Winsome Conviction Project logo


Today’s episode is a joint podcast with the Think Biblically podcast, and we have a great conversation with artist and Connecticut state representative Treneé McGee, who is a pro-life member of the Democratic Party. Rep. McGee has a knack for holding together responsibilities and convictions that don’t often go together in our current political climate — artist/politician and pro-life/Democrat. She shares her backstory and talks through some of the challenges and opportunities of engaging the black community and women on pro-life related issues, including ideas for engaging state and local governments. This recording took place as part of a broader initiative at Biola’s campus to honor National Sanctity of Human Life Day.


Scott Rae: What's it like to be a pro-life Democrat in a state legislature? How does it work to be pro-life in the African-American community? I answer these questions and more with a very special guest today that I'll tell you more about in just a moment. This is a joint podcast with Think Biblically and the Winsome Conviction Project, both from Biola University. I'm your Think Biblically host, Scott Rae. I'm joined by my colleague, co-host Rick Langer from the Winsome Conviction Project.

Our guest is Treneé McGee. Treneé is a powerful voice of her generation, serving as a speaker, advocate, and artist to the nation and abroad, an advocate in areas of racial equality, education, arts exploration, and whole life solutions. She earned a BFA in acting from Marymount Manhattan College and a certificate from the Umbra Institute in Perugia, Italy.

Treneé's passion for the arts began at age three when she booked TV commercials all over the world. In 2020, she established her own production company, TDM Productions and Acting Studio for new artists in pursuit of their passion for the arts. After serving as the youngest person on her town's council, in December of 2021 Treneé became the youngest black woman elected to the Connecticut General Assembly, representing 116th district.

Treneé is dedicated to the holistic wellbeing of women and families as a whole life advocate. In 2021, Renee joined the board of Pro-Black Pro-Life, a nonprofit organization dedicated to engaging conversations within the black community regarding issues of life. She's a member of Dems for Life. One of her favorite quotes from John Lewis is, "If not us, then who? If not now, then when?"

Treneé, welcome. So glad to have you with us.

Treneé McGee: Thank you. I'm excited to be here.

Scott Rae: This is a great opportunity to have this conversation.

Treneé McGee: Thank you.

Scott Rae: We're just in the aftermath of Sanctity of Life Sunday that was celebrated many churches across the country. Tell us a bit of your backstory. How did you become interested in politics? Were there people who were influential as mentors, or particular experiences that galvanized your involvement?

Treneé McGee: I never thought I would be in politics. It wasn't a dream. It wasn't anything I thought I'd be doing. It's sort of where God placed me, and it kind of happened very quickly and abruptly. But government, history were my favorite subjects in school, so I kind of do think back on that. I used to really enjoy watching Christiane Amanpour, the days of good journalism, good neutral journalism.

I could connect the dots today, I understand how I got here, but a lot of the mentors to me were just people that helped me locally. All of my constituents, they've served as mentors because a lot of them sort of brought me into the political space. So they are big time my mentors, advocates. They've imparted and educated. A lot of times, even when we come together, it's just for fellowship just to talk about our lives. Relationships are so important when doing this work anyway. They've been great mentors to me and assets. As well as my parents; because my parents never limited us, my siblings and I, they never made us feel like we couldn't do anything. We just knew we had to work hard at doing it. So I'm grateful for my parents as well; big time mentors.

Rick Langer: You said this kind of happened unexpectedly or something. How did you get connected? It sounds like you started on a city council.

Treneé McGee: Yeah.

Rick Langer: I mean, I assume you weren't just walking down the street one day and they invited you in, but on the other hand it sounds like it was unexpected.

Treneé McGee: This is going to get really interesting. I used to compete in pageants. I did the Miss Connecticut Scholarship Organization Pageant about three times competed. I would always win interview and get top awards and stuff. I did a lot of community service through it and doing community service through pageantry is how I met the city council of that time, because I had presented. I was doing an event, I was raising money for Children's Miracle Network Hospitals, and I met some of the council people. I was working out at a gym, and right next to the gym was the headquarters. One of the women was like, "Come inside. We remember you doing community service in the city. You'd be great politically." And I was just like kind of, "There's no way." I still didn't see that for myself. I didn't know at that point where I was going, but I did not see that for myself exactly.

