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Nonbinary drag queen Sam Brinton appointed to Office of Nuclear Energy

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Sam Brinton — Photo courtesy of Sam Brinton
Sam Brinton — Photo courtesy of Sam Brinton

Last month, gender-fluid "nuclear waste nerd" Sam Brinton announced their new role as deputy assistant secretary of spent fuel and waste disposition in the Office of Nuclear Energy for the Department of Energy. The White House has yet to comment on the appointment, but Brinton announced their Jan. 10 acceptance of the offer on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Brinton said on LinkedIn that, to their knowledge, they will be "the first gender-fluid person in federal government leadership." They said, "I realize this is an enormous challenge. Yes, I am ready to take it on. You cannot fathom how excited I am. Nervous, but so so so excited."

Brinton's qualifications in the field of nuclear sciences are well documented. They earned a dual master's degree from MIT in nuclear engineering and technology and policy programming in 2013, and have since worked at Global Zero and Deep Isolation, two companies dedicated to improving the safety, proper usage, and disposal of nuclear waste. (They will finish their current work as a director of global political strategy at Deep Isolation soon.)

Brinton is also a vocal LGBTQ+ activist and advocate for LGBTQ+ youth, having worked in the Trevor Project's Department of Advocacy and Government affairs for four years.

As a gender-fluid, stiletto-loving nuclear professional, they are well versed in self-advocacy already. Brinton is also a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, where they are known as Sister Ray Dee O'Active.

Photo courtesy of Sam Brinton  

Of the topics they advocate for, they have made it clear that ending conversion therapy is a major priority. As a young person, Brinton's religious parents forced them to take part in conversion therapy. Brinton also had to move out from their home in Perry, Iowa, and live with an uncle after coming out to their parents as Bisexual during high school.

They wrote about the "torturous" experiences brought upon them by conversion therapy and their parents' beliefs, in an Opinion piece for the New York Times. "My parents were Southern Baptist missionaries who believed that the dangerous and discredited practice of conversion therapy could 'cure' my sexuality," they said.

Brinton added, "For over two years, I sat on a couch and endured emotionally painful sessions with a counselor. I was told that my faith community rejected my sexuality; that I was the abomination we had heard about in Sunday school; that I was the only gay person in the world; that it was inevitable I would get HIV and AIDS."

Their mother, Peggy Jo Brinton, told the Daily Mail that she keeps in touch with Sam today, though she refused to attend their wedding in 2019. "I think it's in the past, and we speak as much as we can do, when we live so far apart now. Everything is texts, emails, that type of thing." She added that she was proud of Sam and excited about their new position with the Department of Energy.

Brinton is now one of the loudest voices in national activism and policy work to end conversion therapy. In recent years, they have met with several state legislatures to advocate for bills banning the practice, and founded the 50 Bills 50 States campaign in 2016. Their work in LGBTQ+ activism for youth and the end of conversion therapy has caused them to be featured on platforms like NowThis News, Playboy, and Active Minds.

Though federal employment in the Office of Nuclear Energy and LGBTQ+ activism seem like two entirely different careers, Brinton has managed to balance both. They described the duality of their life's work in an MIT newsletter interview in May 2021:

"My husband sometimes describes me as a weird kind of Batman. Why, you might ask? Because by day I work to save Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth from suicide, and by night I work to save the world from nuclear waste—related environmental disaster."

Now, they look forward to the job of their dreams, as they said on LinkedIn. "In this role, I'll be doing what I always dreamed of doing, leading the effort to solve the nation's nuclear waste challenges. I'll do all I can to bring innovative thought into this government role."