportunity for everyone and better jobs will become available.
TNG: Your opponent is well-known for espousing extreme anti-LGBT sentiments. Does this race feel any more personal to you knowing she holds such views?
Novotny: This race is not personal to me, and is not about me. This race is about the future of Oklahoma that we as Oklahomans wish to create. If we want to solve our problems and find ways for people to work together for the common good, regardless of party, then we have to focus on the issues that unite us, rather than the issues that divide us. Rep. Kern is free to hold her views and to espouse them; what I have a problem with is her insistence on focusing on those issues in the government, when we have real concerns about jobs, education, and transportation that the voters want us to work on.
TNG: It was reported earlier this summer that neither campaign would be making your gender identity an issue. Has this remained the case? If not, how has it crept into the race?
Novotny: Unfortunately, Rep. Kern’s supporters have already begun to attack me on this, and Rep. Kern was recorded on August 7, 2010 imploring her supporters to make the attacks for her, because she did not want it to look like she was smearing me. That being said, it only proves my point in this campaign that Rep. Kern is more concerned with her own personal social agenda, rather than being interested in solving the problems that are of concern to the voters in the district.
TNG: The Oklahoma legislature has famously tackled the issue of abortion a number of times in the recent past. Do you feel that your experiences give you a unique perspective on issues that are typically considered women’s issues?
Novotny: There are only so many bills that the Legislature can pass relating to this issue. I think Oklahoma voters are ready for their legislators to get focused on the economy and our infrastructure. I know there are strong emotions involved in this debate, but I don’t believe additional governmental intrusiveness is the right answer. We can all agree that we’d like to see fewer abortions, but expanding the role of government into the private lives and medical decisions of individual women is inconsistent with Oklahomans’ belief in limited government.
TNG: Anything else our readers should know? How can non-Oklahomans support your campaign?
Novotny: I’m very proud that my campaign has built a great network of online donors and supporters from around Oklahoma and America. We can accept contributions from folks in other states, and about 28% of our contributions are from outside Oklahoma. That means a significant majority of our contributions have come from right here in Oklahoma. Furthermore, many of these donors are small donors—over 400 folks have donated $50 or less. This is a campaign funded by individuals interested in building a brighter future where we work together to solve our problems. If anyone is interested in getting more involved in the campaign, they can do so at www.brittany4hd84.com (there are links there to our Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube accounts also)!
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