Scott Rae: How old were you at that time?

Treneé McGee: 23.

Scott Rae: Just out of college?

Treneé McGee: Yep, just out of college. Yep. I had turned, I think, 24. I was very young. I mean, I'm young now too, but I'll be 30 in July. So, that and where I started, a world of a difference.

Rick Langer: I  bet. You describe yourself as an artist, also a state representative, and those two aren't things that just pop together into my mind at least. How do you find them going together?

Treneé McGee: A lot of artists are very political. There's social conscious theater, there's political theater. To me, it's the political space that has to make more room for the arts. But the artistic space, there are shows on Broadway. You have House of Cards. I think at one moment there was a show called Scandal. You have all these different movies and shows that sort of depict the White House. So artists are kind of used to that.

And in fact, to me, a lot of my artistic nature helps me in politics, because as artists, you're not really afraid to address things that are difficult. Even if it is difficult, you might put it in a poem for it to be palatable. So the artistic side helps big time. Yeah, it definitely helps. And they run adjacent. I mean, you have a lot of actors. Sometimes a lot of what they promote is propaganda is not the truth. But you have a lot of actors that will endorse a candidate and they get a lot of followers from that. You have a lot of actors who promote certain things to generate buzz around political candidates. You have some actors and artists who are canceled because of who they support. So it's very common in that space. They kind of run adjacent.

The first bill that I introduced and it passed was a theater tax credit bill. That's just my passion. It's what I love to do. God has helped me to bring them together in an interesting way.

Scott Rae: I take it that your acting background too has helped you when you're in front of the cameras too.

Treneé McGee: Yes, definitely in front of the cameras. Definitely public speaking big time. Yeah.

Scott Rae: Now, speaking of things that don't often go together, in our current political climate, being a pro-life Democrat are not two things I think that most people associate as going together.

Treneé McGee: Yeah.

Scott Rae: Tell us a little bit about how you hold both your pro-life convictions but in your Democratic Party affiliation.

Treneé McGee: One in three Democrats are pro-life. So there are actually a lot of pro-life Democrats. There's millions. I just think that they're a silent majority. They're a silent few. Just like, I mean, in this generation we see a lot of pro-choice Republicans. So it really is kind of like a stark contrast. For me, I think sometimes you have to see and hear a person be what it is you know are to then gain courage to know you can do and be the same.

Fannie Lou Hamer and some of the original advocates of the Civil Rights movement were very pro-life. In fact, Dr. King's brother, I think he was AJ King, was very pro-life. He was like the pro-life wing of civil rights. He was murdered as well. And so when he was murdered, that sort of went away. But the civil rights movement did include a big wing of pro-life action. And to me, even when Margaret Sanger tried to even advocate for birth control to be pushed into inner city communities, they didn't want it because they were just a few generations removed from slavery so they wanted to actually build their families.

So I guess for me, in the black community, it isn't an anomaly. It's kind of normal to see women or people who are black and pro-life and Democrat. In fact, one election I ran, my candidate was like, "She's a Democrat and she's pro-life." And some of my constituents were like, "Well, we're pro-life Democrats too." And it was kind of a shocker.

I think there's kind of a moderacy in a lot of Democrats, this being stirred up a little bit, that maybe scares certain people in positions of power. And then in reality as well, I think a lot of people are not really educated on the abortion platform at all. And even the Democratic Party, they only really took that stance when Hillary Clinton ran. Because I don't think Obama took, abortion wasn't a part of his political platform. And the president before then, I think Hilary believed it will help her a bit as a woman.

So I think we're in this big tent space, and I think it's healthy to stay there. Because there are a lot of Democrats that, even if they are not pro-life, they're not pro-birthdate abortions, they're not pro-infanticide, they're not pro- after a certain amount of time, the reality.

Scott Rae: I'm encouraged to hear that. Why do you think that the public perception is so different than the reality?

Treneé McGee: Oh my goodness. There's something that people say a lot of times in certain positions of authority, and that is, "Perception is reality." So to hear that is just... I mean, I think it's just how we maybe kind of all assume that women who are Republicans hate themselves, or that Republicans are all racist. I think it's just kind of this thing when you're able to control the media, when you're able to control minds, and you're able to control people, you're able to really dictate the way in which narratives take place. And if everyone was awakened and if everyone was empowered by truth, then we would have a more functional, non-divisive community and world that I don't think people really want.

