Historic Election of LGBTQ Pennsylvanians


The 2017 General Election brought historic wins for LGBTQ candidates across Pennsylvania. Over a dozen out candidates were successfully elected or re-elected for local office.

Tyler Titus won his election for Erie City School Board – making him the first out trans elected official in Pennsylvania history.

Luis Medina won his election for Lewisburg Borough Council – making him the first known out public official in Union County, and first known out Latinx public official in Pennsylvania. (Luis is a co-founder of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress.)

Mark Barbee won his election for Mayor of Bridgeport, in Montgomery County – as he continues his service in being the first known out Black public official in Pennsylvania. He just completed his first term on the Bridgeport Borough Council.

We are proud to share the news of out Pennsylvanians and several parents of LGBTQ young people who have won their elections.

These wins would not have been possible without the trailblazers who ran before them. Rep. Mike Fleck from Huntingdon County, our first openly gay state legislator, lost re-election in 2014 after he came out. Out lesbian Fern Kaufman from Chester County ran for a state representative seat in 2010. Out gay candidate Eric Gutshall for Dauphin County Controller in 2015.  There have been many candidates for township, borough, city, and county governments who tried but did not prevail throughout Pennsylvania. They paved the way for the general public to accept LGBTQ people as public servants, ultimately making wins like this possible.

With 2,562 municipalities across the commonwealth, it is practically impossible to monitor every elected official in Pennsylvania. It is also practically impossible to assess the ‘outness’ of many individuals, some of whom may share their identities with close community circles but not with local media. We have decided to only list here who is ‘out’ in terms of their identities being public and widely known. For this reason, we generally use the phrase “first known out” person in a given context unless there is certainty otherwise. You are welcome to email us information on a publicly out elected who was not widely known before – and we’ll update our records! Photos and information noted below are from the public websites or social media of the candidates.

This election was historic across the nation. In Virginia, Danica Roem has become the first out trans state legislator elected in the nation. Andrea Jenkins will be joining Minneapolis City Council and become the first out black trans person elected to public office in the United States. Seattle elected Jenny Durkan, an out lesbian, as its new mayor. Lisa Middleton will be joining Palm Springs City Council and become the first out trans person elected to a non-judicial office in California. These wins are possible because of leaders like Harvey Milk from San Francisco, Kim Coco Iwamoto from Hawaii, and Ed Flanagan from Vermont. 


Lori Schreiber
Abington Township Board of Commissioners

Commissioner Schreiber has been re-elected to a fourth term on the Abington Township Board of Commissioners. Abington is among the largest townships in Pennsylvania, located in eastern Montgomery County and bordering Philadelphia. Commissioner Schreiber’s leadership was instrumental in Abington’s adoption of a local non-discrimination ordinance in 2012. She lives in Roslyn with her partner, Linda.

Mark Barbee
Bridgeport Mayor

Mayor-elect Barbee will become the first known out Black Mayor in Pennsylvania history. Barbee, 28, has just completed his first term on Bridgeport Borough Council. Bridgeport is located in central Montgomery County, bordering Norristown and outside of Philadelphia. 

Ron Strouse
Doylestown Mayor

Mayor Strouse was re-elected and will now serve a second term. Doylestown is the County Seat of Bucks County.

Tyler Titus
Erie City School Board

School Board member-elect Titus has become the first out trans elected official in Pennsylvania history. Titus, 33, is a therapist in Erie and father of two young children. 

Glenn Paul Wascovich
Hallam Mayor

Mayor-elect Wascovich is among the first out elected officials in York County. Wascovich lives in Hallam with his husband, Michael – who currently serves on Hallam Borough Council. Hallam is located in a rural area near the Susquehanna River, between the cities of York and Lancaster.

Ben Allatt
Harrisburg City Council

City Councilmember Allatt was re-elected to a second term. Allat lives in Harrisburg with his husband, Stephen. Harrisburg is our state capital, located in south central Pennsylvania.

Dan Miller
Harrisburg City Treasurer

Treasurer Miller was elected to his first full term in the position. Miller was appointed Treasurer by Harrisburg City Council to fill a vacancy in June 2016. He is also a former Harrisburg City Controller. Miller lives in Harrisburg with his husband, Carl. Harrisburg is our state capital, located in south central Pennsylvania.

Amy Zanelli
Lehigh County Commission

Commissioner-elect Zanelli will become the first known out County Commissioner in Pennsylvania history. Zanelli lives in central Lehigh County with her wife and three daughters. She will be the first out member of the Lehigh County Commission. Lehigh County is located in eastern Pennsylvania between Scranton and Philadelphia.

Matthew Fetick
Kennett Square Mayor

Mayor Fetick was re-elected to a third term. He is an out gay man and supported the local non-discrimination ordinance that was adopted by Borough Council earlier this year. Kennett Square is located in southern Chester County, about an hour drive west of Philadelphia.

