Four weeks from the 2018 midterm election, it feels like the stakes have never been higher — particularly for LGBTQ citizens, as issues like "religious freedom" and gender identity become explosive talking points for candidates fighting for control of the House and Senate. With a recent poll suggesting that only 28 percent of young voters are certain they'll turn out to vote, it's easy to feel anxious about the results.
To counter that anxiety, we're highlighting people who are doing something about it: rising stars in the queer community who are using their influence and fan followings to raise awareness, get people involved, and get out the vote on November 6.
In the midst of Brett Kavanaugh's divisive Supreme Court nomination, comedian Fortune Feimster talked to us about coping with exhaustion, her hope for common ground between conservatives and liberals, and why she's retiring her Sarah Huckabee Sanders impression.
The Advocate: How are you handling the Kavanaugh news?
Feimster: I've gone to a bunch of meetings today, and every office I've walked into has a TV on where people are glued to the television watching it. I just want there to be [a real] investigation; you want this stuff to be taken seriously and looked into. For one side to just not want to look into it any further is disturbing.
When we have stressful days like this, how do you keep your morale up?
It's hard, because my job is a comedian, but I'm also a human and a citizen of this country. On the one hand you want to keep things light and make people laugh, be the break in the day for them. But other times your human side takes over and it's so frustrating. You just want justice to prevail, the right people to get the job. If someone has been assaulted, you want them to get their justice.
I just try to find moments where I keep things lighter and make jokes, and then be involved and proactive and share opinions when the moment calls for it.
Many people know you from your Sarah Huckabee Sanders impression, and other political skits you've done on Chelsea Handler's Netflix show. Kate McKinnon from Saturday Night Live often says that when she's playing Trump administration officials, she finds a way to have empathy for them. Do you have the same approach?
When I played [Sanders] on Chelsea's show, it was early on in her being hired. It was a time when it felt like it was okay to joke about things, and we knew she was not always telling the truth; but I think it got more significant as controversies started happening, like immigration. When I was doing it, it felt a little lighter. I played her a little overconfident and I would sass back Chelsea.
I haven't played her in a while, and I probably won't ever play her again. I'm not really interested in doing it anymore, and I feel it would be different now because the stakes seem higher. She seems more complicit in the cover-ups and the dishonesty, and I don't know that playing her would be a positive thing or a funny thing. It all feels so big and serious now.
It's very easy to feel like people in America are divided in a very right vs. left sort of way. As someone who grew up in North Carolina and has conservative friends and family members, what do you think are the biggest misconceptions we have?
I definitely think that people on both sides are guilty of assuming a lot about the other side. There's not a lot of listening happening. Everyone's assuming that if you're a conservative, you must be like this, and if you're a liberal you must be like this. It's not so black and white. I have plenty of friends and family members who are conservative, and they're good people. They believe a certain thing and it's different from what I believe, but I don't think for a second that because they believe certain things that they are bad. We just have different opinions and life experiences that form those opinions.
Don’t lose empathy...even for the people you disagree with.
— Fortune Feimster (@fortunefunny) August 26, 2018
The more people categorize each other as being one thing, it's going to continue to divide our country. I perform standup all over the country and I have people from all backgrounds and all political affiliations, liberal, conservative, you name it. They come to my show and they're nice people and they want to laugh. They can appreciate the same humor. At the end of the day, there is a lot more that binds us than there is that separates us. It's easier for the media to divide people and put them in boxes and make everybody come from a place of fear.
The LGBTQ community is in a pretty serious fight for our rights. What's your perspective on how we should talk to conservative people in our lives and explain why this is so important?
I'm personally not as political as other comics. There are some comics who are probably a lot more knowledgable about things than I am, and they might have the words to say to people about those things. I personally try to live a life that is one of dignity, to be respectful and be a good person and do the right thing. I try to live a life of kindness and of example, so that when people see who I am and they know that I'm gay and see I'm a good person, that makes a difference. It changes minds.
People come up to me and say, "I have a daughter who's gay and I didn't know how to react to that, but then I watch your comedy and see you on Instagram with your fiancee and how you guys live your life, and it makes me feel okay about my daughter. It's not this scary thing I might have once thought it was." That, to me, is the biggest thing I can do. I don’t know how much I’m going to change people's minds with words, but I do feel like I can do something with actions.
With the midterm election, when you look at the conversations that are happening and the people who are running for office, are there things that make you feel optimistic in the middle of all the stress we're under?
Yeah, for sure. There's a lot more women running than we've ever seen before, a lot more people getting involved in the [local] level of government, and minorities are getting elected. There's more representation of people than there's ever been, where it's not just older white men anymore.
After the [presidential] election and a lot of women thinking we were going to have our first female president and that not happening, it kind of woke a lot of people up. A lot of women were like, "I want to be involved and be a politician and make change, and I want to do things for these groups who've been overlooked and not been represented for so long. I want to give them a voice." I find hope in that, and I think that's just starting. Hopefully it will continue to grow, so at some point in the future it will be a lot more diverse in politics, and a lot more people will have a voice.
FORTUNE FEIMSTER is a stand-up comedian and actor who has been featured on shows like Chelsea Lately, Dear White People and The Mindy Project, as well as movies like Office Christmas Party and The Happytime Murders. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.