Metro Weekly

DC’s first lesbian presidential elector: Casting vote for Biden-Harris a “bittersweet” honor

Barbara Helmick hopes to use her position to highlight the importance of D.C. statehood

president, joe biden, elector, electoral college, kamala harris, dc, lesbian
Photo: Barbara Helmick

The District of Columbia’s first lesbian presidential elector says she’s “thrilled” to get to vote for the first woman vice president.

Longtime D.C. resident Barbara Helmick, one of three presidential electors selected by the DC Democratic Party to cast a vote in the Electoral College, says, “As a feminist, I’m proud and thrilled to have [the] opportunity” to vote for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris.

In addition, as the District’s first openly lesbian presidential elector, Helmick is “proud to have broken that glass ceiling,” noting that only one other LGBTQ individual — Jeff Coudriet, a now-deceased former staffer for longtime Councilmember Jack Evans — has ever been selected for the honor.

“Every opportunity to have our community visibly recognized in any way is always an accomplishment,” she says. “So that’s one thing our community can be proud of, that one of our three electors this year is an out gay person.”

Helmick, 70, an out lesbian progressive activist who resides in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood, has been involved for decades with several local political organizations, including the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s top LGBTQ political organization; the League of Women Voters; DC for Democracy, and, in the 1990s, the Democratic Party State Committee.

She currently works as the director of programs for DC Vote, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to achieving statehood and full voting representation for District of Columbia residents.

“Each state and D.C. has their own process for selecting electors, and traditionally, the district would select either members of the district council or school board,” notes Helmick. “But this year, the Democratic Party came up with the idea of selecting ‘real’ people who reflect the values and issues that are important to us as a District. And they knew they wanted to have at least one person representing our campaign to achieve full equality through statehood, and picked me.”

Helmick says it’s an honor to be selected as a presidential elector, saying it shows people have a significant amount of trust in her. 

“This is a critical step in one of the most important elections we have for president and vice president, and the individual casting the electoral votes must be trusted and respected,” she says.

It’s also bittersweet, because we don’t have full voting rights,” Helmick adds. “We don’t have full representation. We don’t have self-rule. So I am pleased to be able to use whatever platform I have as an elector to remind people that we remain not full citizens, not full participants in this American dream of democracy. So we must continue our campaign to become the 51st State.”

Helmick says that, as an LGBTQ person, the District’s lack of full voting rights and right to self-governance has impacted the community greatly over the years. For example, in the 1990s, Congress blocked an attempt by the D.C. Council to pass a robust civil unions law that would have guaranteed insurance coverage for dependents, as well as extended other legal benefits to same-sex couples and their families.

“Statehood is a critical issue for all of us who are in any kind of ‘marginalized’ community, where someone who doesn’t like us in Congress can make our lives harder,” she says. “So I think it’s important to remind people that statehood is an important issue to the LGBTQ community, too.”

While Helmick has promised to be a faithful elector, she’s generally skeptical of the idea of the Electoral College, and would prefer electing a president by popular vote.

“I will honor my pledge to be a faithful elector. I do not believe in changing the rules in the middle of the game,” she says. “Having said that, I am a huge supporter of moving to the popular vote for election. Certainly, the roots of the Electoral College are not great, and I do not think it’s a good reflection of the true values of our American system. At the same time, I’m happy to participate in it as long as we have it.”

She says she’s particularly skeptical of attempts by some supporters of Trump to overturn the election results by encouraging states to select different electors who will not carry out the will of the voters of their respective states.

“There’s a very narrow path for them to really mess this up. But that’s what they would be doing,” she says. “It would be a terrible thing for democracy. It’s just part of the long list of destructive actions that this administration has rained on us the last four years.”

See also: Joe Biden pledges to have “most pro-equality administration in history”

On Dec. 14, Helmick will officially cast her vote for president and vice president, along with two other D.C. women, both of whom are frontline workers: Jacqueline Echavarria, a grocery store cashier at Safeway and former police officer who’s active with the food and commercial workers union, and Meedie Bardonille, a registered nurse and chair of the D.C. Board of Nursing.

“My understanding is that the mayor and the party have determined the actual vote will take place at the Convention Center so there’s lots of room for social distancing, and there will be a very limited number of people who can attend in person. I understand they’re looking at how they can livestream the vote to make it more accessible to so many more people,” says Helmick, adding that Mayor Muriel Bowser will “likely make a few remarks.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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