Luis Medina
Lewisburg Borough Council

Councilmember-elect Luis Medina will become the first out local government official in Lewisburg – and the first known out Latinx public official in Pennsylvania. Medina, 29, is a counselor who received his undergraduate and masters degrees from the Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. While a student leader at Bloom, he became a co-founder of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress. Lewisburg is the county seat of Union County, located along the Susquehanna River.

LeRoy Stearns
Meadville Mayor

Mayor Stearns was elected for his first full term as Meadville Mayor. He was appointed as Mayor by Meadville City Council to complete the term of Christopher Soff in January 2015. Mayor Stearns had served on Meadville City Council from 1998 to 2015. Meadville is the county seat of Crawford County, located in rural northwestern Pennsylvania.

Sean Strub
Milford Mayor

Mayor Strub was elected for his first full term as Milford Mayor. He was appointed as Mayor by Milford Borough Council to complete the term of Bo Fean in May 2016. Mayor Strub is the Director of The Sero Project, a national organization comprised of individuals living with HIV who combat stigma and injustice, and is the founder of POZ Magazine. Before moving to Pike County in 1997, he ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives in New York, becoming the first person to run for federal office who was openly HIV+. Mayor Strub lives in the borough with his partner, Xavier. Milford is the county seat of Pike County, located in northeastern Pennsylvania near the borders of New Jersey and New York.

Chris Dietz
Millersburg Borough Council

Millersburg Borough Council President Dietz was re-elected to a third full term. Dietz lives in Millersburg with his husband, Alex. Millersburg Borough is located in a rural region of northern Dauphin County along the Susquehanna River.

Dan Murphy
State College Borough Council

Murphy won his election for a seat on the State College Borough Council, becoming the first out member of the council. State College Borough is located in direct center of Pennsylvania, in the heart  of Centre County.

Josie Byzek and Jesse Gantt
Susquehanna Township School Board

School board members-elect Byzek and Gantt won their seats on the Susquehanna Township School Board. Byzek is a mother who lives in the township with her wife. Gantt lives in the township with his husband, Kevin, and son. This is the first known time that two out elected officials will serve on the same local legislative body at the same time.

Eric Elvanian
Upper Merion School Board

School Board member Elvanian won re-election to a second term to the Upper Merion School Board. Elvanian lives in King of Prussia with his husband.

Gregory Lynch
West Conshohocken Mayor

Mayor-elect Lynch will become the first out mayor of West Conshohocken. Lynch is a husband and father who has lived in the borough for over 13 years. For the past six years he has been a member of the West Conshohocken Borough Council, winning a special election in 2012. He has been Vice-President of Borough Council for the past four years. West Conshohocken is a small community located along the Schuylkill River in central Montgomery County, outside of Philadelphia.

Several parents of young LGBTQ people also won their elections!

Alisa Bowman
East Penn School Board

School board member-elect Bowman won her election to become an East Penn School Board member. She lives with her family in Emmaus, outside of Allentown in Lehigh County. Her son is Ari Bowman, who is a 13 year-old trans boy who rose to international fame when he spoke out for trans inclusion before his school board in 2016. His mother will now sit on that very school board. (Alisa and Ari have both spoken with PYC in the State Capitol for our annual Pennsylvania Comes Out for Freedom event in 2016.)

Kathy Dahlkemper
Erie County Executiv

County Executive Dahlkemper won re-election to a second term. As the mother of an openly gay son, Dahlkemper has used her civic platforms, previously as a US Representative and currently as County Executive, to take action supporting LGBTQ equality.


This is a live post and will be updated as new information comes in about the 2017 General Election

Carlisle, Wilkes-Barre to Advance Non-discrimination Ordinances

IMG_1609In the wake of the Orlando massacre and the continued stalling of statewide non-discrimination legislation, local governments have renewed their efforts to support LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances.

At a June vigil for the Orlando victims, Carlisle Council member Dawn Flowers announced the proposed legislation. There is support for the ordinance among the Council members and community members. At an open forum meeting last Thursday with the Council, over 100 community members engaged in the conversation discussing the merits of the ordinance. The ordinance is expected to be adopted in October, at earliest.

On Monday, Wilkes-Barre Council member Beth Gilbert announced she plans to introduce an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance next week. Wilkes-Barre would be the second major city in Northeastern Pennsylvania to do so, following Scranton in 2003. The ordinance is expected to have strong support, including from openly-gay Council member Tony Brooks. Pittston and Dickson City have recently adopted non-discrimination ordinances as well.

In Southwestern Pennsylvania, Butler Council continues to debate a non-discrimination ordinance. Approximately 75 community members attended last Thursday’s meeting, which had to be moved to the Butler Fire Company Building to accommodate the many citizens interested in speaking on the proposal. An ordinance has not been introduced and there is currently no timeline for an adoption.

There are currently 35 municipalities in Pennsylvania with LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinances. According to the Movement Advancement Project, only Florida has just as many in any single state. With the expected adoption of an ordinance in Carlisle and Wilkes-Barre this year, Pennsylvania would become the state with the most local non-discrimination ordinances in the nation.

