by Melinda Lejman | photos by Joan Allison
George Boyington doesn’t look sick. Recently elected as parliamentarian to the Shelby County Young Democrats, and a Focus Trailblazer Award nominee, Boyington appears fresh and alert in a summer suit and browline eyeglasses. However, recent threats to Obamacare weigh heavy on his mind. Born and raised in Memphis, Boyington has battled a rare brain disorder since childhood and requires ongoing medical care. Recently, his Facebook post went viral when he learned that the house had voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). “I don’t appear to be ill, and I wanted to share my testimony,” says Boyington of his motivation to post on social media. “We need to get together and stop this. Health insurance is life for many of us.”
Boyington has always been politically minded. By day he works as a political consultant and spends much of this time in and around city hall. He chose public service because he believes it’s the one career path that touches on everything else. An only child, Boyington was homeschooled during high school due to his health. “My life is really tied into having access to care, and that fact that they would want to take that from anyone, it’s fundamentally wrong.”
Using his voice and “getting on his soapbox” is just one way Boyington works to resist the threats to health care, as well as LGBT issues. In 2014, he served on Mayor Wharton’s LGBT Task Force which gave him substantive experience in LGBT policy. “You’d be surprised at what we can do and what we can’t do,” says Boyington. “A lot of what a local government can do is tied by how restrictive Republicans in Nashville are, but just the same, there are a lot of things we can do.” Specifically, Boyington points to the appointment of Davin Clemmons to serve as LGBTQ liaison to the Memphis Police Department, and a formal policy written to address transgender city employees during their transitioning.
It’s not simply about public service, however. Boyington’s ex-wife is a transgender woman who called him in tears the day Trump was announced the winner of the 2016 presidential election. “The first thing I said was, ‘Go get your passport, go get your documents, go get everything in order, because you might not be able to get these things later.’” Refusing to so much as acknowledge Gay Pride month in June, Trump appears to be amping up anti-LGBTQ sentiment with his recent ban on transgender military service. After the election, Boyington remembers the reluctant hopefulness of many in the community. “Everybody was like, ‘It might be ok, just wait and see,’” recalls Boyington. “But sometimes you have to take people at their word. He said he was going to come for us, and he’s been very consistently coming.”
At a time when the Democratic party across national, state, and local levels are planning for a sustained resistance, Boyington advocates for ongoing and consistent action. “Vote early and vote often,” he says. “Local government is the foundation of everything that goes on nationally. If we had people there every day to hold government’s feet to the fire, they would be afraid of us,” says Boyington. “Right now, I don’t think they are, because we’re not there in those numbers every week to let them know we will hold them accountable.”
According to Boyington, representatives aren’t being held accountable at the ballot box, and points to low voter turnout in the last presidential election. In addition to voting, Boyington stresses the importance of getting involved in your issues. “I am at city council and county commission meetings almost every time they are held, and one thing I notice is the regulars, the lobbyists, elected officials, those with something on the agenda, and nobody else.” However, the resistance is sprouting up in grassroots activism more and more often. “One thing I’ve been encouraged to see is that people have been out there in the streets,” says Boyington, referring to recent ICE raids in Memphis and his role on the rapid response team. “I was so proud of people for mobilizing and getting engaged,” says Boyington. “This is an example of what we can do whenever an issue arises.”
While Democratic organizations throughout Shelby County and Tennessee are gearing up for the 2018 elections, Boyington thinks it’s too soon to be making endorsements for Democratic candidates. Pointing to past candidates who were DINOs (Democrats in name only), Boyington emphasis the importance of new party candidates doing the work on issues that matter to constituents. “We had big business Republicans looking to advance in progressive and Democratic communities who basically put a “D” in front of their name just to win in those areas, “ says Boyington.
Today, Democrats are looking for more to get an endorsement. “We made a pledge that you have to come to the party, you have to tell us what you’re doing to do in advance of the Democratic platform,” says Boyington. “And then, based on our responsibilities as elected officials, we will decide if we give you that Democratic endorsement. It’s not automatic anymore.”
Despite his concerns over the future of health care, LGBT issues, and the hard work ahead for the Democratic party, Boyington is overall hopeful. “Elections don’t happen overnight,” says Boyington. “What we’re doing today forms the resistance for the 2020 presidential election.” He also believes that in the end, the battle over health care will end in favor of those who so desperately rely on it. “In the end, I believe that it’s going to be better and stronger than it was before,” Boyington says. “How we get there and when we get that better thing, I can’t say. There might be a long road, but it’s what the American people want.”