By Lauren Means | Photos Courtesy Brandon Thomas
From students getting sent to the principal’s office for wearing a rainbow belt to students organizing an unofficial, speakeasy-like pride week, for Brandon Thomas, the simple act of being yourself in high school was a political act.
Born and raised in Rutherford County, Thomas graduated from Smyrna High School and Middle Tennessee State University. He’s been interested in politics since his high school years saying, “[it was] partly because I was coming of age during the leadup to the Iraq War and partly because by high school, I knew I was gay and eventually understood that the simple act of coming out was a political act.”
For Thomas, it was clear that school officials frowned on anything that was outside the status quo. He says he really didn’t start finding his voice in traditional politics until he started going to MTSU and ended up running to be a student government senator. Now he’s running for the Tennessee State Representative seat for District 49.
He’s already received many endorsements from organizations including the Victory Fund, Communication Workers of America, AFL-CIO, Central Labor Council, Run For Something, Our Revolution, and noted officials like U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren!
We had the pleasure of speaking with Thomas to learn more about his history, campaign, and what to expect when he wins District 49.
Have you always had a political drive? What are some of your early political memories/moments?
Yes, I’ve always had a political drive. I think many people do, but it can take experiencing injustice directly to really make them realize they need to get involved.
The political moment that I believe really started me on this path was during my freshman year at Middle Tennessee State University, when I visited DC with Service Employees International Union’s Change That Works campaign, to lobby Congress to pass the Affordable Care Act. I was going to school, working, and taking care of my ailing grandmother.
I could see how much more my family would be struggling if my grandmother didn’t have access to Medicare, and that made me realize how important it was to make sure that all Americans had access to quality, affordable healthcare. This experience was the first major connection I made between the problems that my fellow Tennesseans were facing, and the political action that I could take to help solve those problems.
Tell us about the platforms you are running on.
The top three issues in my platform are expanding Medicaid, reforming our criminal justice system, and creating a family-friendly economy that works for everyone – no exceptions.
We have the ability to access federal money that’s already been set aside to expand Medicaid, which would help provide healthcare access to over 700,000 of our neighbors and stop the closure of even more rural hospitals.
We need to reform our criminal justice system by ending cash bail and making sure that justice is restorative, not punitive.
We also need to institute a worker’s bill of rights by introducing a slate of bills related to making sure all Tennesseans have access to a living wage, paid family leave, and a proper work/life balance.
I believe in the volunteer spirit so I’m advocating for policies that will give Tennesseans the support they need in order to thrive.
You gave Mike Sparks a run for his money in 2016 with a closely divided district. How are you feeling now that you have experience in your back pocket?
I’m feeling great! The numbers from 2018 show that we can win this race, and I’ve also learned more, made more connections and grown as a person since becoming a dad. Between my own personal growth, the amazing support I have this year and the incredibly important moment in history that we’re in, I believe we’ll win this race.
How do you see the political climate in Middle Tennessee? The whole state? The US? Are we in for changes in November?
I think recent election results, both nationally and in Tennessee, show that voters are looking for new leadership and especially new leadership that is younger and more diverse.
I think our country is facing multiple crises at once with the pandemic and the protests against police brutality and tough conversations about racism, and these situations are causing more and more people to realize that the status quo is not working for everyone. I expect to see change in November, up and down the ballot.
If you could tell your future constituents one thing, what would it be?
I will listen. No matter what your beliefs are, no matter whether you voted for me or not, I will listen and consider your position. I’m running to be a representative for all people in District 49, and if there’s something you’re concerned about, I’ll be there to hear you out.
There are some issues I’m very passionate about simply due to my lived experiences –– Confederate monuments, LGBTQ issues, access to healthcare –– however, I will listen to all my constituents with an open mind.
Anything else you would like to add?
In 2018, the District 49 race was decided by just 1,050 votes. We can close that gap, but we need everyone’s help. If you believe in compassion, equality, and the volunteer spirit, please go to votebrandonthomas.com and sign up to volunteer.
Brandon has a history of fighting for working-class people. From his time as Tennessee Equality Project’s State Preemption and LGBTQ Non-Discrimination Coordinator to his advocacy work as a student at MTSU, he has been involved in activism and advocacy for over a decade. Brandon lives with his husband Michael and their 2-year-old son, Ezra. To learn more about Brandon and his campaign, visit his website and social media channels.