If you are interested in advocating for a local non-discrimination ordinance in your community, please send us an email and look up more information at the Suburban and Rural Alliance of Pennsylvania.

Photo: Butler residents speak on the proposed non-discrimination ordinance at the July 28th City Council meeting (PYC)

Great Valley + Springfield Township Adopt First Known Trans Student Policies in PA, Backward Movement Proposed in Pine-Richland

GV and Springfield2










We have finally arrived at a historic moment for transgender student rights in Pennsylvania.

The Great Valley and Springfield Township School Districts have become the first known districts in Pennsylvania to adopt formal policies supporting trans students!

On Monday night, the Great Valley School Board voted to adopt Policy 103.3. Last night, on Tuesday, the Springfield Township School Board voted to approve Policy 253. Both are comprehensive regulations in support of transgender students. The Great Valley School Board introduced Policy 103.3 on March 14, 2016 and adopted their regulation on April 18, 2016. The Springfield Township School Board unanimously approved both the first reading of the policy on March 15, 2016 and the final second reading on April 19, 2016.

The comprehensive transgender student policies enacted in Great Valley and Springfield – both suburbs of Philadelphia – address critical areas of educational opportunities. The policies and those being considered across the commonwealth include privacy rights for transgender students, handling academic records, incorporation in sex-segregated programs, restroom and locker room access, integration in athletic activities, dress codes, and general harassment and discrimination.
The Lower Merion School District, in Montgomery County, had a first reading of their transgender student policy on Monday. The Pittsburgh School District has recently announced its plans to introduce their policy next month. Several more districts will be introducing their own policies in the near future. Across 500 districts, many schools throughout Pennsylvania have in practice supported transgender students for years, but are now beginning to take the critical steps to enact official policies.

The Pennsylvania Youth Congress has been proudly working with a number of districts in support of these efforts for several years. These policies are critical in the work to ensure a safe and successful educational experience for transgender students. In turn, they help entire school communities be lifted up in celebrating all students, regardless of their gender identity or expression.

PineRichlandImageHowever, steps backward are being considered by a few school districts. On Monday evening, another three-hour school board meeting took place in the Pine-Richland School District in Allegheny County.  While transgender students have been supported by the administration in practice, a network of parents has come together to try and strip away the basic accommodations that have been made for them. An informational meeting on transgender youth will take place in Pine-Richland on Thursday. In addition to the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, THRIVE of Southwest PA and Lambda Legal have been standing with students and community members in Pine-Richland who support the rights and dignity of trans students.

With yesterday’s landmark court win in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, transgender students in Pennsylvania now have critical support in the federal courts. In Grimm v. Gloucester County School Board, a trans high school student in Virginia was supported by his administration in basic accommodations, but then the school board enacted a negative policy to strip them away. When challenged in federal court, the student won. The case was remanded to the district court with the determination that gender identity and expression is a protected class.

In 2014, the United States Department of Education issued guidance that gender identity and expression are protected classes under Title IX, through sex stereotyping. Now through Grimm, that guidance has the backing of law through the federal judiciary. This essentially means that students have assurance in successfully bringing a claim or suit against a school for gender identity or expression discrimination.  The ruling yesterday would be persuasive case law for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where we are in Pennsylvania.

Former University of Pittsburgh – Johnstown student Seamus Johnston filed a federal lawsuit in 2013 against the school for gender identity discrimination, before the United States Department of Education’s guidance was issued. While the suit was first dismissed in the Western District of Pennsylvania by Judge Kim Gibson, on appeal, the university settled the claim in March 2016 in recognition of their major movement forward supporting trans students.

The Pennsylvania Youth Congress has reached out to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association and the Pennsylvania Department of Education to better coordinate the advancement of these policies, and meaningfully support transgender students across the commonwealth. The Pennsylvania Youth Congress calls upon the agencies to collectively address supporting transgender students and awaits their response.

We are incredibly proud of the Great Valley and Springfield Township communities for their historic moves in supporting transgender students, and commend the leadership of Great Valley Board President David Barratt and Superintendent Regina Speaker Palubinsky, and Springfield Township Board President Gretchen Slapinsky and Superintendent Dr. Nancy Hacker, in ensuring the policies was adopted. We thank the Attic Youth Center for recently providing LGBTQ-inclusion training to the Springfield Township district.

If school board members or community members in Pennsylvania are interested in any assistance in advocating for a local school district policy supporting transgender students, they are encouraged to directly reach out to the Pennsylvania Youth Congress at info@payouthcongress.org or call 717-743-1035.

NOTE: On April 22, 2016, this online post was updated to reflect that the Great Valley School District adopted their policy on April 18, 2016, before Springfield Township’s on April 19, 2016. Together they are the first known policies in Pennsylvania. In our wording we celebrated Springfield Township as the first widely and publicly known district to take this action, but acknowledge that Great Valley adopted theirs before on Monday once it became widely and publicly known. 


