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The woman challenging Congressman Steny Hoyer, the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, in the 2022 Democratic primary has come out publicly as bisexual.
Mckayla Wilkes, a single mother of two and a progressive candidate, previously challenged Hoyer in the 2020 primary and earned 26.7% of the vote, compared to Hoyer’s 64.4%, in Maryland’s 5th Congressional District, which covers parts of Prince George’s County and Southern Maryland.
Wilkes, a Bernie Sanders-style progressive who supports Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, criminal justice reform, and racial and economic justice, announced her intention to re-challenge Hoyer, the Democratic Majority Leader, in 2022.
“It’s official! We’re launching our ’22 campaign for Congress in MD-05. Steny Hoyer has been my congressman my whole life. In 2020, we came closer than any primary challenger has in 40 years. We even won the in-person vote,” Wilkes wrote in a Facebook post dated Feb. 11. “Join us — because it’s time for some damn change.”
She also included a link to ActBlue, a Democratic and liberal-leaning fundraising platform.
“I know how hard this pandemic has been. Losing loved ones. Trying to make ends meet. Fighting for healthcare. Fighting unjust policing,” she wrote. “COVID-19 has exacerbated so many of the longstanding inequities and injustices present in our society.
“We need to keep fighting. I’m running because we need Medicare-for-All. I’m running because we need a Green New Deal. I’m running because we need a real Black Agenda. I’m running because power concedes nothing without a demand. We are going to keep demanding.
“As a grieving child, I was funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline,” Wilkes continued. “As a working mom, I’ve stood up to exploitative landlords. As a Black, Queer woman, I know how it feels to be marginalized. This is personal for me. It always has been.”
In an interview with LGBTQ Nation, Wilkes explained why she felt it was important to be open about her sexual orientation, telling the news aggregator website: “It’s essential for me personally to be able to live 100% in my truth. But I also hope to have a broader conversation around heteronormativity.”
Wilkes said she knew she was bisexual since she was nine years old and realized she had a crush on the new girl in school, but has only ever been out to a few friends.
During her last campaign, Wilkes found it frustrating that people repeatedly assume she was heterosexual, despite the fact that she never specifically mentioned her sexual orientation.
“I remember being asked, as an ally of the community, what could you do…and in my head, I’m like, ‘I’m part of that community.'”
But she said she wasn’t ready to correct those assumptions, calling her decision to stay silent a conscious one.
“I purposefully did not want to come out. [I was] afraid of what people would say, and the stigma,” she said. But, she said, “I got tired of being in the closet. I just got tired… [I decided] it shouldn’t be about how I’m going to make other people feel.”
Since Wilkes was already a staunch supporter of LGBTQ rights, she doesn’t anticipate her decision to come out changing her campaign. Her biggest pitch to voters remains that Hoyer, now 81 years old, is insufficiently progressive and has grown out of touch with working people in the district.
Similar to other progressive challengers who were successfully elected to Congress, including Reps. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), she also argues that Democratic House leadership — of which Hoyer is a part — is overly loyal to financial interests and corporate donors, and too willing to compromise with Republicans when it comes to policies that directly impact working people’s finances.
“My Congressman has been in office for almost 40 years, serving his 20th term, and I have never gotten a phone call, never gotten a text, never heard any mention of the issues that pertain to anyone in my community,” she said.
Her stances on criminal justice in particular, are informed by her own life experiences. As a teenager, she was placed in a juvenile detention center after acting out and behavior problems stemming from the loss of a close aunt during the Sept. 11 attacks.
Wilkes was previously arrested for marijuana possession at age 20 and was incarcerated at at age 24 for driving with a suspended license because she couldn’t afford to pay her parking tickets — a common occurrence for working-class people in America who can’t afford pricey legal representation or go into debt due to the various fees and fines involved with interactions with the criminal justice system.
Wilkes says her decision to run against Hoyer is fueled by the belief that ordinary people deserve a champion fighting for their interests in Congress, casting herself as part of a larger progressive movement that is reshaping politics within the Democratic Party.
“I decided to run because the movement is still there,” she said, “and we need more organizers, we need more activists, we need more people with lived experience in Congress.”
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