While on a rescue mission in Afghanistan, MJ Hegar’s helicopter was destroyed by the Taliban. With substantial bodily injuries due to enemy gunfire, she strapped herself to the outside of a rescue aircraft and returned fire as she and others were airlifted to safety. This courageous act earned the Air Force combat veteran the Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor for her bravery.
Finding herself grounded and unable to fly, she sued the Air Force and won the 2012 court case that ended their Combat Exclusion Policy, opening the door for women seeking further combat training in the military. Today, Hegar, an enthusiastic ally of the LGBTQ community, faces a different kind of battle as she runs against John Cornyn for his seat in the U.S. Senate.
It’s 10:45 a.m. on the Wednesday of the Democratic National Convention, and Hegar has a 15-minute window available in her schedule to chat with OutSmart about her vision for Texas. “We have so much to talk about,” Hegar says with the same energy that originally propelled her to the national stage. Her campaign ad titled “Doors” that aired during her run against Congressman John Carter earned widespread acclaim, but she lost that bid to represent Texas’ 31st Congressional District by less than 3 percent. Today, building on that earned momentum, she has her eyes set on Cornyn’s Senate seat.
Hegar lays out her top priorities upon entering the Senate: “Healthcare is the number-one thing—and that was before the pandemic,” she explains. “I worked in the healthcare industry, and I know how bad the employer-provided model is for Texans. It’s a barrier to small-business creation, and obviously not ideal when you have record unemployment.” She emphasizes her support for rapid, affordable COVID testing, noting that Cornyn has only made things more difficult for Texans. “He acknowledged that the Affordable Care Act was a lifeline for people, but he’s still trying to dismantle it—without offering anything to replace it with, by the way.”
The tough-as-nails veteran recalls working alongside like-minded colleagues in the healthcare field to end discriminatory practices, “specifically within the transgender population,” Hegar notes. “Transgender patients would come in expecting to get discriminated against, so they wouldn’t disclose the hormones that they were on. That could pose a health threat to them or cause complications with other medications.” Hegar emphasizes that accessible healthcare should be nondiscriminatory. “Bottom line with healthcare: politicians keep playing politics with our lives, and they need to stop doing that.”
Hegar lists the economy as another priority. “I’m concerned that if John Cornyn wins re-election, he’ll just continue looking out for the big, wealthy special interests and not for regular hard-working families like mine.” Hegar sees the middle class and working families as the backbone of our economy, and she supports a recovery plan that benefits them. “We need transparency and accountability in relief packages. We need to acknowledge the minority businesses that have been left behind, with 95 percent of all minority-owned businesses that applied for PPP loans not getting them.” She supports raising wages and making sure corporations are “paying their fair share,” pointing to Amazon as a prime example. “I don’t want to demonize corporations just for being corporations, but we need to hold them accountable and make sure they are being good actors and not bad actors.”
Climate change is the third topic that Hegar wants the Senate to address immediately. “We want to keep the energy industry here in Texas, but we have to make sure we lead in the next chapter, which is clearly renewable energy,” Hegar says.
Shifting her focus to the LGBTQ community, Hegar emphasizes how she worked in the military alongside LGBTQ service members. “I think you’ll find that people who want to [keep LGBTQ citizens out] of the military are usually people who haven’t fought and served,” Hegar says bluntly. “People who have fought and served, and have been in the shit with bullets flying, only care whether or not you can do your job. I don’t care what religion you are, what color you are, or who you love. Love who you love, but stand and fight with me.”
Hegar has strong words for discriminatory practices in general: “Not only is it morally repugnant to discriminate against people, but it’s also really strategically ineffective.”
The fierce mom cites her two kids as the inspiration behind her run for the U.S. Senate. “I look at them and I see two amazing souls who I want to grow up and love whoever they want.” She speaks with high praise for the queer members in her own family. “I’ve seen kids come to terms with it in my family, and I’ve seen bullying. The rights of queer kids, as they come to terms with who they are, is something I’m really passionate about.” This lifelong ally of the LGBTQ community has been endorsed by the Human Rights Campaign and the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, among several other groups.
With election day approaching, Hegar lays out what six more years of John Cornyn in the Senate would mean to Texans. “Your civil liberties are never actually safe. Even when you win certain things, there’s always someone waiting for you to let your vigilance down [so they can] take those liberties back from you. Cornyn has continued to roll back civil rights, and has never been an ally to the queer community. Voting rights, access to healthcare—all the things that enable you to live your best life and work hard to put food on the table for your family—he has stood against.”
As her 15-minute window closes, Hegar concludes: “Cornyn has done nothing to address homelessness among queer youth. He has not pushed back on the attacks on our soldiers. He doesn’t stand up for science. John Cornyn is a spineless boot-licker who’s going to do what he’s told by Mitch McConnell as he fights to become Senate majority leader.”
For more information on MJ Hegar, visit mjfortexas.com.
This story appears in the October 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.