Rick Langer: I remember, I think it was Bernie Sanders who made a comment in the 2016 election cycle that someone asked him about pro-life Democrats, and he roughly speaking answered, "We don't want them." I mean, it was beyond an implication of unwelcome. It seemed to be a statement of that. And I wonder, have you felt that from other Democrats? Or you just feel like an anomaly? Because that seemed weird to me. It seemed extreme in some sense.

Treneé McGee: So a lot of people have left the Democratic Party and have gone independent for some of the abortion stances. And this just an example, a lot of young have left the Republican Party and they've gone independent because they haven't addressed racial inequity. So that's legit an example of how people are dissatisfied with both of these parties. There were Democrats that did not like my stance of course, but I will say that I was really supported by a good group of Democrats. I was. And I share that because I think people would want to hear that I was kind of casted away, but there were a good group of Democrats that supported me, and they were like, "Even though we don't agree with you on this, you have every right to stand for it." Or I had Democrats say, "Listen, my prayer group, they don't agree with how far this has gone." So there have been a lot of supportive Democrats.

I think we see the residual impact on excluding people from parties because of what they believe. And I think that's a little bit of what we see in politics today. So now you have people that are actually, "Democrats are really split on this issue, and some believe this, some believe that," or you'll have, there's a little bit of a tweaking language around it so that don't exclude people because of their disagreement on one issue.

Rick Langer: Yeah, it was interesting. I googled your name just to find out a little bit about what you'd done. I was actually looking for things about the art side of things because I didn't know what it was. But anyhow, what popped up was a whole set of things that said, "Anti-abortion advocate or whatever Treneé McGee elected to Connecticut State Assembly." And I was surprised at the repeated language of being anti-abortion as opposed to pro-life. I just wonder if you could unpack that distinction for us a little bit.

Treneé McGee: So for me, I think to call me pro-life kind of gives accountability to the fact that I actually really do care about people's lives, and even further than abortion. Because I care, because my stance is also against racial inequalities, I am fighting for great educational systems, I want a healthy environment, I want black maternal health issues to be addressed, I want equities and home buyership programs for first time home buyers, I want young people to open up businesses, because I am a holistic candidate, to frame me as anti-abortion tries to alienate me from all the other things that I really do care about, like the arts. And I think it's because maybe certain places of political spheres has not seen someone like me before, or there just hasn't been someone like me in a long time. Jesse Jackson was super pro-life, very pro-life. Some of the most profound pro-life quotes are from Jesse Jackson. He was the one that said, "The argument that abortion is private is the same argument that slavery is private. Because it's on my property, therefore I control these people and you cannot protest it."

Rick Langer: Pretty good line of argument.

Treneé McGee: Yeah, like tons and tons and tons. So I think to call me anti-abortion, it tries to put me in a box. But it's failed. It's really failed, because I show up in other places. And even in the work that I do, I care about education so much. I want students to have quality education. I was a theater teacher, so I'm used to being in the school system. I know what that's like. And I traveled all around the state being a theater teacher, so I know what it looks like to go to a Hopkins or a Choate versus an inner city high school that maybe doesn't have the best resources but the students are so talented. So I think it's just easy to kind of box me in that way.

Scott Rae: Treneé, tell us a little bit more about what it's like to engage the black community on pro-life issues.

Treneé McGee: I think one of the reasons why the pro-life movement has really, truly failed a bit in addressing the black community is because the main tagline for why we tell black women they should not get abortions is that the abortion industry is racist. But the reality is is that there are many racist systems. And so I think the common response is kind of like, "Okay, well, everything seems to be a disparity."

I also think it kind of goes back to what I spoke about in the chapel speech, which is we have to care holistically about people's lives and the issues surrounding them and not only this one. So if we only care about this one, but right now black women are four to five times more likely to die during childbirth, and it has nothing to do with their health or their genetics or even their socioeconomic background. I think Serena Williams kind of showed us that. Allyson Felix is addressing it. And so today I have friends that are kind of afraid to give birth. They want to be moms. Some of them are wives already. But they're afraid. They're kind of afraid because of what's taking place. A lot of them are actually returning back to giving birth in homes. They're going to midwives and doulas and homes.

