McGuffey School District Must Implement LGBTQ-Affirming Policies

The Day of Silence was the scariest day of the year for me when I was in high school. Those memories came back to me yesterday, when I learned that at McGuffey High School, a rural Pennsylvania high school in Washington County, students allegedly planned what amounts to an entire anti-LGBTQ Spirit Week to coincide with their Day of Silence on Wednesday. Students posted pictures of themselves on social media wearing flannel shirts on the Day of Silence and writing “Anti-Gay” on their hands. The posts indicated that the students would be wearing red on the following school day to signify their opposition to LGBTQ students, and that they had many more “anti-gay” days planned. Students at McGuffey who participated in the Day of Silence reported that they were verbally harassed, physically assaulted, and had offensive notes taped to their lockers. These students told local Channel 11 News that they are afraid to return to school.   

Organized by GLSEN, the Day of Silence is an annual event in support of LGBTQ students. Participants take a vow of silence for the school day to draw attention to issues of bullying and harassment, which effectively silence LGBTQ youth from living openly. Nationally, the Day of Silence was held on Friday, April 17, but McGuffey High School students choose to observe the event on Wednesday, April 15.

A school board meeting was held on the Thursday following McGuffey High School’s Day of Silence, and students and community members came out to share their stories and their concerns. Kathy Cameron, Chair of the Board of Directors of the Washington County Gay Straight Alliance, Inc. was present at the meeting, and reported that several students voiced their experiences on the Day of Silence to the school board members. Cameron described the school board members as being “receptive and reactive,” and stated that they “appeared to understand the gravity of the situation.”

McGuffey School District Superintendent Dr. Erica Kolat released a statement to media, saying, “Yesterday afternoon, April 16, 2015, allegations of harassment were brought to the attention of our administration. McGuffey School District, along with school police officers, continue to investigate all allegations. We will follow our Student Code of Conduct, and file legal citations, as warranted. We resolve to ensure that all children can grow and learn in a safe, supportive environment free from discrimination.”

Taking a stand against the harassment and violence which has already occurred is a good first step, but ensuring that all students grow and learn in an environment free from discrimination requires greater institutional change.

For the past three school years, McGuffey School District has reported to the Pennsylvania Department of Education that zero incidents of bullying have occurred in the district, despite the fact that the CDC has found that about 20% of students in Pennsylvania report being the targets of bullying. Additionally, the district’s nondiscrimination policy and anti-bullying policy contain no mention of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.

I call upon McGuffey School District to send a clear message against discrimination by updating their nondiscrimination and anti-bullying policies to list sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as protected categories, accurately reporting to the Pennsylvania Department of Education incidents of bullying, and appropriately preventing and intervening in all situations of student intimidation and harassment.  

As I read the reports about McGuffey High School, I was immediately taken back to a spring day when I was in middle school, sitting in the back of the bus and trying to blend in with the infinitely cooler high school students as they conversed about the high school’s upcoming “Gay Day.” The general consensus of the group was that on the Day of Silence next week, which they called “Gay Day,” you were supposed to wear “black if you’re anti-gay, white if you’re gay, and red if you’re not gay, but you support gay people.” There was some contention over the proper color to identify oneself as bisexual. I wasn’t even in high school at the time, and no sort of event had been spoken of at the middle school, but I was terrified of drawing unwanted attention to myself or causing offense through my almost entirely black wardrobe. I marked the date on my calendar and remembered to wear a neutral blue shirt.

Matters had improved by the time I reached high school, but every year, I imagined walking into school on the Day of Silence to face an entire group of people visibly protesting my very existence. Being an openly LGBTQ or allied student could be intimidating on the other 179 days of the school year, but an entire day dedicated towards raising visibility for our issues made me feel like I had a target on my back. My high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance prepared for the Day of Silence for weeks in advance, planning our shirts, ordering bracelets, and talking about what to do if we encountered harassment or violence. During my senior year of high school, our GSA opted to create matching Day of Silence shirts in black, to represent the legacy of black shirts being used to threaten and silence our fellow LGBTQ students.

