Say what you want about Bre Kidman. They’ve heard it all before.
At 31, the political newcomer is jumping into one of 2020’s most highly anticipated elections ― the Senate race in Maine ― and “flipping the bird to the notion of electability” along the way.
Kidman, who prefers the pronouns they, them and their, has made history as the first openly non-binary person to run for Senate and, if elected, they would be the first openly transgender person to serve in Congress.
“I felt called to do everything I could to stand up to a system where it looks to me as though fascism is rising in the United States,” Kidman said. “I had this very strong feeling that I have to do everything I can do to stop that.”
It would be an understatement to say winning the Democratic Party’s nomination and defeating Republican incumbent Sen. Susan Collins next year will be a challenge. Kidman recognizes their bid is a longshot. But that’s not stopping them from giving it everything they’ve got to win, including being as transparent about their background as possible.
The criminal defense attorney, still working to pay off their law school loans, enthusiastically describes themselves as a tattooed, plus-sized queer millennial who enjoys burlesque dancing and has never run for office.
“I won’t hide who I was before I started running to represent Mainers,” Kidman notes on their campaign website. “I am not slick or polished, but I am smart and passionate.”
“We’ve reached a point now where the influence of money in politics has made it virtually impossible to get ordinary people to have a voice.””
Earlier this month, while electronically filing their financial disclosure forms for the race, Kidman noticed there wasn’t an appropriate honorific offered in the e-file system for their gender. The options included Dr., Rev. and The Honorable, in addition to the traditional gender-based options of Mrs., Ms. or Mr. ― but not the non-binary option of Mx. or the ability to opt out.
Kidman notified the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Ethics and, within a week, Mx. had been added to the drop-down menu.
“It’s a small fix,” they said. “It’s not like I was battling for my life to make this happen. But at the same time, the next non-binary person to run for Senate isn’t going to look at that drop-down menu and feel like there isn’t a space for them.”
They continued: “Just knowing that there’s one less hurdle because I was here … If we can remove some of the barriers to trans people getting adequate representation in our government then it will have been worth it.”
For a time, practicing law and organizing community arts events felt fulfilling enough for the Rhode Island native. But everything changed in October when Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court.
Kidman was one of dozens of Mainers to fly down to Washington in an effort to convince Collins to vote against Kavanaugh, who has expressed anti-abortion views and faced multiple sexual misconduct allegations from the 1980s.
Collins, a so-called moderate and pro-choice Republican, was generally considered to be one of three swing votes. She ultimately cast her ballot in Kavanaugh’s favor, cementing his place on the bench and drawing outrage from Democrats and abortion rights activists worried about the fate of Roe v. Wade.
The result left Kidman feeling disillusioned by Congress. They decided they could change the system from within, even if some might not think Mainers were ready to elect a non-binary transgender person with very little political experience.
“I think the notion of electability is kind of what got us into this mess,” Kidman said. “We’re in this place where the people who are supposed to represent us are, by and large, making themselves into marketing products. They need to package themselves a certain way so they can get as much money as possible.”
“I’m not insensitive to the idea that running for office is expensive,” they added. “However, I think that we’ve reached a point now where the influence of money in politics has made it virtually impossible to get ordinary people to have a voice.”
Kidman’s always felt like an outsider growing up in the affluent Providence suburb of Barrington. They described their childhood as chaotic, interspersed with moments of happiness and trauma. Frequent visits to see family in Maine, what Kidman called their “happy place,” offered a reprieve from the challenges back home.
A 7-year-old Kidman missed months of school due to an illness. The medication they took to recover made them gain weight, and when Kidman returned to school, bullies used this as an excuse to target them.
Around the age of 10, Kidman said they knew they were queer. They confided in a friend who then told the rest of the school and subjected them to further bullying. At age 15, they were the victim of sexual violence while studying abroad in Finland.
“I was not a super happy kid,” Kidman said. “[Being sexually assaulted] had a tremendous impact on my life. I spent the better part of the next five years figuring out how to live with that.”
Kidman completed their undergraduate studies at Loyola University in Chicago and earned their law degree in 2016 from the University of Maine School of Law in Portland. It was in this artsy, progressive city where they found the community they always longed for.
“I’ve been waiting for these people my whole life,” Kidman recalls. “It was a bunch of queer and trans or queer and trans adjacent folk who really cared about building a culture of body positivity and consent-focused sex positivity and art but with a social justice lens. I started organizing with those folks and I never looked back.”
Though Kidman has received support from some Maine Democrats and left-leaning groups, they’re up against two well-known candidates also seeking to unseat Collins.
Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon, a top-tier recruit in the race, has already nabbed key endorsements from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and NARAL Pro-Choice America. Betsy Sweet, a lobbyist who came in third in last year’s gubernatorial race, has the backing of the Democrats For America.
But if Kidman’s campaign helps make elections more inclusive ― and it already has ― then they know it will all have been worth it.
That belief was reaffirmed earlier this month when a group of LGBTQ teenagers approached Kidman at Portland’s annual Pride parade and, though tears, said they never thought they’d see “someone like us” running for Senate.
“Those reactions keep me motivated to do this,” Kidman said.
Uphill battle aside, Kidman says they’re in it to win it. Their progressive platform is focused on campaign finance reform and supports progressive climate policy, the Fight For $15 movement and the expansion of women’s reproductive rights. As the Maine equivalent of a public defender, they’re also promoting criminal justice reform and tackling America’s mass incarceration crisis.
“Despite all of these things that make me unlike the majority of the population, let alone the majority of Mainers, these are things that I hope to translate to all people who are middle class and struggling,” Kidman said.
“I want to fight for people who are having that experience regardless of whether they are LGBTQ or straight or religious or secular, regardless of what groups they are from,” they added. “The most important thing to me is that we’re making space for everyone.”