And so I think that there are so many things that we have to really work on, engage in the black community, while also educating them on this, and then fund the organizations like Pro-Black, Pro-Life. They do a really great job at engaging the black community. They go to HBCUs, they tour campuses. I mean, they're doing such a phenomenal job. Stanford Life is another great organization. There are so many organizations that are really truly addressing this and working hard at it; they just have to really be funded, be supported, I think, in a way. Because they're the faces that can kind of go out there and say, "Listen, this is the abortion industry. And if we don't start to get a grasp on it now, it's going to get worse. It's going to get worse. And this has nothing to do with Roe versus Wade. It's just going to get worse because we're not addressing some of the issues surrounding why women seek abortion." And I think that's kind of why it hasn't been as effective in the black community.

While Planned Parenthood and some of those other organizations have marketed, they have cast actors that are people of color, they have found language. I mean, they're whole slogan, Stand With Black Women, which I like to debate because I'm like, "It's like, stand with black women unless she has a different opinion. You won't stand with me." Is it really stand with black women? Or is it use black women as a shield? I kind of have a theory that white women use black women as a shield against men in their own community for their own issues and challenges. And that's kind of what I see a little bit. You'll see a group of women holding a sign that says, "Stand With Black Women," and there's no black women in line with them. I'm like, "Okay." But they try to do a better job at addressing that.

Rick Langer: Talk just a little bit about how you came to your pro-life convictions, what role your Christian faith played in that.

Treneé McGee: It's really truly a God-given passion. It's something God gave me. I know you both have experienced something. You're like, "This is from God," and there's no denying it. That's kind of what this was. And I will say some of my activism for civil rights helped. It opened the door. Because I remember protesting Eric Garner's murder in New York when I was in college, and then learning that, and I don't care whose talking point this is, the truth is the truth no matter where it comes from, and learning that there were more black babies that were literally aborted in New York where I was going to college than born.

And walking to college, walking to class, and then being stopped by a Planned Parenthood person on the street. She didn't stop anyone else, but she stopped me. And then I remember saying that out loud, and all the black women I was with said, "Us too. We got stopped by Planned Parenthood women on the street, and they didn't stop any of the white women around." But I did research and I learned that that was where Margaret Sanger got her start. She started in Brooklyn. She started in Brooklyn, and she actually testified before the Connecticut General Assembly in the '20s, I believe. And she started it with the basis of getting rid of the weakest, the most vulnerable, poor, low income, impoverished, people with special needs. And then what she did was she partnered with W.E.B. Du Bois, and they went to pastors and they did a contest and told them whoever preaches the best eugenics message wins awards. But what they did not realize is what they thought they were doing was combating slavery by getting the best. If we have the best, we won't have to struggle. And so that's what they did. It was so wicked and evil. I just remember thinking about that.

And then November of 2021, I will never forget November of 2021. I was in my room and I just started researching. I went on a deep dive and I was like, "There's no way I could ever not be vocal about this." I mean, I probably consumed hours worth of information in 20 minutes. That was the Holy Spirit. Like, so much information. And I was like, "How are we not talking? This is crazy." And that was the first time I had ever even seen an abortion was done in animation through live action. And I was like, "I can't be silent on this."

Rick Langer: I had this experience when I was teaching a class at a secular university. I had just finished some other things I was doing. It was a bunch of social ethics, and the next topic we were going to talk about was abortion. I had a little bit of leftover time at the end of the previous lecture and I thought, "Oh, let me just." A thing I usually do is talk through just from a medical description, I got it from a medical textbook, what happens in an abortion at different stages. And so I did that and said, "We're going to pick up on this next time." And I had a couple of students come down and say, "I didn't know you were pro-life." And I hadn't stated anything about my opinion. I had simply described the procedure. And I think that description, the absence of that description, I think thwarts our honest thinking about what are we really talking about when we're saying, "Yay," or, "Two thumbs up to abortion."

Treneé McGee: It's the truth. Chris Rock said this, and people laughed. I respect him for knowing and addressing the truth, not for his stance on it, but he was like, he's okay with certain... He literally said, "Being pro-choice is like being pro-murderer of a baby." He said it. And the whole audience kind of... And he was like, "Listen." He went on to say he's paid for many of them. But it's a dissonance. You're okay with certain selections of it. If we believe that way about puppies, the world will be in shambles. You couldn't do that to a puppy. You shouldn't.