I was incredibly fortunate to never have experienced anything like the trauma that LGBTQ and allied students from McGuffey High School have been forced to cope with. These students are facing the nightmare that kept me awake every night before the Day of Silence. Institutional change is necessary to end this blatant discrimination and hatred.

There is no easy fix to the deeply embedded problems of homophobia, transphobia, and violence in our schools, but McGuffey School District administrators, faculty, and staff have the ability to take a meaningful stand against discrimination in their district. I urge the McGuffey School District to implement policies which support LGBTQ students and to responsibly report and intervene in incidents of bullying, harassment, and violence. Solely reacting to this situation is not enough. The McGuffey School District must be proactive in changing policies and holding themselves accountable in order to prevent this bigotry from occurring again.


I was heartbroken when I heard the recent news about Leelah Alcorn and Andi Woodhouse. These are only two of many similar, painful stories of attempted and completed suicides within the transgender community. As a transgender individual, I want better for our community. I want better for us–I want us to feel loved and supported by our friends, families, neighbors, classmates, and colleagues.

There has always been immense stigma surrounding being transgender in the United States. People such as Leelah and Andi show how such pain can affect someone’s life in a deep, personal–and many times overwhelming–way. Many individuals within the transgender community, especially transgender youth, struggle with their mental health. Many of us feel alone and hopeless in a world that we find too often tries to hurt, degrade, and break transgender individuals. Despite the hatred we often face, we must remind ourselves that we can persevere and overcome this hatred and mistreatment.

In her suicide note, Leelah made a clear point of wanting better for her community. “The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something.” We can do better. We need to do better. Not only for Leelah so that her wishes are not in vain–but for ourselves and for transgender individuals everywhere.

In response to Leelah’s suicide, ‪#‎RealLiveTransAdult‬ has emerged. I love that there are countless people out there who want to show transgender youth that life can be wonderful. It can be extremely inspirational to see older transgender people thriving and living fulfilling lives. It shows that finding happiness as who you are–whoever you may be–is not impossible. ‪#‎RealLiveTransAdult is one way to prove that to the transgender community. While a hashtag is not going to fix everything, it is making a point to the transgender community. It is making the point that you are not alone. That you are never alone. That life is worth living.

HashHowever, I am a #‎RealLiveTransYouth‬. I have overcome mental illness numerous times and found happiness and joy in my life. True, life may not always be perfect, but I have found friends and a support system that make the rough patches worth it. In my experience, the biggest hurdle I faced while healing from my mental illnesses was first deciding that I wanted to get better. Once I made that decision, the healing process took time and work but the effort I put it was one of the greatest choices I have ever made because of the rewards that came with it. There is no easy remedy for mental illness, but you can get better. If you are a young trans person who is struggling with suicidal thoughts or any kind of mental illness, please reach out for help.

I love you. So many people love you. We care about you, and we want you to be happy. You deserve to be happy.

Our thoughts go out to Andi’s and Leelah’s loved ones, and to everyone and anyone who has lost a loved one to suicide.

If you are struggling or are in a crisis, please reach out for help. Below is a list of resources that can provide support.


National Crisis Hotlines

Trans Lifelife: 877-565-8860
The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255


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Shatter Every Closet Door: The Political Fallout of Rep. Mike Fleck’s Loss

Where do we go from here? The midterm election has given us more homework to do, and if we refocus, we can win.

All eyes on Rep. Mike Fleck’s re-election campaign

In understanding where they can side on LGBTQ issues, many Pennsylvania legislators have been paying close attention to the outcome of the 81st House District election. Rep. Mike Fleck, the state’s first openly gay legislator, lost his seat on Tuesday following a fiercely fought 22-month long campaign. His loss is devastating for many in his district, and thousands of LGBTQ people in Pennsylvania – particularly for rural LGBTQ youth who have lost positive representation in their government and community. Beyond the social impact, Rep. Fleck’ loss has significant political consequences as well. The outcome of this election will be sending a ripple effect throughout the commonwealth.

