McCreeryarticle

Tracy McCreery

 

Tracy McCreery is no stranger to the LGBT equality movement here in Missouri. The community activist has worked closely with both PROMO and PROMO PAC since 1998 and was a progressive voice in the Missouri legislature after winning a special election in November 2011 to serve out the remainder of Jake Zimmerman’s term representing Missouri’s 83rd District.

 

McCreery is in a tight race against Republican attorney Raymond Chandler for State Representative in the Missouri 88th as she campaigns to continue to serve her community and fight for the issues she cares about.

 

#Boom recently caught up with McCreery to talk about the campaign, equality and more.

 

Let’s talk about the campaign; you’ve got a race on your hands? votebranding2

 

I do have a fight. We can’t take it for granted. These off year elections can be tough for Democrats and progressives so it’s definitely not a lock.

 

How’s the campaign going?

 

Things are good. I started door knocking back in May, I’ve knocked on over 6,000 doors. Most of those I’ve done myself but I do have a few volunteers helping. We knocked the targeted wards and are now going back and talking to people twice. It’s pretty much door knocking, talking to voters and then fundraising so you can reach voters through the mail, especially voters you’ve never made contact with. So everything’s gone fine with my fundraising, my mail started in October.

 

The good news is these races are not rocket science. Now you can freak yourself out and make them crazy but if you just focus on the basics it still works. Now the higher up you go, the more complex it gets, but these are pretty manageable races.

 

You’ve served in the House before – what compelled to get you back into legislative politics?

 

Mainly seeing what the Republican led majority was doing and not doing for the state. I felt like I really wanted to be back as a part of the team to help speak up and stand up. The Democratic Caucus and the Progressive Caucus is a small group of people and because I had experience in the executive branch, plus I had eight years with Sen. Joan Bray, I feel like my experience there is helpful to our small caucus. So I really felt needed and felt like there is a place for me.

 

With the Republicans having a super majority and with what went on at the recent veto session how do you view your role as a Democrat in the legislature?

 

Assuming I get reelected, I will represent everyone in the district. One of the things I’ve been good at is figuring out how to work with people who come from different perspectives. I have a business background where you work with people that have conflicting ideas – just a lot of challenges. I by no means think I can single-handedly change things but I am good at figuring out how to work with others, to either try to figure out how to improve legislation and make things less harmful or work with constituents to kind of get the grass roots involved and try to stop bad things from happening too. I have so many community connections back here and I would like to continue to use those to have an impact on the legislators in the capitol.

 

Talk a little bit about your work with PROMO; how did that come to be and how has that impacted you?

 

It was an awesome job. It wasn’t anything that I had planned on. A.J. [Bockelman, Executive Director of PROMO] and PROMO Fund had been working with Missouri Foundation for Health on looking at a report on reducing LGBT health disparities in the state. St. Louis is famous for having lots and lots of reports but then they sort of stack up somewhere and very little ever happens – with whatever topic you want to talk about. So the cool thing about PROMO Fund and Missouri Foundation for Health is they wanted this to be a report where people looked at the results and the data and looked for things that they could do to improve the lives of LGBT Missourians. So that’s what that project and grant was. I was manager of Board policy at PROMO with an emphasis on reducing LGBT health disparities and it really fit in beautifully with my background. I actually have a pharmaceutical and health care McCreery2industry background from when I was in corporate America right out of college. And then the past decade, or so, I’ve really been involved in the non-profit part of health. I sit on the Board of Family Care Health Centers, for example. So when this grant came around and A.J. let me know about it, I was like, hmmmm. The person they’re looking for—I’m interested in this! It was a great, great experience and what an amazing time to work for a LGBT organization. I’m sure decades from now, we’ll look back on this time and view it as a very historic time, the movement. I just feel really lucky that I was able to be with such an amazing team working on health issues when not one but multiple good things would happen in one day.

 

Having served in the House, you know how things work. There were many folks who thought we’d see the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act pass before Marriage Equality. But now with the three court cases challenging the state’s ban, we could see just the opposite. What is the rejection from the other side; is it just across the party line or is there room for real bipartisanship on MONA?

 

More people from both sides of the aisle support LGBT equality, so it’s way less partisan. I’ve been involved with PROMO since it was PREP, actually. I was on the PAC back in 1998, so I remember what a different climate it was. There were few people who wanted PREP’s endorsement, so now people are clamoring for our endorsement. When I talk to people individually from the other party, a lot of them, as individuals, don’t have a problem with it. But the challenge with the political climate is they want some cover, if you will. I even had a talk with a young man from rural Missouri – he’s young – younger folks seem to be ok with equality. He basically said I need to show the churches and the businesses in my district are supportive of me doing this, voting the right way on MONA. He needs some cover, basically. So I think one of our jobs as a community is to make sure we’re continuing to build the long, long list of people who support non-discrimination in the state so all elected officials can vote and know that they’re not going to be targeted.

 

Do you find yourself given the opportunity to educate a lot of times within the legislature?

 

I do. I feel like being a straight ally working in LGBT equality does give me a unique perspective, because in a way I don’t have a dog in the fight. I was able to have really honest conversations with some of my male colleagues on the other side of the aisle on why it was important. I’m glad that I’m there, I do have a different feel just because it doesn’t personally impact me, yet it really does personally impact me. I don’t want to live in a state where we could have marriage, but yet people still couldn’t be themselves at work. It’s just so bizarre to think that somebody could get married, but they still have to go to their job and not show any pictures of them with their partner on their wedding day.

