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Winter 2020 issue
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article What I Have Learned.

My Mom, Eileen Filler-Corn, was the first woman to hold the role of Leader in the Virginia Legislature, and with the electoral victories this past November, she is on her way to be the first female Speaker of the House in Virginia's 400-year-old legislature, the oldest continuous law-making body in the Western Hemisphere.

Public officials sacrifice much to serve their communities. When my Mom was first elected in 2010, there were less than 20 women in the General Assembly and she was the only mom with school-aged kids at home.

During the General Assembly session when my brother and I were still in high school, my Mom would always make it home from Richmond during the week to see us. After a day full of debating and voting on the House floor, she would somehow manage to show up to drive me to sporting or school events, and still have time to attend a community event or meet with a constituent.

While doing all that, she also worked to make the legislature more family friendly and welcoming to others. The Virginia House now has record numbers of diverse members that look much more representative of the Virginia I know.

While it inspires me to think about all of the incredible legislation that is going to pass this upcoming session with Democrats in the majority, I am especially excited about the passage of the ERA. Virginia would become the 38th state to finally put gender equality into the constitution. I can't help but think about how much work it took to get here.

Throughout the years watching her serve, I saw first-hand the patience and tireless work ethic that was required in order to make Virginia a better place to live. Even when there was no expectation of immediate action resulting from her advocacy, she never stopped speaking up and fighting on the issues that so many constituents cared about.

In her early years of serving as a Delegate in the minority, I remember learning about the shameful, disturbing practice of shackling women who were incarcerated, during childbirth. She was in a subcommittee meeting and a bill was being proposed to limit the use of restraints in these situations. I was shocked, not simply because of the topic, but because my mom was the only woman on the subcommittee and therefore the only one who had experienced childbirth. Even though she knew how dehumanizing and unnecessary this practice was, unfortunately she was outvoted. I wish I could tell the younger version of myself that by 2020, the same legislative body would include so many powerful and determined women bringing their critical, unique perspectives to the table.

Throughout the years I've watched her fight for access to contraception and common-sense gun safety bills — but there was always one issue that has been particularly impactful for me. Since 2016, I have watched her push for legislation on consent that would incorporate age appropriate, evidence-based curricula regarding the meaning of consent into family life education classes. When you really think about it, is family life education truly comprehensive without including topics related to healthy relationships or decision-making skills? For so many, the first time that consent is often discussed publicly is at a college orientation. Despite opposition, I watched as my mom worked on this legislation, year after year.

In 2017, just as the legislation had the support to pass, the wording was changed to say that this topic "may" (as opposed to "shall") be included in family life education curricula, ultimately weakening the bill. As a college student at the time, I remember calling her in disbelief. She would always tell me that the perfect can't be the enemy of the good. This not only stuck with me, but has shaped how I view social change and the importance of political engagement, no matter the circumstances. The bill was weaker than what she had fought so hard for—every survivor, every young person and every individual deserves more. Finally, in a subsequent session, the language reverted to the original proposed wording, and the final bill passed with a 91-9 vote in the House and unanimously in the Senate.

All of those years being in the minority, she never stopped working to elevate the voices of advocates. Many of her successes came about as a result of her bringing individuals to the table to share their unique stories. Whether she was working to pass a savings plan for those with disabilities, or working to expand access to health care, or many other policies she has worked on, my Mom continuously worked across the aisle to further the dialogue on so many issues.

At a time in our society when politics can feel so divisive and exhausting, leaders like my mother have proven that there's a better way. She approached policy making in a respectful way where we can engage in difficult dialogue, collaborate, share perspectives and most importantly listen and understand the perspectives of those who we may disagree with. Not unlike what she taught me growing up about respecting others, she has used that philosophy in her legislative career. I believe that's why she was able to pass legislation even while in the minority, and was voted by her Democratic colleagues into leadership. She collaborates and works with people in a respectful way. I know that's what she'll do as Speaker.

It seems fitting that the long overdue ratification of the ERA will pass under the leadership of the first woman to hold the gavel during a session with the largest number of women elected to serve in the General Assembly. This January, my mom will continue to demonstrate these core values as she presides over Virginia's most historically diverse group of elected officials in the history of the House of Delegates. I could not be more excited of what she will accomplish and could not be prouder to be her daughter.

Alana Corn is a student at Virginia Commonwealth University.