I think the heartbreaking thing to me is that women believe the most liberating, and not all, but I will say a lot of women that I think about that are not pro-life, they really see this as they're taking back control. This is something I can control. And it comes from such a sad place. It comes from such a sad place. I think a lot of it is abuse. A lot of it is having experienced trauma. But it's really messed up our society.

Scott Rae: I appreciate you bringing out, I think for our viewers and listeners, the background to Planned Parenthood and the eugenics connection. I don't think that's widely known. I've heard First Things magazine described that as Planned Parenthood's original sin that I think they have yet to repent of. I think having that animate the movement from the start, I think it's very telling that they only wanted to talk to women of color on your campus.

Treneé McGee: Yes. In New York City, yes.

Scott Rae: Yes. Yeah, I find that a really interesting component of that. Now you've been in the Connecticut State House for a year and a half roughly?

Treneé McGee: I got sworn in December 2021, so this year will be the third year.

Scott Rae: Okay, so almost three years. Have you experienced, and if so, how do you deal with the increasing vitriol and incivility that has infected our political arena at the national level? Have you seen that at the state level too? And if so, how do you deal with that as a Christian?

Treneé McGee: I haven't seen that as aggressively as I would say happens at the federal level. No, I haven't seen it to that extent. I think more Democrats are believers or have a religious belief than people know. I also think at the same time, we deal with different issues on the state level, so they don't gain as much national attention as this federal level. And I think we do a lot of, I don't want to say compromise, but we do do a lot of bipartisan work. And then I'm also in the north, so the Republicans in the Connecticut Assembly are kind of moderate. Some might be a little bit more conservative, but we do kind of find a common ground, I would say. So I don't see some of the intensity that maybe states see in the South or happens at the federal level.

I have Republican colleagues that I'm cool with. I have Democratic colleagues that I'm cool with. Yeah. And honestly, and I think this could be God's grace, but I feel like I've been respected for being bold about what I believe. I've been told many times I'm an honor to work with and legislate with. So I think, like I said, it could be God's grace. It could just kind of be that thing of, "When you stand for what I tell you to stand for, I will make a pathway for you, and it won't be as muddy and grainy as difficult as you think."

So that's kind of what it's been in Connecticut. I do see some of the other states and like, "Wow, it's kind of crazy." We don't have intense protesting in the capitol. We don't have people taking over the floor, like sometimes the protestors kind of come in. We don't really have those things, no. It's just kind of different.

Rick Langer: Just at a personal level, I want to say thank you to you for serving at a local state, the closer to the grassroots level of politics. I kind of despair of the way we're sort of trumping everything up to... Wow, that was an interesting word. We're amplifying everything up to the federal level, and that's all we have an imagination for. I have talked to people who are mayors and other things like that about actually some of the richness and value of state and local governments.

Treneé McGee: All politics are local.

Rick Langer: And people serve and sacrifice and do all kinds of things, and people kind of ignore it.

Treneé McGee: That's right.

Rick Langer: You're hardly even on the radar.

Treneé McGee: That's true.

Rick Langer: Thank you for the work you've put in at that level.

Treneé McGee: Thank you.

Scott Rae: Compromise is not necessarily a dirty word.

Treneé McGee: Yeah, exactly. Like meeting in middle.

Scott Rae: And I think political arena is different than the theological one.

Treneé McGee: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Scott Rae: Because it seems that the political arena by design is the place where we have negotiation and debate and settling for limited objectives at times in order to get things done. So I don't know about you, I'm pretty encouraged to hear that you're not experiencing the level of incivility that we see at the federal level.

Treneé McGee: No. There's been things here and there, but no, not to that kind of extreme. And it's probably because people vote for me. It might be because I win. I don't know.

Scott Rae: Say, what a country, huh?

Treneé McGee: Yeah.

Rick Langer: So do you enjoy serving Christ in politics, to put it that way?

Treneé McGee: Yeah. I mean, I enjoy serving Christ everywhere.

Rick Langer: Well, good.

