The very word “Congress” brings to mind a bunch of old white men sitting around in a room together, planning the fate of the queer, the marginalized, those without a voice. If Saira Rao has anything to say about it, that won’t be the case for long.
Rao is not just making a point of saying she stands for intersectional, progressive policy; she is actually showing it, going out into the community to speak to local media entities like OUT FRONT about what she plans to do if elected. She isn’t above meeting up in local coffee shops or around the town to talk politics and moving forward, with just about anyone who is interested to hear what she has to say.
As a woman of color and the daughter of immigrants, Rao feels first-hand the biases and hatred that are prevalent in our country today, and wants to do something about them. This is why she is running in the Democratic Primary this June in Colorado, for the First Congressional District. She has pledged to work towards affordable, universal healthcare; to stand up for immigrants; to work towards funding public schools and college educations; to help with affordable housing in her district; refuse corporate PAC money; and to hold monthly town halls for the community.
Even though she herself is not LGBTQ, she considers herself a strong ally, and is promising to do everything in her power if elected to fight for the rights of queer people. Especially high on her list of priorities are universal healthcare, which includes access to medical care for trans folks, and fighting against any type of legislation that promotes bigotry.
We applied the pressure and did some political grilling to see how Rao’s political plans stand up to scrutiny. Here’s what she had to say.
How did you first get into politics, and why did this path appeal to you?
I first got into politics five months ago, and I decided to run for office because the status quo isn’t working and hasn’t been working for some time. The status quo gave us Donald Trump, and now we’re looking at fascism. We need people who are going to go to Washington and actually fight to rangle power back and move the country forward.
As a woman of color, what do you think are the main political and social issues today, and how do you intend to address them if you get elected?
There are so many! Just broadly, economic disparity, we have a 1 percent and a 99 percent; police brutality against brown and black people; hate crimes against brown and black and LGBTQ people; health care equity. We need that for communities of color, people in the LGBTQ community, and people in the disability community.
The country is not working for both of us [brown people and queer folks], and when I talk about facism, that looks like Muslim bans, and trans bans in the military. When the president calls undocumented immigrants animals, [that’s similar to how] Hitler called people animals. I think we are truly in a scary place right now.
Can we talk about the Masterpiece Cakeshop Verdict? That’s a perfect example. As a former lawyer, it’s a narrow decision, but what it does do, which is terrifying, now courts are going to be emboldened to use this as a precedence, so it will play out in a not-very-narrow fashion.
Elections matter; shame on the democrats for not forcing a vote under Obama. What a disaster; human rights, civil rights, are being rolled back for all of us, and I think the hate crime issue is a real one, and really scary.
What would you do in Congress to provide protections to queer people?
The equality act needs to be passed immediately. It’s absurd that we never passed it. Colorado is in pretty good shape in that regard, but we need to be sure that federal legislation is protecting everyone else. About 31 states don’t have an equality act in place.
Number two is the healthcare issue; all of our communities have specific needs, and we need to make sure all of our communities get health care equity.
Everything is connected; when we have bigotry, xenophobia, that’s why legislators think they don’t need to make sure people get HIV drugs, or drugs for trans people. We have to attack the problem, and the problem is hate and bigotry.
How do you feel about legal cannabis, and what would you do to fight for or against it as a member of Congress?
I feel great about legal cannabis, and I would support the Marijuana Justice Act, which senators Booker and Harris are trying to pass to expunge prior convictions, deschedule cannabis, and provide restorative justice. It would also focus on investing in mental health education and healthcare.
Criminalizing marijuana is just a way to basically massively incarcerate poor communities and communities of color.
Where would you like to see the country in 20 years? What do you think we need to achieve?
Within 20 years I would like the country to have truth and reconciliation regarding indiginous people, African Americans, LGBTQ people, women, the disability community, and really come to terms with the inequity. Only then can we move forward. I think that truth and reconciliation are imperative before we can actually make progress. We are still the greatest country on the planet, and I know we can do it, but we have to have these very difficult discussions, and that’s on Congress. We don’t have federally funded research on gun violence; now we have people not just ravaging schools, gay bars, and movie theatres, but 96 Americans die every day from gun violence.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I think it’s incredibly important when you are in any position of power to have a highly diverse staff with equity and pay. It’s important to me to make sure my staff is diverse if I go to Congress.
To learn more about Rao and her policies, visit SairaForCongress.com or follow her on Twitter
@sairasameerarao or Facebook @saraforcongress. Don’t forget to vote in your local primaries this June to ensure change happens!