The Pennsylvania Youth Congress Calls for Accountability in Pittsburgh Pride

First Statewide Organization to Call for Accountability with Pittsburgh Pride

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Youth Congress affirms our solidarity with Roots Pride Pittsburgh, and the many local organizations and civic leaders, in denouncing the decision of the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh to present Iggy Azalea as the headline performer for Pittsburgh Pride 2015. As a social justice organization representing thousands of young LGBTQ Pennsylvanians, including many from Pittsburgh, we work tirelessly to ensure LGBTQ people of all identities have power within their organized community. We find that this year’s selected headline performer demonstrates a significant lack of respect for the LGBTQ people and people of color who have been harmed by Iggy Azalea’s actions.

For the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, prides are not only celebrations, but are annual reminders of the political tools we have to build a beloved community. In this statement, we insist that any pride which is built on the oppression of marginalized LGBTQ people is no pride at all.

A successful pride should be a family reunion that is planned and executed by the self-determination of the community. While there may be disagreements from time to time, there must be an underlying trust between local leaders. That trust has been stripped away over the years in Pittsburgh, leaving a raw desperation where people of color, transgender people, and youth leaders feel voiceless in their own city. Decisions have been made that have emaciated parts of the Pittsburgh LGBTQ community with a lack of resources, overshadowed and drowned out by the behemoth of one organization.

The Pennsylvania Youth Congress applauds the leadership of Roots Pride Pittsburgh for their work to identify strategies to raise-up LGBTQ people from marginalized backgrounds. We commend the broader Pittsburgh LGBTQ community in standing up for their own dignity.

We know it is rare for this thread of social justice to be spun so precisely as to cause numerous groups to withdraw. We commend the courage of many organizations and individuals, including Garden of Peace Project, GLSEN Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus, who have spoken up in in the spirit of building a better Pittsburgh.

The significance of Roots Pride Pittsburgh is tremendous, because it has already sent a clear message across the nation that the grassroots LGBTQ community, when organized, is able to unite and be heard.

We are distraught over the distressing position we are put in for Pittsburgh Pride 2015. The Pennsylvania Youth Congress believes we will be best able to share our vision for inspiring actualized social justice in the region through providing our resources at PrideFest. Further, we are met with the financial reality of our organization. As by far the most expensive pride in Pennsylvania for vendors, we have already invested hundreds of dollars in the fees that the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh requires. It took us four years to afford our own table at Pittsburgh Pride. At a $450 regular registration rate for non-profit organizations, Pittsburgh Pride is more expensive to participate in than all of the other nine prides in Pennsylvania combined. We believe it is outrageous that emerging community organizations have only one option if they wish to partake in their own community’s pride – to pay top dollar.

The Pennsylvania Youth Congress is accountable to our funders to engage with youth at every pride in Pennsylvania. There will be young people in Pittsburgh on June 14th, some of whom may not know about how the platform of Pittsburgh Pride 2015 was built, but they will be there. The PrideFest event still will be a significant opportunity to connect with students in order for us to support them throughout the year. We will use our presence at pride to express our displeasure with the decisions made by the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh.

We will not plan to participate in future Pittsburgh Prides unless conditions dramatically improve with accountability and transparency within the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, or whichever organization hosts a large-scale pride festival in the city.

The organized LGBTQ community should not resemble the oppressive structures which divide our society. We must build arenas to come together in authentically affirming ourselves in pride, and we commend Roots Pride Pittsburgh for doing just that. We are proud of the leaders who will not stop here in taking actions for justice throughout Pennsylvania, and in our world.

This statement has been approved by the Pennsylvania Youth Congress Board of Directors.


The Pennsylvania Youth Congress advances freedom and justice for young LGBTQ Pennsylvanians through advocating for responsible public policy. As a youth-led organization, PYC represents citizens working toward safer schools and thriving communities across the commonwealth.

Andre Gray’s Body Found in West Virginia, Murder Suspect Charged

Andre Nathaniel Gray, 34, had been missing since October 23, 2014. In a press conference yesterday evening, the Pittsburgh Police disclosed that his body was found in the Ohio River in West Virgina with a gunshot wound. The police have ruled his death a homicide, and early this morning, charged a suspect in his death. Andre was an out gay man from the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh. He was involved in Project Silk, a program for young men and transgender women of color in the Pittsburgh area.

The press conference was extremely somber, with many of Andre’s family members present. His mother, grandmother, and brother expressed their devastation with this news, but also that they had accepted his passing and forgave those who ended his life. His mother, Victoria Gray Tillman said “I’m thankful to God for bringing my son home, so now I can begin my closure process. It’s been a long time coming.” Andre was reported missing on October 25, 2014, with his apartment ransacked and blood on his bed sheets – along with bleach. His car was later found partially burned in the North Side of Pittsburgh.