For a long time, there has been a widespread feeling of trepidation amongst the conservative legislators who control the General Assembly of engaging with LGBTQ issues. And so, there has been silence – even from those conservative legislators that support our causes, or those who are genuinely interested in learning more about LGBTQ issues. This lack of conversation has presented the opportunity to assess how Rep. Fleck performs in the election as their testing ground on LGBTQ issues without getting their own hands into the issues directly. If he lost, and depending by how much, that would be the measure by which they could make their future political calculations. Will supporting LGBTQ issues be worth it? If this Central Pennsylvania district cannot accept an out legislator, will they oust me if I support LGBTQ equality?

Pennsylvania legislators now have evidence to shelve LGBTQ rights

Legislators on both sides of the aisle have been looking to the 81st district to get a pulse on where middle-Pennsylvania stands. Would they embrace their longtime-adored state legislator in spite of his being out – or, would they oust him in a political subterfuge of bigotry? The latter appears to have become reality.

The Pennsylvania legislature has sustained deep-rooted silence on LGBTQ issues for decades. The status quo has been inaction for nearly 40 years since the first non-discrimination bill was introduced in 1976. When Rep. Mike Fleck came out in December 2012, he bravely helped change the discourse within the Republican majority. No longer was being gay something that could be ignored or be seen as being a complete outsider. He was and continues to be their respected colleague.

Moderate Republicans have the power: Will they use it?

Yet, as I write this, I wonder if the power of increased popular opinion toward LGBTQ rights could still help push things forward. At least for the moderate Republicans, especially in Eastern Pennsylvania, could his election serve as a shaming wake-up call toward action? Moderate GOP members who support LGBTQ equality have the votes and the power – but we do not know if they will use it. Will suburban Republicans lay themselves down on the line for us? If they do, we can win.

In a small way, Rep. Ron Marsico (R-Dauphin), from suburban Harrisburg, balked at this divide last month and put the LGBTQ-inclusive hate crimes bill up for a committee vote. He openly pushed back at members of his own party in the House Judiciary Committee during the meeting, when Rep. Brian Ellis (R-Butler) among others, called for him to table the bill. It ultimately passed 19-4.

The tides are changing in the popular support of LGBTQ equality, especially in moderate areas. Outside of Rep. Fleck’s race, it seems that not one other elected official lost because of their support for LGBTQ equality. This is a major development from just a few years ago when a position on marriage equality could cost someone their election.

We will have to look to the new House and Senate leadership for answers

While there are shifting attitudes with moderate Republican and Democrats in suburban regions, the widening margin of the social conservatives’ majority presents a serious blockade against significant progress.

It will take more than half the Republicans in each chamber, likely over two-thirds, to be fully supportive of an LGBTQ-related issue for it to move. While we could have the necessary number of votes to move a non-discrimination bill without a majority of the GOP members, the Republican leadership has not provided evidence it would be willing to fracture its caucus over our issues – as they have for the transportation bill or liquor privatization.

The Republicans will continue a strong rein in both legislative chambers. We do not yet know if it will be led by rural, more socially conservative Republicans, or the more suburban, moderate members. Even a mix of the two could provide progress for us.

Over the next month, political battles will wage behind the scenes for leadership positions within the General Assembly. Should the moderates secure control in key roles and committees, we can have hope. If not, we will have another two years of gridlock on LGBTQ equality issues.

Specifically, if we have key moderate allies in both the House Speaker and House Majority Leader, then we could actually see HB 300 assigned to a committee with a favorable chair and NOT the State Government Committee with Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler) – and actually have it be put up for a vote on the House floor.

