On Her Own Terms
Connecticut’s Kid Governor looks to the future
By Cara McDonough / Photography courtesy of The Connecticut Democracy Center
Ella Briggs is nearing the end of an epic year as Connecticut’s Kid Governor. Her term has included meeting state dignitaries, talking to classrooms of fifth grade students about the issues that affect them, and recently making the rounds on a statewide library circuit to greet fans and encourage them to get more involved with her platform.
To put it simply, this young politician is for one idea above all else: Love is love.
The exuberant 11-year-old Briggs, a lesbian, remembers recognizing her true identity and coming out at an extremely young age – and gaining the immediate support of her parents. Her experience as a member of the LGBTQ community inspired her run for Kid Governor. The program, now in its fourth year, is organized by the Connecticut Democracy Center and aims to teach fifth graders about civics through an annual real-life election.
Briggs, an East Hampton resident who started middle school this fall, won that election in November of 2018 when fifth graders across the state watched campaign videos from a group of finalist candidates and cast their ballots. She ran on a platform promoting LGBTQ youth safety, with three specific points: promoting adoptions for LGBTQ youth who are homeless, training teachers how to work with LGBTQ youths, and creating programs for LGBTQ youths and their allies. She was sworn in this past January and it’s been a whirlwind since. But she’s not slowing down anytime soon. We talked to her about her experience in the role, and what’s next.
Q: How did you become Kid Governor?
A: In the beginning of fifth grade, we learned about Kid Governor and what it’s about. We watched videos of Megan Kasperowski, the past Kid Governor, and my teacher was like, “Do any of you want to be Kid Governor?” All the kids in my class raised their hands! I was like, “I’m not sure I can do this – how could I win?” But we wrote speeches about something that’s important to us, and how we were going to help on those issues. Everyone writes three plans they would do if they were elected. Then the classroom chose the top three, and then we chose the top three from the whole fifth grade, then from the whole school, and then there was voting across the whole state.
Q: Do you like the Kid Governor program and would you recommend it to other schools?
A: Yes! It’s a great way to learn about civics!
Q: How has it felt to be Kid Governor so far?
A: It’s been really great to be Kid Governor. It just makes me feel like there’s hope in the world, and that in our small little state, I can try to bring a little light to the kids who need help. And just getting people of all ages inspired to make sure that they’re showing love and support to everyone every day makes me feel so good. It’s a pretty busy schedule but I enjoy it.
Q: Do you feel like you’ve been able to accomplish a lot in the role? How does it feel to see progress being made on issues that are important to you?
A: I feel really proud of myself for what I’ve been able to accomplish this year as just an 11 year old, and I’m also really proud of everybody else who has supported me and who is trying to find themselves, and trying to know themselves a little bit better. The things I’ve accomplished this year … I think they’re pretty good. I’m still not satisfied, because I never really am, but I’m trying and I’ll keep trying once my role is over. I’m going to continue to start gay-straight alliances in schools. I’m going to keep donating and visiting and helping fellow students who need help with coming out or finding themselves. I want to make sure that everyone feels loved and safe.
Q: What was it like to come out at a young age? Do you have advice for other kids who want to come out, but are nervous about it?
A: I was about 5 or 6 years old and we went on a trip to Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark. And in Denmark there was a photo of two moms – one with short hair kind of like mine, and then another mom, welcoming home a baby that they’d just adopted. I looked at the poster for a few minutes and I was like, “Look Mommy! It’s me and my wife!” And my parents were like, “Nice, honey!” I really didn’t care about keeping a secret from anyone from then on. If you don’t accept me for this, then don’t hang out with me. I don’t want friends who aren’t nice, and I’ve been pretty open about it. I’m not making a big deal about it. I’m just being myself. What I would tell someone if they were nervous is: I am here for you, I love you, and support you. You are amazing and fabulous, and you just need to be yourself.
Q: Do you have advice for kids who want to get more involved in leadership roles, like you did?
A: I’d say it’s a lot of hard work, but nothing you really want to do comes easy, and in the end, it’s worth it!
Q: What’s next for you? Do you have goals in mind for the next few years, or after?
A: I was thinking of maybe becoming a civil rights lawyer; I don’t really know yet. Or maybe just helping friends and starting clubs. I just really want to be there for people.
Q: Would you like to stay involved with organizations here in Connecticut?
A: Yes. I would visit every pride parade that I can. I would help school organizations or go to True Colors [a youth LGBTQ advocacy group] to help.
Q: There is a lot going on in the world today. Some of it is worrisome, but a lot of it is hopeful! What are you most hopeful about? What makes you excited for the future?
A: I am hopeful because a bunch of fifth graders voted for this animal-loving, outspoken lesbian – and they voted because they liked that. So I’m looking at our generation right now and I’m feeling so excited because there are older people who are still homophobic, or they just don’t understand, and then there’s this group of fifth graders who are knocking down all the walls. I just feel so happy and excited for our generation.
Q: What would you say to the next Kid Governor?
A: I would say to try your best and really make a difference. Your plans might get fumbled around a little and changed, but it’s going to be great!