Two newly-elected members of the Vermont Legislature represent "firsts" for the state: the first woman of color to be elected to the Vermont State Senate, and the first openly transgender candidate to earn a seat in the Vermont House of Representatives.
Kesha Ram, 34, will represent Chittenden County as a senator, and Taylor Small, 26, will serve in the House as a representative of Winooski and a neighboring sliver of Burlington.
Ram is Indian-American—the daughter of a dad who immigrated from India and a mom who is Jewish-American.
"Being the first woman of color in the State Senate, to me, kind of means that the state and the country that I love may actually love me back," Ram told NECN Wednesday. "And I think that my job now is to make sure that for anyone who's marginalized, and particularly for people of color, the love that they feel from their country and their community isn't conditional."
Ram previously served as a member of the Vermont House of Representatives, and said she believes she will be the only woman of color serving in the Vermont Legislature for the next term—in either body.
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Small, who works as a health and wellness educator at the Pride Center of Vermont, said she is proud to represent the most diverse city in Vermont: Winooski. She will serve alongside a Black man, Rep. Hal Colston, a Democrat.
Small was a fusion candidate—running as both a Progressive and a Democrat.
"I can't tell folks to not focus on the fact that I am young or that I am trans," Small told NECN Wednesday. "But what I can show is that I am also committed to the issues, and I think that that is something that has come up time and time again during the campaign is recognizing that this is historic, and that I have priorities that are specific to my communities and that are needed for the state of Vermont."
Small said her priorities include working to ensure people have access to healthcare, even if they lose a job and that affects their insurance status. Additionally, she said she will advocate for state approval of a charter change Winooski voters supported, which will allow legal city residents who are not U.S. citizens to vote in certain municipal elections—such as for school board.
"Taylor pushes us forward for a very giant step," said Keith Goslant, who has long advocated for LGBTQ+ Vermonters.
While Goslant calls Small's win historic, he noted she was one of 15 out LGBTQ+ candidates for the Legislature this election cycle. That is believed to be a record here, Goslant said.
"The fact 13 of the 15 were elected is significant," Goslant observed. "It really shows how all of that work we started back in the mid-80s for equality and inclusion—we're really seeing the results of it."
Ram said aside from her family roots, her age is an important form of representation, as well.
"Young women are particularly underrepresented in who's in politics and overrepresented in who's affected by our policies," Ram said. "They are the ones who are struggling single moms who are losing access to reproductive healthcare, whose every decision hinges on access to higher education or family planning or supports, and so it's just really meaningful to have that voice increased in Montpelier."
Ram said she has already started reaching out to other women of color—specifically Black and Indigenous women—to encourage them to run for office in 2022.