Money is where the heart is

One of our strongest indicators of this progress is within the many Republican House members who gave to Rep. Fleck’s campaign. An extremely diverse network of conservative Republicans came to his support. It would be one thing for a sitting legislator, running for re-election themselves, to say they support their friend Mike Fleck. It is quite another to give their money to his re-election campaign. The following Republicans gave to Rep. Fleck’s campaign over the past several months:

Rep. Ron Miller (R-York) $5,000
Rep. Marguerite Quinn (R-Bucks) $3,000
Rep. Jim Marshall (R-Beaver) $1,000
Rep. Nick Miccarelli (R-Delaware) $1,000
Rep. Stan Saylor (R-York) $1,000
Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland) $500
Rep. Frank Farry (R-Bucks) $500
Rep. Mark Mustio (R-Allegheny) $500
Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-Clarion) $500
Rep. Martin Causer (R-Bradford) $250
Rep. Tom Murt (R-Montgomery) $250
Rep. Kathy Watson (R-Bucks) $250
Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-Bucks) [through Good Jobs PA PAC] +$20,000
*Other legislators have given through their associated Political Action Committees

Will Governor Tom Wolf make deals to advance LGBTQ rights?

Another factor for us in the 2015-2016 session will be Governor-elect Tom Wolf. He ran on a pro-LGBTQ rights platform. However, in the partisan world we live in, he will be faced with a legislature that is not set out to work with him. If he can develop meaningful relationships with the legislative leaders, he could help us press for victories. Only time can tell.

It is my greatest hope that Rep. Fleck’s loss will not be a cautionary tale against supporting LGBTQ people. I am upset in thinking how many have viewed this race as a referendum on being out in rural Pennsylvania. I would rather us understand this in the spirit of Harvey Milk. If Rep. Mike Fleck should lose re-election, let that loss shatter every closet door.

We have had enough. If rural LGBTQ Pennsylvanians rise up – and if LGBTQ advocates in our cities reach out across the divide to help – there is nothing our community cannot accomplish. This work to nudge the movable middle of Republicans into becoming true LGBTQ allies is possible, but it will take serious commitment from us all.

The next steps for the Pennsylvania LGBTQ equality movement

The future of the LGBTQ justice movement rests in the hands of rural and suburban Pennsylvania legislators. No passionate speech by a progressive legislator in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh will deliver us LGBTQ equality. Will our broader community roll up our sleeves to work with our LGBTQ family in the Pennsylvania heartland, or will our metronormative movement infrastructure remain nested in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia? We must develop the capacity of our rural and suburban conservatives to love and affirm LGBTQ people in their communities in order for us to break down the barriers which prevent critical progress.

Rep. Fleck and Fiona

Rep. Mike Fleck and Fiona Grugan (Villanova ’13), a constituent, at the 2013 Pennsylvania Youth Action Conference at the University of Pittsburgh
(February 2, 2013)

I am proud that the 2015 Pennsylvania Youth Action Conference will be focused on “Cultivating New Possibilities for Rural LGBTQ Youth.” In providing a positive platform for rural LGBTQ youth leaders to be resilient in taking action out in the silence, our movement will take a major step forward toward a fully realized dream of social justice for all.

A substantial movement of rural and suburban LGBTQ people, allies, and legislators, will be necessary in the session ahead for our community to win – and we can do it.


The featured image for this post is Rep. Mike Fleck with PSEC leaders and Sen. John Wozniak (D-Cambria) at Johnstown Pride 2013 (Faith Elmes (PSEC Assistant Convener + IUP ’15), Rep. Mike Fleck, Mike Campbell (PSEC Delegate + IUP ’13), and Sen. John Wozniak)

What Mike Fleck’s Loss Means to Me















When I first heard the news that Representative Mike Fleck lost his seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, I felt a profound sense of defeat that went beyond just losing an election. The outcome of this election represents a loss for the people of the 81st District, and a major loss for one of the most underrepresented and disenfranchised groups of people in Pennsylvania: rural LGBT youth.