 

Those are the latest issues; people are moving in together and getting married in other states and that’s what’s getting them fired.

 

I like order and I feel like we should have passed MONA a long time ago. That seems the logical way things would have gone. Generally how it happens – although there are a couple hundred of us there – there are just a few people who are the traffic cops who control what comes up. I’m disappointed, though, because I would have liked for MONA to pass while Sen. Justus was there – it would have been extra meaningful.

 

When did you first become aware of LGBT issues?

 

That’s a good question. I took a women’s study course when I was in Ohio State back in the 1980s. I actually started out as a Republican as a young lady – from a conservative village in rural Ohio – then went to Ohio State and took a women’s study course just as an elective. It was more of somethingMcCreery4 that fit the time slot rather than something that really interested me but was a life-changing experience. The course I took was Women in Addiction and there were several women in my class who were lesbians and that was the first time that I was even aware of that. It just really opened my eyes to all kinds of things. Then when I moved to St. Louis I got involved with NARAL and met Jeff Wunrow through NARAL. Back then – this was the early 90s – I saw a strong connection between what we were trying to do with our work with reproductive rights and the work we were doing for LGBT equality. The privacy component is still a big deal to me. So that was really how I got plugged in was the privacy rights connection and then met with and connected with Jeff Wunrow and was on the PROMO PAC for 10 years. I was on the PAC from 1998-2008, actually, so I saw a lot of changes and for the better.

 

So you were with the PAC since Missouri passed Hate Crimes legislation.

 

I have. That’s why I’m disappointed that we haven’t been able to get MONA passed. It just seems like a no-brainer in a state like this that in many ways – non-discrimination is a conservative value. It’s about letting people just be who they are.

 

As you campaign throughout your district, what are you hearing from voters?

 

Ferguson was a big issue that’s on people’s minds. There’s still a general sense that the recession hasn’t totally subsided, left, retreated the Midwest. It’s a slow recovery. And one of the interesting things about my district is the contrast between – I have some of the wealthiest communities but then I have the normal, working class communities – so the contrast is quite sharp. There’s a general sense of frustration for the legislature not expanding Missouri Medicaid. People from all different political backgrounds – they might come at support of Medicaid expansion for different reasons but they just don’t understand why we’re letting our federal tax dollars that we pay and send to Washington not come back to help our community. There’s a lot of frustration with that – they just don’t get it – because it would also be a huge job creator. The University of Missouri projects that if we expanded Medicaid it would create 24,000 new jobs across the state in the health care industry. It’s staggering – I can’t even wrap my head around that. Public schools, too, is another big thing.

 

You mentioned Ferguson – what do you say to voters? We’re all torn up.

 

People are torn up for all different reasons – people are all over the place. One of the things I try to do as a candidate, but also when I was a legislator, is I tried to be sincere and I also tried to not say I can do something that’s not in my realm. A good example of that is this talk of why so many municipalities are militarized. Well, the reality is I think that a lot of that is federal money and things that came post-September 11 and I feel like even if I do get reelected there’s very little I’ll be able to do with that. It’s just not anything that comes before the state government. So what I have been doing since the month or so since the shooting is trying to reflect on things that I could be doing if I do get reelected. I try to take it a day at a time. It’s really easy as a candidate to already start thinking about what bills you want to file but no, the election is seven weeks away from today, and I need to stay focused.

 

But thinking about what led to the unrest after the shooting and even the challenges in the community before the shooting, I think a lot of those things can be traced back to policies that were passed and put in place decades ago that created these big gaps between the haves and the have-nots. And there are a lot of things in state government that are connected to that. So I would love to sit down with people that know way more than I do on housing, job creation, education, food, job training – and all those things I just mentioned are things that state government has a connection with. I want to stay focused on what I can have some control over, not get into this messing with the judiciary branch, because I can have an opinion on anything but I have no impact on what happens in the grand jury. So I’m not going to let myself go there.

 

McCreery3Then the other thing – I’ve been involved with a group called Women’s Group on Race Relations for five or so years. It’s a group of about 400 women of all different races and religious backgrounds. We have tough discussions, we have speakers, we read, we do book groups – we do all kinds of things to just try to figure out a way to make St. Louis a more welcoming and friendly place. It’s been a really good group to lean on during this time because there are some really talented people – women from the community who are part of that. It’s a huge, huge problem and I feel like any candidate that goes door to door sees things that the average person doesn’t see and you really do notice there are some people really suffering.

 

One of our charges with #Boom is to inspire and engage our community. We have a real problem with apathy whether it’s people not wanting to vote or just step forward and become involved – what is your best argument for public service?

 

Public service can be at so many different levels, too. I would say that we can’t give up and get frustrated and let some people’s attitudes ruin it for everybody. I think one of the reasons that we’ve made such advancements with LGBT equality was because people are being themselves and standing up and speaking up at work and church and everything else. None of us can change the world one at a time. I personally get overwhelmed. Even thinking about Ferguson – it’s overwhelming to me because as one person what can I do? What keeps me motivated from being apathetic is I just focus on the stuff that I have some control over. Whether it’s a one-on-one connection like this or this board meeting I had tonight where you serve tens of thousands of people with health care in the St. Louis region. So you just have to focus on things that you can have some impact on and realize that if everybody does that then we’re going to take big steps forward.

 

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