Denial is the dynamic and fascinating documentary of the first American CEO to transition while in office. What starts as a son filming his father’s fight to transform the energy industry, uniquely morphs and parallels into the extraordinary story of his father’s fight to transition into Christine Hallquist (Vermont energy CEO and first Transgender Candidate for Governor).
Before Christine Hallquist was running for Governor of Vermont, she was David Hallquist, the CEO of the largest locally owned electric utility in Vermont. A self-described “closet environmentalist” Hallquist is dedicated to addressing the way electricity use in America contributes to climate change. But his mission is balanced with the utility’s charge to provide affordable and reliable service. For Hallquist, increasing the efficiency of the grid is the only meaningful route to merging these priorities.
He implements one of the country’s first ‘smart’ grids, decreasing outages, increasing the capacity for renewable sources and building a national reputation as an energy pioneer. Resistance, however, comes in many forms – traditionalists balk at the renewable intermittency, solar and wind advocates think Hallquist is dragging his feet, and the public fears that ‘smart’ meters on their homes will send private information about their energy use to the government.
As Hallquist struggles to build the kind of transparent company whose honest approach can get stakeholders to accept the realities of how we generate and deliver electricity, he realizes he must apply that same transparency to his personal life and reveals to his son a lifelong secret. Dave Hallquist, who presents as a chainsaw-wielding, hard hat-wearing CEO in a male-dominated industry is a woman inside.
Now, Derek’s family must face facts that feel far more immediate than the melting of the polar ice caps and denial emerges as a common theme linking all of these issues. Ultimately the personal and the societal come together as Derek learns that his father, newly named Christine, is still indeed his father – and that Christine’s unique perspective as the first American Transgender CEO to transition in office, may be just the what the limiting, binary worldview on energy and the environment needs.
Christine David Hallquist is the first Transgender candidate for Governor in the United States. She moved to Vermont in 1976, first living in Essex Junction, and then settling with her spouse Pat in 1984 in Hyde Park next to the Green River Reservoir. In 1998, she joined Vermont Electric Coop as an engineering and technology consultant, bringing a background in process engineering from her work with leading information technology companies and consulting for top manufacturers. In 2000, Christine became Engineering and Operations Manager, and then its Chief Executive Officer in 2005, after the Coop acquired the assets of a larger investor-owned utility. At the beginning of Christine’s tenure as CEO, the Coop was in severe financial distress, and the state was considering pulling its certificate of public good.
Christine has always believed that people begin each day wanting to do the best job possible. As head of VEC, she viewed her job as empowering the Coop’s employees by giving them the tools they needed to do so. Embracing this philosophy, Christine worked with VEC’s 107 employees to not only rebuild the Coop’s finances, but also to transform it into a national leader on using renewable sources of electricity production to combat climate change. She was the chair of the strategies and technical advisory committees of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association where she advocated for innovative technology that enabled high penetration of renewables onto the grid. Today, under Christine’s visionary leadership and steady hand, VEC’s bond ratings are solid, and the Coop has not had a rate increase in more than four years. VEC meets 96 percent of its energy needs from carbon-free sources, compliance with the state’s goals to achieve the 100 percent renewable mandate for 2050.
Over the years Christine has also devoted her time and leadership skills to her local community. She has served as Hyde Park Town Meeting Day Moderator for the past five years, served twelve years on the Lamoille Economic Development Corporation Board, chaired the Sterling Area Services Mental Health Board, and served on the Hyde Park School Board. She is a member of United Community Church in Morrisville. In speaking about her time at VEC and her work at the community level, Christine has stated that “the values of cooperation among cooperatives and concern for community are a great basis for leadership at the state level. The power of people who want to do good, working together, is more powerful than their individual skills.”
Christine’s experience as head of VEC and her national prominence as an expert on the electric grid and climate change inspired her cinematographer son Derek to direct the biographical documentary about her entitled Denial. While in the process of filming Denial in 2015, Christine made the decision, after years of holding it inside, to come out as her true self, a transgender woman, becoming the first business leader in the country to transition while in office.
For relaxation, Christine is happiest when floating on the reservoir in summer in her old tractor tire inner tube. She also enjoys playing the piano, telemark and backcountry skiing, running, fishing, and sharing stories with friends and family. One of the things people often recognize Christine for is her great sense of humor and positive energy. Christine has three wonderful children and two grandchildren. Working to ensure that Vermont remains the special, inclusive and progressive place that it has always been, not only for her children and grandchildren, but also for future generations of Vermonters, is what motivates Christine to seek the honor and opportunity to serve the people of Vermont as its next governor.
This powerfully candid, surprising doc is an inspiration for National Trans Awareness Week Nov. 12th -19th.
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.