I grew up in Shippensburg, a small town that sits on the border of Franklin and Cumberland counties. I spent my teenage years questioning my sexuality and taking my first steps in LGBT activism. My school district was generally affirming, and my parents were always accepting of how I chose to express myself. But, I never for a minute considered sticking around in Shippensburg, or anywhere even close. I wanted to get out at the first chance I had. I even kept a list of cities: Toronto, New York, and Philadelphia. As far as I was concerned, there was no place for me in rural Pennsylvania. I never saw a positive example of an LGBT person in a rural area. If you heard anything about an LGBT person nearby, you could be certain it was bad news. The first positive message I ever received about a rural LGBT person was when I learned that Rep. Fleck had come out as a gay man in December of 2012.

Representation matters, especially representation in government, for two big reasons. The first reason is pretty obvious; an LGBT person in government is more likely to support measures that help improve the lives of LGBT people. Beyond just policy though, local politicians are respected members of their community. Having a gay man in a position of respect within a rural area is groundbreaking. LGBT people in rural communities are not told that they matter. Their identities are not celebrated or affirmed. They lack access to services, to community, to almost every resource that an urban LGBT person has. Having just one openly gay rural politician in Pennsylvania was a huge step forward.

Rep. Fleck’s loss in the 2014 election is a sign that it is not yet acceptable to be an out gay man in rural Pennsylvania. It is a huge blow to the state of Pennsylvania, where you can be fired for having a picture of your legally recognized same-sex wedding on your desk at work. It sends the message that no matter how hard you work on behalf of your community, the majority of your neighbors will not consider you fit to represent them.

Victoria in Huntingdon

Victoria Martin in Huntingdon, PA (November 4, 2014)

Rep. Fleck lost this election because he is an out gay man. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who would tell you otherwise, but the facts are hard to ignore. When I see a candidate who ran for three terms with no opposition, who has years of experience in leadership, who was endorsed by a former governor, small business associations, education associations, and the National Rifle Association, and then I see that candidate lose to a county treasurer who couldn’t bother to turn in his paperwork for the primary election on time, I see a race that was motivated by bigotry, not reason.

This is a huge setback for the LGBT equality movement in rural Pennsylvania, but that certainly doesn’t mean that this is the final chapter. Far from it. Rep. Fleck’s loss is a sign that we have significant work left to be done in Pennsylvania. While Philadelphia is ranked as the most LGBT friendly city in the country, just outside the city a person can lose their home, their job, and their dignity for being open and honest about their identity.

I am tired of rural LGBT people suffering. I want to see rural LGBT people thriving. I want to see rural communities where diversity is embraced and differences are celebrated. I want to see the end the stigma of being an LGBT person in a rural area, and I want to see the end of the idea that you can only live an authentic life as an LGBT person in a city.

I am proud to be a queer rural Pennsylvanian. I am proud to be a supporter of Mike Fleck. I am ready to continue this fight for equality, and I am ready to work even harder to change bigoted attitudes and to empower rural young and LGBT people. I am looking forward to a future where every LGBT person can live a life of dignity, in any part of the country. The road ahead is a long one, and there will be more setbacks and challenges, but we will win. Today is the perfect time to start.

Why the Victory Fund Kept Mike Fleck in the Closet

This week marks the one year anniversary of PA State Representative Mike Fleck (R-81) coming out as openly gay. His courage, strength, and grace while coming out and being out have had a profound impact on countless Pennsylvanians, rural youth, and people around the world. However, Rep. Fleck was ready to come out much earlier than December 2012.

In the December 6th issue of the Philadelphia Gay News,
Rep. Fleck shares publicly for the first time that the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund instructed him to stay in the closet when he reached out to them. The Victory Fund is the premier national organization dedicated to electing out LGBT people to public office. As a young Pennsylvanian and President of a rural GSA, I find their treatment of Rep. Fleck highly problematic and indicative of a larger framework
that separates the LGBT political elite from local leaders who happen to be LGBT.

Coming out is a very personal process. Above all else, it is important that the person who is doing so maintain control of how events unfold. Rep. Fleck’s long journey of understanding who he is took several years. By the spring of 2012, he was ready to come out. His close political advisors, including former Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, encouraged him to come out before the summer. However, a friend of Rep. Fleck’s suggested he reach out to the Victory Fund for their strategic counsel.