Press Conference

Pittsburgh Police Commander RaShall Brackney and the Gray Family (March 26, 2015)

On March 20, 2015, Brooks County Sheriff and Follansbee Police Department in West Virigina discovered his body along the Market Street bridge, which stretches from Stubenville, Ohio to Follansbee, West Viriginia. He was positively identifed as Andre by the Coroner of Charleston, West Virginia. The Pittsburgh Police were notified on March 25, 2015 of his body being found. They ruled his death a homicide with their disclosure of his gunshot wound.

This morning, the Pittsburgh Police revealed they have charged Hubert Wingate, 30, in Andre’s murder. Wingate was already in an Allegheny County jail when he was charged. He was arrested on an open warrant for assault from Colorado, in Pittsburgh, where he had a concealed semi-automatic weapon on his person.

No substantive evidence or leads had been established as of yesterday evening. Pittsburgh Police Commander RaShall Brackney confirmed they did not yet have any suspect in custody or warrants for persons of interest in the case. Brackney firmly stated that “Our goal is to bring justice to Andre Gray.”

Victoria Gray Tillman said that “I’ve given God all the glory. I have forgiven them a while ago. That’s what I need. I need for them to confess what they have done. We are a forgiving family, a loving family. That’s what they need to do, turn yourself in.” Andre’s brother, Javon Hutcherson, echoed this plea to the murderer to “Turn yourself in. We love our brother…We forgive him, please turn yourself in.”

The Pittsburgh Police have been leading a search effort for Andre since last fall. LGBTQ community advocates had established a fund for donations to the family. The Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents have been pressing hard through regular posts for the continued investigation.

Victoria Tillman Gray and Javon Hutcherson

Andre’s mother, Victoria Gray Tillman, and brother, Javon Hutcherson (March 26, 2015)

As the press conference was concluding, Victoria Gray Tillman additional shared how there has been “Lots of pain. Lots of suffering. Lots of prayers. I’ve said a prayers all day, everyday. Some days have been better than others. But, I knew all along that God had my son. I always felt that. Now that he has been found I can begin my process. It’s a mother’s worst nightmare of their child being out there – and it’s the not knowing. I thank God for all the people, the prayers, the friends, the family, who have come through, who have held me up, and let me know, but I thank God, for being God.”

Anyone with information on Andre’s murder is asked to please call the Pittsburgh Police homicide detectives 412-323-7161.

In Gloria’s Words

This morning the Philadelphia community gathered to say goodbye to Gloria Casarez, Director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs. Gloria passed away on Sunday after a long battle with cancer at 42 years old. Hundreds of Gloria’s family members and friends filled the Arch Street United Methodist Church for her funeral service. Powerful remarks were given by Mayor Michael Nutter, her cousin Bernadette Jervis, and close friends Casey Cook, Elizabeth Larin, and Louie A. Ortiz. Citations celebrating her lifelong commitment to community organizing against poverty, HIV/AIDS, and bigotry, were presented from the Philadelphia City Council and Philadelphia Mayor.

The service celebrated Gloria’s focus on the imperative of social justice work. Elizabeth Larin repeated a line from Gloria on strategic planning in campaigns – that “you get what your organize to take.” To highlight one theme – many of the messages shared specifically related to respecting and supporting youth leadership. Gloria had arranged for those attending her funeral to sing “Ella’s Song,” by Sweet Honey in the Rock – a moving song I listen to often. This song is dedicated to Ella Baker, who was a revolutionary civil rights organizer who worked with young people to form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In it, we sang along with the words:

“To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail, and if I can but shed some light as they carry us through the gale – The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm.”

Gloria had shared similar words with me over the years in our formation of PSEC – which was created as the statewide community movement by and for LGBTQ youth activists. Gloria believed in bringing all voices to the table – especially in organizing with a base of people who are the most disenfranchised or impacted by an issue. Our activism work has been deeply influenced by Gloria and we look forward to following, as best we can, in her footsteps.

PSEC presented Gloria with the Keystone Award at the 2014 Pennsylvania Youth Action Conference in February. This honor is given annually to a public official who has worked intently to advance the welfare of LGBTQ youth in Pennsylvania communities.

Moments before the award presentation, we were informed that Jaci Adams, a longtime leader in the Philadelphia trans* community, had passed away from her own long battle with cancer. Gloria and Jaci were close. In beginning the event, I talked before the banquet attendees about Jaci’s impact on the city.

Another PSEC leader saw her tearful over Jaci and gave her a hug, saying, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” Gloria responded in sharing that “it’s not my loss, it’s a loss for the community.”

With Gloria’s passing, I mourn together with my community on the passing of one of our greatest leaders. We also must celebrate her legacy by pressing on toward justice – with the passion, strategy, selflessness, integrity, and power that Gloria demonstrated is possible.

Rest in power, Gloria.

Here are her transcribed remarks from the 2014 Keystone Banquet:

“Good evening everyone,

I am recovering from laryngitis right now so my voice sounds a little funny.

