You do not know me. But you should. I am one of millions of Americans affected by everything you do. I know who you are. So, let me tell you a little bit about myself. While my story is unique, and has a lot of twists and turns most people’s stories do not have, our stories end in the same way. With our dreams destroyed by your actions.
I briefly went to college in 1998, at the age of 27. College was not an option for me on graduation from high school, mostly for financial reasons. I am also a transgender woman. I was fired from a job when I transitioned, in 1997. I then moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where I was helping a friend care for his elderly mother. It was also an opportunity for me to go to school as I had always wanted to do.
I went to Sullivan College (now Sullivan University) where I double-majored in paralegal and political science, with dreams of going on to law school. I was carrying a 4.0 GPA. Shortly after the start of my second semester, Matt Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming, was beaten, tied to a fence, and left to die, for no reason other than his status as a gay man. Five days after that, the dean of my college informed me I must use male restrooms on campus, effectively setting me up to be the next Matt Shepard.
In that moment, I was forced to make a choice nobody should ever have to make – pursuit of higher education or my personal safety. In the end, I chose my safety. My school could not or would not, to my satisfaction, take the necessary steps to ensure my safety. Every reasonable compromise I offered was refused. So I dropped out. To add insult to injury, because it was beyond two weeks into the new semester, I was forced to pay for a semester of instruction I never got, because of discrimination. My hopes, my dreams, and my future were stolen from me and my lifetime income potential was cut by more than half.
But I am not so different from thousands, possibly even millions, of Americans out there whose dreams have been stolen from them. It’s true that the circumstances have been different for most of these people. They lost their jobs and livelihoods to bad trade deals, to offshoring and outsourcing, and to automation. Some of them are even your constituents. Remember? The people who sent you to where you are now? The people whom you are there to serve? You see, being in Congress, being a senator, is a position of trust and honor … and of service. You are not there to be served yourself but to serve.
I am not so different from the countless single moms out there, who needed a break. A chance to not just survive, but to thrive, and to provide both an example and a better life for their children. I am not so different from the coal miner who has lost his job, and his livelihood, mostly as a result of bad trade deals that make offshoring these jobs more economically viable. All of them, like myself, have had their hopes and dreams shattered, their futures destroyed … by circumstances beyond their control.
You could have made a difference, Sen. Manchin. Instead you chose to listen to your wealthy donors. The very least you could have done, would have been to see that free community college remained in the Human Infrastructure Reconciliation Bill. You could have offered a lifeline to me and to millions of Americans who just needed a chance. Who needed a way forward, the ability to reinvent themselves, necessitated by circumstances they could not control. You betrayed every one of them. Some of them are your constituents. I, fortunately, am not. But I remember what you did to me and to countless other Americans. Maybe your constituents will, too.
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