Rep. Brian Sims Speaks at a Victory Fund Event (Credit: Out Smart Houston)

The Victory Fund had a very strong incentive to keep him closeted until 2013, or to delay his coming out as much as possible. One of their campaign board members, Mr. Brian Sims, was running on the explicit platform of being the first openly gay state legislator in Pennsylvania. There is a clear conflict of interest on the Victory Fund’s behalf: If Rep. Fleck, a highly popular third term legislator, were to come out before 2013, he would be “taking away the title” from Mr. Sims. Not only would this hurt his personal ego, but also bruise the fundraising power of the Victory Fund on Mr. Sims’ behalf. Through his position, Mr. Sims has regularly stumped for the Victory Fund at private fundraisers, and once told Houston’s Out Smart, “I am an absolute junkie for the Victory Fund”.

If Mr. Sims secured the full title of “first openly gay legislator in PA,” the organization would have amplified media presence after “their guy” won. The Victory Fund could claim credit for prevailing in what they call on their website, a “Horizon State.” But, if Rep. Fleck came out before the election, they would lose recognition for supporting the first openly gay legislator in Pennsylvania.

To this day, Rep. Sims presents a media image as though he were the first openly gay legislator in the state, and is still regularly mischaracterized in the media as such (1-4).  Not coming out to gain some
historic title, Rep. Fleck is humble and has never publicly asserted a need to correct them.

The Victory Fund played Rep. Fleck. He finally broke under the pressure and came out on his own terms on December 1, 2012 through the Hungtindon Daily News. Upon coming out, Rep. Fleck received nasty attacks from Mr. Sims’ supporters for ‘stealing his crown.’ On PoliticsPA, one Sims’ supporter wrote that “[Rep. Fleck is] swooping in and stealing all his thunder [which] reeks of opportunism and some cowardice…way to hedge your bets then take advantage.” All because he made a personal decision stop following the problematic advice of just ‘waiting’. At the time, Rep. Fleck most likely had no idea or did not care who Mr. Sims even was.

So why would an experienced national organization dedicated to electing LGBT people to public office tell a legislator to stay in the closet? Their reasoning with Rep. Fleck was likely regarding the nature of his conservative district and not wanting him to “risk” his seat. Rep. Fleck was re-elected twice with 100% of the vote and was already expected to sail to victory again without any formal challenger. The primary election already happened in April, so the only way to challenge Rep. Fleck would have been in the form of a write-in candidacy. In a rural district against a well-liked incumbent, the amount of resources needed to run a successful write-in campaign in only a few months would likely be cost-prohibitive. In asking for him to wait until after the election, it opened the door to some of his constituents thinking that he was ‘deceiving them’ until after election day. Did the Victory Fund plan on asking him to stay in the closet through 2013?

web_header_DCThe Victory Fund’s base of supporters is largely built from cocktail parties and black-tie events which speak to the non-profit industrial complex. To survive in difficult economic times, when many LGBT organizations have shuttered, the organization may be drawn toward tactics of self-preservation over maintaining the integrity of their mission.

Their matrix for endorsements and providing financial support is not based primarily on the importance of a race, but rather if they are guaranteed or near-guaranteed to win. It seems they want to keep their ratio of winners high, which can allow them to share a high rate of success with their donors. They tout on their website: “In fact, more than 350 openly LGBT candidates ran for office in 2010, but just 164 earned Victory’s endorsement. And 65% of those individuals went on to win their election.”  This strategy is successful, as the Movement Advancement Project found the Victory Fund, along with several other national LGBT organizations, increased their profits by 17% in 2012. They have little reason to support grassroots candidates who would not return the Victory Fund’s investment by drawing wealthy crowds to their cocktail fundraisers, as would someone from within their inner circle.