I was going to make my partner, the love of my life, read my prepared remarks, and I would just stand here and nod, but I did not get to prepare any remarks, because we got the news about Jaci.

It’s truly devastating. Jaci was a personal friend, professional advisor, and this loss leaves a big void. I think Jason spoke to that well, and I think that this truly, truly is a big loss for our community.

So as I was sitting here I jotted a couple things down, but I really want to dedicate tonight to honor to Jaci. Jaci was someone who, in an official capacity, as an official representative of the city of Philadelphia, worked on policy issues.

She was one of the people who we tapped when we were looking to make policy changes. She was also one of those people who knocked on our door who said “you need to make this policy change.” She had a direct hand in the shelter policy change that was made several years back, and more recently in behavioral health and intellectual disability policy change.

She was one of the people who called for the Morris Home, which is a transitional housing program, the first of its kind in the country. She was a leader in HIV and AIDS; she worked in the HIV/AIDS field for many years, and also in trans* health issues as you heard.

She literally helped train thousands of police officers in the city around how to interact with members of our community. I did those trainings with her, and she was never one to mince words. She told them how they needed to hear it.

She wasn’t exactly professional in these professional trainings, but it’s what those police officers needed to hear if they were ever going to interact with real people in real situations.

Jaci was somebody who did all of this really on her own time, and she was somebody who wasn’t thanked enough. So I want to extend very humbly today my appreciation to her and really to say thank you, Jaci, for everything you have done. She really helped make Philadelphia the great place that it is today.

I want to remind us all where we are. According to the Human Rights Campaign, Philadelphia is the greatest place to be LGBT. We are the number one ranked city in America in the most recent municipal equality index, which is an index, a ranking really, of nearly 300 cities on law and policy. So it’s not like a lot of these other rankings that are like, it’s the best yogurt in the world. It really, literally looks at all our laws and policies, what we are doing, and what we say we believe; and Philadelphia is number one.

We share that with Seattle, but, we’re number one.

I want also to say that I think this is the greatest time to be doing this work. All of you who are doing this work are participating in what I think is the greatest time to be doing this very important LGBT social justice work.

I came to doing community work through what I think was probably one of the hardest times, in HIV and AIDS, when women’s reproductive health issues were going on at the same time, and it’s really awesome to be doing this work at a time that is just so full of potential. So I want to encourage you to continue to fight, continue to push, and continue to help make your communities, as best as they can be. Even with these designations and the positive things we are doing here in Philadelphia, we’re not there yet; we still have a lot to do.

We have had these policies on the books since 1982. We [then] officially added sexual orientation as a protected status and that’s 32 years ago. It took us another 20 years before we added gender identity protections to that same law. Now I say that knowing very clearly that we are in Pennsylvania, where neither are protected, right? So all of our efforts need to go towards ensuring that Pennsylvania can be what Philadelphia was 30 years ago. Twelve years ago. So these things are all very important to the lives of people who live around the state, around the country.

Just in the time that I’ve worked for government, which has been since 2008, when Mayor Nutter came on, we’ve had the chance to work on some really great things. The mayor has been completely supportive of anything we wanted to do. Kathy, who is one of the other honorees, was one of the very first people I met with back when I started the job. One of the things she talked about was trans* inclusive health benefits, and the need for these things. And you know, government moves really slow, and so really, it takes four years before there is collective consciousness and a council member is willing to stand up and say, “Hey, let’s do this.”

But, you know, we did that. I want to acknowledge Councilman Goy—how about that, Councilman Goy, promotion? Chris Goy, who works in Councilman Kenney’s office, who was a point person for us, and really helped steer that bill.

In addition to all of that, and our mandate, really, everyone needs to be at the table.

I come out of community organizing, and you don’t win the righteous wins unless you have all the voices at the table. So in anything that we’re doing, it’s really important to have many voices at the table, the people who are with you, the people who aren’t with you yet, and the people who are going to help you get where you need to go. So that is something I am encouraging you to do that as well; you want to have the naysayers as well as the yes people at your table. You need everybody.

I’ll say one more thing about the Mayor and then I’m going to wrap it up. The Mayor is a longtime supporter of all these issues, he’s part of the national coalition of mayors, that he is the chairperson of, that is working on marriage equality issues, that is obviously something that has earned his significant support. He is also working and doing anything he can do to advance non-discrimination bills that will come through the state legislature, that’s an issue that is very important to the mayor, personally.

Just one final thing, you know, I did a lot of trainings with Jaci and one of the things that—she didn’t mince words. One of the things she would say frequently, we trained cadets, so they were rookie cops, these were going to be cops that would be thrown out on the streets first, not the ones that were going to be sitting in a police office, and she felt very strongly that people needed to hear it real. And so she would say “You see me, and you might see me as a bitch, but I’m a bitch for justice, so if you’re gonna call me a bitch, call me a bitch—for justice.” And that very much was how Jaci was, so I encourage you all to do the same. Be smart and unwavering, and keep your focus.

