Candidate Profile: Torrey Harris
District 90 Candidate Torrey Harris could become the first out member of the Tennessee State Legislature this November, and his eyes are on the goal. The community leader and mentor advanced in the August Primary and could soon unseat rival Representative John DeBerry, Jr.
Representative DeBerry was removed from the Democratic Party earlier this year, in part because of his anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice votes. In contrast, Harris will walk into the voting booth with endorsements from the Democratic Women of Shelby County, the local chapter of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, Memphis for All, the LGBTQ Victory Fund, and a host of other progressive organizations. Harris says, for far too long some have been unheard.
“Every single person in this District has values they are concerned about,” says Harris. “The LGBTQ couple who wants to adopt children, the Black man who can’t afford the cash bail placed on him, the trans men and women who aren’t able to access safe and healthy reproductive services, the young person who wants to be heard, but can’t, because their Representative believes their voice doesn’t matter and that they are just young, inexperienced protesters.”
Public school funding has been a long-standing issue in District 90, and a large portion of the area lacks broadband internet. Some students attending charter schools do not even have laptops or other technology needed to attend class.
“We haven’t had a Representative in District 90 who is even willing to reply to emails or phone calls of voters, who will not take meetings with many of the nonprofit organizations in this District, who hasn’t held a Town Hall that anyone can ever remember. We haven’t seen our Representative because he has spent so much time sitting with his Republican buddies trying to dismantle our education system year after year.”
Harris vows to start in January 2021 by continuing to be accessible, communicating with those who put him in office and ensuring that voices are heard throughout Tennessee.
On election night, Harris and District 49 Candidate Brandon Thomas, another LGBT person of color, could become the first two openly LGBT members of the Tennessee State Legislature.
“Honestly, growing up, I never thought a Black President was possible, but it happened, and it has changed everything,” says Harris. “I will be making history when elected, and I hope that it empowers a trans person to run in 2022, so I can help them.”
Harris says he is hopeful that someone who represents the LGBT community will be standing in the room when Republican legislators put forth damaging legislation that greatly affects lives like his, so they have to look him in the eye when they vote.
Harris has been a vocal critic of a bill that would essentially criminalize protesters at the State Capitol. DeBerry gave a speech on the House floor back in August in favor of the bill, which would increase penalties for assaulting law enforcement or defacing property and makes camping on state property a felony.
“I feel he is out of touch,” says Harris. “I believe his intentions are good...for him. I am disgusted that a Black man believes that it’s more important to stand up for Confederate statues than to fight for a review of the funding for our children’s education. I am disappointed that a Black man who prides himself on talking about his father’s work in the Civil Rights movement is completely oblivious to this when he voted to take away the voice of protesters standing up for all of us.”
Harris says he looks forward to meeting with DeBerry after the election as they transition the seat to true progressive leadership and says he will be sure to ask him how in touch he really felt he was with the people who voted for him in the hopes that he was going to work to improve their lives.
Click here for more on Election 2020. Early voting began October 14 and runs through October 29, 2020.