Treneé McGee: I do. I enjoy. My walk with God is personal. It really is truly. It's personal, and I mean like all of our walks. It's not that I don't serve God in government, because He's put me in government. He really has. But He's given me strategy. He's given me wisdom. It might be harder to serve God in the arts than it is to serve God as an elected official. I have colleagues that are pastors. I have colleagues that are reverends. I have a colleague that's Muslim. I have a colleague that's Buddhist. So I say that because I think there's a bit of mutual respect from a good group. But the arts, the pieces that I'm working on now to produce, that is like, we talk about politics, but arts and entertainment has become the devil's playground, truly. So it's probably more difficult there. I'm working on a play that I'm producing this year and directing. I can't wait for it to be on stage. And I didn't know it was kind of controversial to kind of put out there. But yeah, I love serving God everywhere.

Scott Rae: Rick, any more questions for Treneé? Because I have one to wrap up with.

Rick Langer: You have one to wrap, okay. I'll let you go ahead and wrap.

Scott Rae: Just one last question for you. What are you encouraged about and hopeful about in the political arena that you're working in in Connecticut?

Treneé McGee: One of the things that really, really, I love that we're working on a lot is maternal health. That's come to the attention of a lot of my colleagues. We're working on a really great bill around maternal health, birthing centers, even the diaper banks. Just different things like that. There's a bill coming out this year where we're improving WIC. So there's some good things coming down the line. We passed a bill last session on maternal health, and that was to certify birthing centers because a lot of younger women are choosing homes and just smaller facilities rather than hospitals to give birth. So that really encouraged me. It makes clear that we do really care about the maternal health and future. A million millennial women become moms every year, so that's really encouraging.

I think nationwide across the nation, I'm really proud of younger generations of young people, and I'll tell you why. Because you have to really work for their vote. They're not tied to party. And I know sometimes people see me and I'm difficult to understand, but I feel like I do really reflect a lot of young people, even if we don't agree on all issues. They're not tied to a party. There was a study done at a liberal university in New York. 45% of non-white students registered as independent for the first time ever. And my younger brother, his whole class, he's a sophomore at Ohio State, but his whole class registered as independent when they turned 18. So I just love to see that. Because I think there's a strong independent mind of young people that are questioning things, that are curious about things, that are smarter in their decisions.

A lot of times when we talk about even abortion, it's like, "Young women need abortion." But I mean, the young women I know are really focused on their careers, on being financially stable, on owning property, not settling. So they're making more conscious and wise decisions. And I think sometimes we're seen as not being as smart as we are or even responsible. So I am really proud of that, and I love that that's happening nationwide.

Rick Langer: I like the way you put that in terms of, you need to earn our vote. Because there is a sense, once you kind of sign up for your tribe, then you end up voting for your tribe regardless of whether or not the person you're voting for has in any way, shape, or form earned your vote. Or perhaps even they've disparaged what your vote might stand for, but they're your tribe, so you have to support them.

Treneé McGee: That day is over. Like, you can only be black and a Democrat. You can only be a woman and Republican. You can only be this and that. You can only be. That day is over. That day is really truly over.

Scott Rae: I think that's a good sign.

Rick Langer: That is, and it's an encouraging thing to hear that.

Scott Rae: It's a good thing going forward. Treneé, thank you so much for being with us on this.

Treneé McGee: Thank you. It was great.

Scott Rae: We so appreciate what you stand for and the role that God has placed you in as an artist and in the legislature in those two challenging communities.

Treneé McGee: Thank you.

Scott Rae: And we pray for the organization, Pro-Black, Pro-Life.

Treneé McGee: Yes. Cherilyn Holloway is the founder.

Scott Rae: It just sounds like they're doing really terrific things. It sounds like you're not only thinking Biblically about the issues that you are standing for, but you're also doing it in a way that models Winsome Convictions. So I think it's appropriate that our two podcasts-

Rick Langer: Very well done together.

Scott Rae: ... come together on this. We are very grateful. We encourage our viewers and listeners, if you haven't subscribed to either the Think Biblically Podcast or the Winsome Convictions Podcast, that you do that and give us a rating on your podcast app. Feel free to share it with a friend. Thanks so much for listening. And remember, think Biblically about everything and be winsome as you stand for your convictions.