I want to thank you for acknowledging my work and the work of the City of Philadelphia. Thank you all for being here, and thank you all for committing to learning, and thank you all for recognizing me.

At the end of the day, and I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, at the end of the day, a big part of what we do is about love. When I first started my work in activism and organizing I used to say, “I’m angry, I’m fired up,” and I was, but I was also approaching this work from a standpoint of love. At the end of the day, we all want to be loved, so I want to say a special thank you to my love, Tricia Dressel, for supporting me and doing this work all the time, so thank you all very much.”

Pittsburgh City Council to Update Transgender Inclusion in Non-Discrimination Policy

Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus introduced an ordinance this morning to include ‘gender identity or expression’ as an outright protected class in the city’s non-discrimination policy. Ordinance 2014-0644 will amend the current city law to place gender identity protection among the other protected classes rather than keep it buried within the existing definition of sex. In recognizing that gender identity is a distinct protected class, transgender and gender non-conforming Pittsburghers will finally be fully included in non-discrimination protections.

Of the 33 municipalities across Pennsylvania which have adopted an LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination ordinance, 28 explicitly state gender identity as a protected class. All 28 ordinances passed after Erie County’s law in early 2002 specifically have ‘gender identity’ listed amongst the other protected classes – including Allegheny County’s policy in 2009. Pittsburgh first passed a non-discrimination policy inclusive of sexual orientation in 1990, and later amended it to include transgender individuals in 1997 by sneaking in a broader definition of gender under the definition of “sex.”

Five of the six ordinances passed before Allentown’s in 2002 buried gender identity protections in either the definition of ‘Sex’ or ‘Sexual Orientation’ [Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, York, Lancaster, Erie County]. Many of these definitions are problematic and archaic. Philadelphia, which was the first in the state to adopt a non-discrimination law inclusive of sexual orientation in 1982, only provided gender identity protections starting in May 2002.

It is critical for gender identity be outright recognized as the protected class it is in these municipalities in order to rightly inform workers, businesses, and residents.

Not many people may intimately read the Pittsburgh City Code to understand that transgender people are shielded from discrimination. However, those who work and live in the city are regularly exposed to Pittsburgh’s equal opportunity statement on official documents and job postings. Today, the City’s operating policy on Equal Employment Opportunity does not even mention gender identity.

In advancing this ordinance, City Council will affirm that there is absolutely nothing to be shameful about in being transgender or gender non-conforming in Pittsburgh. It’s a minor clerical change, but inspires a new chapter of visibility for transgender Pittsburghers in policy.

The Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition joins with the larger Pittsburgh LGBT community in calling for this important update. PSEC applauds the Pittsburgh City Council for being the first of the five municipalities with the omission in policy to address this issue.

PSEC leaders had a very productive meeting with Council President Kraus last week about this concern, among others. He is the first openly gay member of Pittsburgh City Council – and was elected the council president for the first time in January 2014.

South Williamsport Cancels ‘Spamalot’; No Homosexuality in Small Town Pennsylvania

South Williamsport Cancels 2015 Production of Spamalot;
Principal Claims Homosexuality Does Not Exist in Their Town*


*UPDATE – July 3, 2014

WNEP has redacted part of their story in which Principal Smith cited “homosexuality” as the main reason for his decision, and that he referenced that no LGBTQ people exist in South Williamsport. These were apparently NOT part of the email. The district administration has remained silent as of now in speaking out in support of LGBTQ students going forward, or apologizing for the miscommunication.


South Williamsport Junior/Senior High School in central Lycoming County announced on Tuesday that they would cancel an upcoming production of Spamalot, a popular musical comedy which continues its run on Broadway and recently finished a two year revival at London’s West End. While the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition understands that this show contains many adult themes which may be too lewd for a high school audience, the coalition is outraged by the process by which the show was cancelled.

The South Williamsport Area High School principal, Jesse Smith, wrote in an email that they cancelled the show explicitly due to the “homosexual themes.” According to Dawn Burch, the Director of the School’s Drama Department, the email from Principal Smith explained that homosexuality isn’t something that happens in conservative South Williamsport.

The drama department was planning on editing the musical’s adult content to be appropriate for a wider age range. Burch is now being forced to select another show for their spring 2015 performance. The Superintendent claimed the decision was made to avoid controversy.

While canceling the musical due to the sexual content may be an appropriate decision, stating that there is not an LGBT presence in the community is unacceptable and simply not true. The Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition’s Assistant Convener, Dan Warner, is a 2011 graduate of South Williamsport Area High School. “As a South Williamsport alumnus who is gay, I am sincerely disappointed by the administration’s recent decision. South Williamsport High School was an important place for me to develop academically and personally. During my time with the theater department, I came to accept I was gay. All students should be provided with a safe and inclusive environment to be themselves. I fear this decision will greatly harm such spaces.”

Dan Warner has sent a letter to the South Williamsport Area School District Board of Directors and their superintendent asking them to censure the principal for his remarks and make a pledge to support LGBT students in the district.