PA Rep. Candidate Fern Kaufman

Under these parameters, Harvey Milk would not get support from the Victory Fund even if he tried – at least not during his first attempts running for City Supervisor. However, those elections were necessary to get his name out there and eventually win. There are countless examples of important campaigns to elect LGBT people that fell outside the mainstream political community. In a special election earlier this year, Equality Pennsylvania declined to support out Republican Bryan Tate for an open seat in York County in order to endorse now-Rep. Kevin Schreiber, a Democrat. In 2008 and 2010, out lesbian Fern Kaufman ran for state representative against an incumbent Republican in Chester County. She became the earliest serious contender to take the title of first LGBT person in the Pennsylvania legislature – in 2008 she secured 48% of the vote. Advocates would like to think that since she was running in a Philadelphia suburb, the larger LGBT community and the Victory Fund would have been at her side. But they were not, and she slammed them in the Philadelphia Gay News after her loss in 2010:

“I actually had to fight with my own community for this. I don’t know if I can take on another uphill battle when my community was not there for me,” she said. “That’s a harsh statement to make, but they weren’t. It was sporadic, and I had to fight for them to pay attention but, by and large, they did not. It’s one thing to say, ‘We really support you,’ and slap me on the back and say, ‘Go, girl, you’re great.’ That’s great, but I need people who are actually willing to put rubber to the road because this isn’t something that can be done alone. I don’t know if I have that fight in me again to go back to the community and try to get them to actually show up.”

“Our community needs to take stock of what’s really important to them, and I hope, if nothing else, this election will open up a greater conversation about politics in our country and our community.”

Conversely, many LGBT New Yorkers saw City Council President Christine Quinn’s recently failed bid for Mayor as a victory.  They believed she had become corrupt and sold out the queer community in numerous instances, including by supporting the Stop and Frisk program. The Washington Blade reported that:

Quinn_Ward Morrison-Metro Weekly

New York Mayoral Candidate Christine Quinn Speaks at a Victory Fund Event (Credit: Metro Weekly)

“The national LGBT groups Human Rights Campaign and Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund contributed thousands of dollars to her campaign and dispatched volunteers and field organizers to help in locations throughout the city.

Victory Fund President and CEO Chuck Wolfe issued a statement Tuesday night noting that eight of its 10 endorsed candidates in New York races, including City Council candidates, won their races in the New York primary.”

The Victory Fund, and other LGBT political elite organizations, have an incentive to perpetuate a culture that keeps them close to elected officials in power, who can raise them funds and keep their message relevant. Of the 21 board members listed on their website, 14 are older white cis-men. When LGBT political communities are led by individuals from privileged classes, they are likely to be also designing an agenda for their own needs.

So, what is the value in analyzing Rep. Fleck’s experience with the Victory Fund? In writing this, I asked myself: is it worthwhile to provide constructive criticism of a national LGBT organization so publicly? I believe it is critical for us to recognize this behavior when it occurs because there are serious implications for the integrity and purpose of the LGBT movement. In this system, LGBT dollars have and will continue to go to privileged gay leaders entering politics who come from the inner circles of organizations such as the Victory Fund or HRC. It seems the Victory Fund may have lost their sight of their mission when telling our state’s first openly gay state representative to sit down. It was never their place to make that call. We must challenge these institutions and hold LGBT political leaders accountable so we may promote a movement that fights for the justice of all people.


Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown Speaks to the Press After House Floor Debacle (Credit: Philadelphia Inquirer)

In the end, while both Rep. Fleck and Rep. Sims were elected, what has happened? It seems rather misguided to have quelled Rep. Fleck in coming out while over-promoting Rep. Sims given evidence of their effectiveness in the legislature. Rep. Sims has not made any earth-shattering progress on LGBT issues in the House. He staged a debacle with Rep. Daryl Metcalfe on the House floor over DOMA in June, and has held several inflated press conferences. It would have been common knowledge to all legislators that members of the majority party have the power to silence any legislator in the minority from speaking about a controversial issue during a unanimous consent forum. He was present in session on February 13, when several black legislators were silenced when they went to speak about Black History Month on the House floor. Likewise, marriage equality bills have been introduced six times before he and Rep. McCarter did so, without fanfare. In contrast, Rep. Fleck used his resources to gain the acceptance of a majority of his Republican colleagues – and foster strong relationships with major political players so our GOP majority state government can start to move forward on equality issues.

