The Texas Democratic Party (TDP) is taking further steps to show its commitment to queer Texans.
As part of a new program that reaches out to minority groups with low voter-turnout rates, the political advocacy organization hired Mae Hardebeck as its first LGBTQ+ constituency organizer in March.
“I think being a Democrat in Texas right now is so exciting [because] there’s so much room to grow,” Hardebeck, 24, says. “[It’s time] for people to be heard and be at the forefront of the change that’s about to come.”
Originally from Needham, Massachusetts, Hardebeck moved to Austin last June to prepare for her new role. In addition to Hardebeck, the TDP hired several other new constituency organizers for different communities, such as people with disabilities, Latinx communities, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Generation Z and Millenials.
“As a team, we are working in a very intersectional, collaborative way to bring a “no one-size-fits-all” approach to traditional organizing,” Hardebeck explains. “We’re [implementing] very specifically tailored programs and strategies to be able to reach our constituencies across Texas, while understanding that it’s going to take [these same] communities to build up those strategies.”
In addition to collaborating with politically underrepresented communities, the TDP’s new constituency organizers plan to build coalitions among advocacy and political groups to facilitate relationships between statewide and organizational leaders doing work on the ground. The program is also designed to create resources for communities and provide training for those working with these groups.
As a queer woman, Hardebeck understands that her role as an LGBTQ+ constituency organizer involves recognizing the nuances within the queer community. “There is such a plurality within the constituency, and for my constituencies, I really want to center trans and nonbinary issues, especially when it comes to voter registration and voting,” Hardebeck says. “That includes [sharing information about] what to expect during the voting process, what ID they need, what is and isn’t allowed to happen at their polling location, and what to do when facing voter intimidation.”
This information and more can be found on the TDP’s website, MyTexasVotes.com, and its new Voter Assistance Hotline, 844-TX-VOTES.
Hardebeck says that extending voters’ knowledge of their rights is a commonality shared between the TDP and existing organizations in Texas, and she plans to extend her outreach to groups on the ground of the queer rights movement.
“I’m not starting from scratch,” Hardebeck says. “One of my strategies is to reach out to the organizations that have been doing this work for so long, like the Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT).”
Although collaborations between the TDP and statewide organizations have always existed, the new constituency-organizer program hopes to begin building what Hardebeck calls an “infrastructure” that will reach into and connect intersections of identity within the LGBTQ+ community. The primary goal of Hardebeck’s work is to have people feel seen and heard while building a sustainable, trusting relationship with the TDP that lasts beyond Election Day in November.
“I do have very personal ties to this work, and I think all of the constituency organizers can agree that our personhood is a part of our work now,” Hardbeck admits. “Having those ties makes this work extremely emotional, so
I want to be there for communities and listen—I want to have authentic conversations with folks that have been waiting for a long time to speak and to be heard and be seen.”
Hardebeck’s experience with intersecting identities is not limited to her queerness. Growing up, the Asian-American woman attended Japanese school on the weekends and eventually went to college in her mother’s hometown of Sendai, Japan, to study quantitative social science. It was there that Hardebeck began to ponder the connections between language, culture, gender, and societal expectations around self-expression.
Hardebeck cites Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Brett Kavanaugh, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s congressional win in New York, as pivotal moments that moved her to work for the TDP. “There are just certain moments in political history that shift the whole world, and [Ford’s testimony] was one of those moments for me,” Hardebeck says. “[AOC’s] win made me shift from having a lot of the cynical feelings to thinking, ‘Why shouldn’t I also be someone that can contribute hope to people or to a movement?’”
Hardebeck now sees the work the TDP does as part of a larger movement in the United States—and specifically in Texas—to connect with folks from every part of the political spectrum.
“I’m going to meet people where they’re at, and encourage them in a way that I believe will change the world and change our communities’ lives for the better,” Hardebeck says. “I know it’s going to be special because we have a chance to make such a big difference, and I’m willing to work my ass off for that.”
This article appears in the April 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.