Downingtown Adopts Non-Discrimination Ordinance

At their Wednesday, March 19th meeting, the Downingtown Borough Council adopted a non-discrimination ordinance inclusive of protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. The Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition (PSEC) congratulates the Downingtown community, Mayor Joshua Maxwell, and the borough councilmembers who led the efforts for the ordinance’s passage.

Downingtown has become the 33rd municipality in Pennsylvania to adopt a non-discrimination ordinance. The small borough of approximately 8,000 people is the second municipality in Chester County to ratify this type of local law. The Borough of West Chester, located just six miles from Downingtown, enacted a non-discrimination ordinance in September 2006.

Without an inclusive statewide non-discrimination law, Pennsylvanians who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), or those perceived as LGBT, can be legally discriminated against. Countless LGBT Pennsylvanians have been fired, evicted from their homes, or denied a public accommodation.

The ordinance was adopted in a 3-2 vote, with Councilmembers Ann Feldman (D-East) and Nick Winkler (R-West) opposing the measure. There was over one hour of discussion between the councilmembers before the final vote.

Only two residents spoke during the public comment period, both of whom were in favor of the ordinance’s passage. Karen Steinbach shared that upon learning about the ordinance she “was reminded of how proud [she is] to be a member of this community.” She asserted that “When it comes to equality, there should be no price tag. No objections. There should be no politics. There should only be humanity. We should all be able to agree that discrimination has no place here.”

Councilmembers Feldman and Winkler repeatedly spoke about issues they believe exist with the ordinance’s power. Councilperson Feldman stated her belief that “this is outside our authority and ability to protect these people.” She called the ordinance “premature” as HB 300 “is already on its way – we would be wise to not do this yet.”

Downingtown’s state representative, first-term Rep. Becky Corbin (R-155), is not currently a co-sponsor of HB 300, the state’s leading non-discrimination legislation. The counterpart bill in the State Senate, SB 300, is co-sponsored by the borough’s Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D-19). At the previous borough council meeting, several Councilmembers suggested that they send letters to their legislators in support of HB 300 and SB 300. LGBT non-discrimination efforts have been stalled for nearly 40 years in Pennsylvania. The first non-discrimination bill to include sexual orientation as a protected class was introduced into the General Assembly in 1976.

The dialogue became more pointed as the meeting progressed. In discussing a scenario when an organization would prohibit women from attending an event in the borough, Councilperson Winkler exclaimed he was “worried that long-standing things in our borough may be affected by this.” Mayor Maxwell quickly shot back in response saying “I’m hopeful long-standing things in the borough are affected by this.”

Councilperson Feldman later asked: “Are you looking to encourage people to utilize this? To complain? Because that’s what it sounded like.” Council President Anthony Gazzerro, a proponent of the ordinance, responded by saying “that’s a ridiculous question. Nobody wants to encourage discrimination. If someone is being discriminated against, they should come forward. And people today are being discriminated against who can’t come forward. They can’t do anything.

PSEC supports the adoption of local non-discrimination ordinances in order to protect all citizens from discrimination. Currently 32% of Pennsylvania’s population (4.1 million citizens) lives in the 33 municipalities with inclusive non-discrimination laws.

For further information on local non-discrimination ordinances in Pennsylvania you may visit the website of the Suburban and Rural Alliance (SARA) of Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia Trans Woman Murdered; Vigil Tonight

Last Thursday evening, a transgender woman was brutally murdered in Philadelphia. Charles Sargent, 43, is in custody for allegedly murdering Diamond Williams. Initial reports have stated that Sargent had a sexual encounter with Diamond before her death, and following the murder, dismembered her body in Strawberry Mansion.

Tonight there will be a vigil for Diamond Williams in Love Park from 5:30-6:30pm. Please join community leaders in remembering Diamond, and calling for justice against the violence that took her life. Scheduled speakers include:

Aamina Morrison – TIP Co-Director
Samantha Jo Dato – Trans* Wellness Project
Christian Axavier Lovehall – Philly Trans* March
Sade Ali – Philadelphia Deputy Commissioner, Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, Morris Home Founder
Gloria Casarez – Director of LGBT Affairs, Office of the Mayor

NBC 10 was the first major media outlet to report the story on Friday evening. Their headline was “Man Accused of Murdering Transgender Lover.” The story misgendered Diamond, used her birth name, and posted a mug shot from a prior and unrelated offense.

GLAAD has rightfully called out this sensationalism and misrepresentation and posted a detailed statement calling on NBC 10 to do better.

There are several unsolved murders of trans women in Philadelphia. Last year, the murder of Kyra Cordova resulted in marches and vigils in the streets of the city – and there are still no leads on her case. Other unsolved murders in Philadelphia include Nizah Morris, who was killed 10 years ago, and Stacey Blahnik, who was murdered almost three years ago.

Photo: Vigil for Kyra Cordova (Justice for Kyra)