Justin Farmer, 23, grabbed a seat on Hamden’s City Council in the fifth district in last week’s municipal elections.
The Southern Connecticut State University student was born in the Newhallville section of New Haven but went to elementary school in the more privileged Spring Glen area of Hamden because they share a border on that section’s north end.
He said his upbringing allowed him to see different sides of reality—the issues that live in both realms.
“When I really started to get into activism, I realized, hey, I’m speaking out about things that make people uncomfortable or telling them that the truth that they hold is not a truth,” Farmer said. “I’m telling them that’s not my way of truth. And then I’m asking them, are they willing to change? Are we willing to hear each other?”
Farmer is the son of West Indian immigrants. He believes that Donald Trump’s presidential election reinforced biases instead of bringing people together.
“The marches in Charlottesville,” Farmer said. “We’ve seen this with his comment earlier when he was making fun of the disabled reporter. So, those biases and racist sentiments are really being cemented.”
Trump’s mocking of that reporter, back when he was campaigning, really struck Farmer. He too has a disability.
Farmer started to experience symptoms at 16 that ultimately revealed he had Tourette syndrome. He said he’d feel tension in his body without corresponding movement. He suffered a couple of seizures. And yes, there was the coprolalia—bouts of uttering random obscenities—a behavior that people most associate with the disorder.
“I could possibly have anywhere from 20 to 60 movements in a minute and [I’m] trying to appear with a sense of normality,” Farmer said. “It takes a lot of energy to do that.”
Because of the Tourette’s, he wears noise-cancelling, battery-powered headphones. They add something similar to white noise to whatever Farmer hears. That helps him manage sensory input.
“It’s not like one of the machines but I can hear a small, like, [audible noise] sound that blocks out noise and I guess the way the technology works, based off of certain sounds, it amps up or down,” Farmer said.
Despite staring from people wondering why a guy in a suit is continuously wearing headphones, he said that ever since he started using them, he’s been able to manage the disorder. He ran for a seat so that he could represent the disabled and people of color.
“With this last election, we had established, polished politicians who just didn’t cut mustard,” Farmer said. “They couldn’t do what they were supposed to do.”
He believes that anybody can have the potential to be a great leader. But that honesty and community-engagement pave the road toward effective leadership. He said that involves living, and working within, intersecting realities.
“I’m often told that I have to pick an intersection of oh you have to be a millennial in this moment,” Farmer said. “Or, oh you have to be disabled at this moment. Or oh you have to be black. Or oh you have to be West Indian and I can’t just be the intersections that I am.”
Farmer received 1,100 votes in his unopposed run. He said his victory gave him hope that the issues facing those people in multiple realms could be remedied.