SM: In many ways, the most challenging and rewarding parts are one in the same. Writing "Tomorrow Will Be Different" was a deeply emotional experience for me. Re-living some of the most difficult moments of my life, particularly the passing of my husband Andy, was exceptionally difficult. But I also felt blessed to have the time and opportunity to dive back into my positive memories with him. It was healing to pull out the memories that bring a smile to my face, rather than a tear to my eye, and to remember all of those experiences that had, unfortunately, been so consumed in my mind by his later battle with cancer. In many ways, writing this book was the grieving process that I never let myself have after Andy passed because I jumped so quickly back into our advocacy work.
DTH: Tell me about your work for the Human Rights Campaign? What do you hope to achieve?
SM: Quite simply, we're working to achieve equality for all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. We're working to defeat the politics of hate, whether they are coming from the White House or the North Carolina legislature. We're continuing our efforts to open hearts, change minds and move inclusive policies forward in workplaces, hospitals, schools and neighborhoods across the country. And we're tirelessly fighting for full equality in the eyes of both the law and society, including nationwide comprehensive protections from discrimination that finally protect LGBTQ people throughout daily life.
DTH: What messages do you hope people will take from your memoir?
SM: I started writing this shortly after Donald Trump's election and during the first few months of his administration. And in writing the book then and drawing lessons from my experiences through the previous six years, I was able to rekindle my hope. I was reminded of all of the progress I've been able to see and was re-convinced of the goodness of people and the simple fact that change remains possible.
During the last month of Andy's life, my brother, a radiation oncologist who has seen far too many people pass away, told me, "This is going to be difficult, but look around you and take stock in acts of amazing grace that you see." It was sage advice that helped me find light in that darkness. But I had never universalized that perspective in my life after Andy's death. So as I was writing this book and remembering those lessons while simultaneously seeing unprecedented marches, protesters filling airports to protect refugees and diverse voices finally being heard, I thought to myself "amazing grace." In many ways, that amazing grace is the story of the last year. In the end, hope only makes sense in the face of hardship. I hope readers will come away feeling more hopeful than when they started the book.
DTH: Have you felt like the current political climate has affected your agenda and goals? Up until now, I know the Democratic Party has been very supportive of you, and do you feel like the shift to the new administration has affected that?
SM: During the eight years of the Obama administration, we experienced unprecedented progress on LGBTQ equality. Following the 2016 election, we went from a presidency of progress to a presidency of prejudice. Since taking office, Donald Trump and Mike Pence have rescinded life-saving guidance promoting the protection of trans students, appointed anti-equality extremists to the federal bench and administration positions (and) are attempting to grant a sweeping anti-LGBTQ license to discriminate for health care providers. And, in a series of erratic tweets, this administration targeted transgender troops for discrimination.
At the federal level, we're in a much more defensive posture with Donald Trump and Mike Pence in the White House. But these federal attacks are coming the heels of years of attacks at the state level, and we are utilizing the lessons we learned as a community and movement in North Carolina after HB2, which is that when diverse LGBTQ voices are heard, when we organize and mobilize, we can still defeat the politics of fear and division, of misinformation and discrimination.
DTH: What initially inspired you to be such a leader in this movement?
SM: For me, coming out was the hardest thing I had ever done up until that point, and yet, it was still relatively easy compared to the experiences of so many in the LGBTQ community. I didn't lose my family, I didn't fear being discriminated against at school or work, and I didn't face violence. I want to make sure that the privileges I had in coming out are no longer a privilege, but rather a right guaranteed to all people, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity.
DTH: What was speaking at the Democratic National Convention like?
SM: It was an inspiring experience to speak at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. I was so nervous, but felt a real sense of responsibility to my community as the first transgender person to speak at a major party convention. It was bittersweet because I wish my husband Andy had lived to see that day. And it was comforting. It was comforting to witness the love, energy and support that filled that arena. It was a clear statement that there is a growing alliance of allies around this country who see us, who love us and who are fighting with us to make sure that every person is treated with the dignity and respect we deserve. While the election didn't turn out like we hoped, those allies are still by our side through every fight.
DTH: Who would you say has inspired and helped you the most throughout the many hardships you have had?
SM: When I came out, my parents were scared, but made clear that they loved me and accepted me. The night after I came out, my father went online and googled the word "transgender." He came across a survey that found that 41 percent of trans people attempt suicide at some point in their lives. But he also saw that that number drops significantly when the transgender person is accepted by their family and drops even further when the person is accepted by their community. That night, my parents dedicated themselves to demonstrating unwavering support publicly because they understood that acceptance creates an expectation, while rejection provides an excuse. While a number of relationships have made a real difference for me, my parents support of me from the start made a massive difference in my life.
DTH: For anyone out there struggling with the same troubles and discrimination you had, what would you tell them?
SM: I always try to reflect on something I've learned in the challenges I've faced. Everyone does hold some kind of insecurity. Whether it’s your sexual orientation, gender identity, how you look, what you sound like, what you do for a living or any multitude of characteristics, everyone struggles with something that society has told them is wrong. But as LGBTQ people, we have had the courage to embrace something that many think we should be ashamed of. We have stood up and decided to live our truth, not just from a place of authenticity, but so often from a place of pride. We have exercised our own individual agency and power to overcome what was once an insecurity to hold our heads high and proclaim: “This is who I am, and there is nothing wrong with me.” And the bullies see that. They see our power and they are jealous of it. They envy the agency we have been able to exercise and the clear power we hold. So often that is where their hate and vitriol come from. We are powerful.