Scroll To Top
Politics

When even blue states aren't safe from anti-LGBTQ+ laws, this queer mayor is protecting her city

Emma Mulvaney Stanak Burlington Vermont first LGBTQ mayor
Emma for Mayor

Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, the first woman and first out gay mayor of Vermont's largest city, tells The Advocate about how blue states must be proactive instead of reactive in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights.

Vermont's largest city has never before had a woman or out LGBTQ+ person as mayor — until today.

Emma Mulvaney-Stanak is being sworn in as mayor of Burlington on Monday, making state history. While the achievement "feels pretty amazing," the progressive acknowledged that the "joyous and historic moment" has taken far too long to reach.

"Vermont has this outside perception of being this big progressive state that's really inclusive and safe, and it was not that way growing up here," she recently told The Advocate. "We have a lot of work to still do."

Mulvaney-Stanak, who up until now has served as a member of the state House of Representatives and chair of the House Progressive Caucus, said that she sees every day the "structural barriers and cultural barriers" that prevent women and queer people from entering politics.

As a politician who is also a mother of young children, Mulvaney-Stanak knows all too well how the job is "not very receptive, especially to folks who have small kids navigating the long work hours." On top of the time constraints, "most political policy jobs in Vermont are still very lowly paid."

"Most of the time, women still tend to by default become the main caregiver. That's a really hard thing to hold while also trying to aspire to hold these positions," she explained. "And this body has been very resistant to actually making structural changes to that."

Due to lack of term limits, Mulvaney-Stanak noted that "we've also had men hold seats for a long time," and while they may be "kind people," they're not always as supportive of communities they don't belong to.

Mulvaney-Stanak is the first member of the Vermont Progressive Party to lead the city in over 12 years, replacing Democrat Miro Weinberger, who has been the city's mayor since 2012. Weinberger is "a bit more of a moderate," Mulvaney-Stanak said, and "as a white straight man, he has really fumbled some of this transphobic stuff that's been plaguing Burlington."

While the city has seen an uptick in anti-trans graffiti and stickering, Mulvaney-Stanak said it's "not just faceless trolls" plaguing the community. As an out queer woman in government, she has experienced prejudice first hand — even from some of her own constituents.

"Since being a candidate, more people have emerged, including someone who comes to city council public comment periods and specifically says homophobic things, specifically about me," she said. "So, even in Little Burlington, that's the hostility we're dealing with. And most people are not going to want to put themselves in harm's way like that."

"As a state legislator for the last four years, it's a hostile time to still put your hand up as a woman or as a queer person. While many of us are really trying to bravely do that, it is brutal," she added.

While the current wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is most prominent in conservative states, liberal areas also aren't free from prejudice. That's how even in Democrat-controlled states like California and Michigan, local legislators are still able to ban Pride flags or queer books. To Mulvaney-Stanak, that's why involvement in local politics is so important.

"Local government is really what most impacts people's day to day lives," she said. "There so much decision making that happens on the school level and the local municipal level that impacts us."

As mayor of Burlington, there are now executive actions Mulvaney-Stanak said she can take to make government institutions more inclusive that she couldn't as a state legislator, such as putting gender neutral bathrooms in buildings or adding a third gender option in databases. She explained that leaders taking those small steps is one of the ways they can proactively build a more welcoming society, instead of only shaping policies reactively after harm has already been done.

"It's important for local governments to show up proactive versus reactive, to be proactively doing things that affirm these really important members of our community," Mulvaney-Stanak said. "Then when something egregious does happen, you have a stronger, more resilient community ... and just places for people to fall back on."

That's why, after being sworn in on Monday, Mulvaney-Stanak shared that her "first proclamation on Tuesday morning is going to be acknowledging trans visibility day," which occurred on March 31. "It's an important first act as mayor," she said, "to really put proactively out there statements like that, so we're not always in reactive mode when something horrible has happened."

That is the premise Mulvaney-Stanak ran her campaign on, and it is what shapes her attitude as she enters office. As she put it: "We need to imagine a different world while we're building it."

Advocate Channel - The Pride StoreOut / Advocate Magazine - Fellow Travelers & Jamie Lee Curtis

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories

Ryan Adamczeski

Ryan is a staff writer at the Advocate, and a graduate of New York University Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing, with a focus in television writing and comedy. She first became a published author at the age of 15 with her YA novel 'Someone Else's Stars', and is now a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. In her free time, Ryan likes watching New York Rangers hockey, listening to the Beach Boys, and practicing witchcraft.
Ryan is a staff writer at the Advocate, and a graduate of New York University Tisch's Department of Dramatic Writing, with a focus in television writing and comedy. She first became a published author at the age of 15 with her YA novel 'Someone Else's Stars', and is now a member of GALECA, the LGBTQ+ society of entertainment critics. In her free time, Ryan likes watching New York Rangers hockey, listening to the Beach Boys, and practicing witchcraft.