On the heels of the 35th anniversary of Harvey Milk’s assassination, I think it is important to remember that he once called out:

“It’s not about personal gain, not about ego, not about power… it’s about the “us’s” out there. I have never considered myself a candidate. I have always considered myself part of a movement. I think that there’s a distinction between those who use the movement and those who are part of the movement.”

Harvey Milk, Fern Kaufman, and Rep. Fleck are among a select breed of out leaders who have refused to be bought or sold by the LGBT political elite. Perhaps this is why wealthy LGBT organizations have been making calculated decisions for decades such as the one to stall Rep. Fleck coming out.

PA Rep. Mike Fleck and PA House Majority Leader Mike Turzai

Rep. Mike Fleck and PA House Majority Leader Mike Turzai

If the LGBT political establishment keeps themselves limited to investing only in their golden boys of the Horizon States, there will never be a true win. Rep. Fleck was clear in his interview that he “didn’t want to be some big poster boy for gay rights,” but rather focus on being a successful legislator, and by virtue of being out, help the movement. The red states, as well as Pennsylvania, will not all of the sudden become LGBT safe havens. We must rally with all out legislators, including conservatives, who may be outside the established LGBT community.

When the larger LGBT community can break down the barriers between the grassroots and establishment communities, we will have secured the truest victory: the building of a world where everyone is provided respect, dignity, and equality.

1. Philebrity: Q&A: Rep. Brian Sims, PA’s First Openly Gay Legislator, On The Day That DOMA Died (June 26, 2013)
2. We’re not done yet. What’s next in the fight for LGBT rights (September 16, 2013)
Rep. Sims opens his opinion piece for The Guardian with:
“As the first openly gay representative in Pennsylvania, I’m confident civil rights for all will win despite more legal challenges.”
3. Your State Rep Brian Sims Visits Erie (November 2, 2013)
4. Campus Pride Speakers Bureau Profile: Brian Sims
Post Photo Credit: The New York Times

What Patriotism Means to Me

Today my family and friends will gather to enjoy backyard games at picnics, carnivals rides, and evening fireworks. They will be sure to stress that we are not celebrating the ‘Fourth of July’, but Independence Day: the day in history when our nation’s forefathers declared the necessity for an independent nation, with freedoms for citizens which had yet to be seen. God Bless America!

I’ll be the first to admit, the Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. I love to get caught up in the summer excitement. Amidst all the patriotic songs, however, I can’t help but notice the lurking heteronormativity in our celebrations: the uneasiness of the community about the public appearance of an interracial couple; the gawking eyes that find their way to those who have an androgynous gender expression. As a child these were things I had grown up with. Hearing others trying to guess the sex of the odd person in front of us in the funnel cake line seemed normal. As time has gone by, my college experience has opened my eyes to how harmful these sort of judgements can be. Yet, when I bring up my concerns with others from my home community, they often seem to find my concerns silly, or worse, an attack on their lifestyle.

Similarly, when I tell others about my experiences in lobbying lawmakers for LGBT rights, I’m at times met with accusations that my actions are unpatriotic in nature – that trying to change the current system is in someway ‘un-American’. Yet, the truth is, there is nothing more patriotic than taking an active role in working to move your country forward.

A democracy is only as fair and just as the people who participate in it. When we advocate in Harrisburg, we are demonstrating how much we love our nation and the desire to do everything in our power to make it even better. Through LGBT activism, we aspire to bring our nation closer to the ideals stated in the very pledge of allegiance: liberty and justice for all.

America has a rich history of activism. The concept is far from new to us, and began with our founders forming a nation in protest of the unfair policies of British rule. Our very country was founded by a group of activists.

In the 1960’s during the heart of the Civil Right’s Movement, advocates for racial and economic justice and their allies worked together, not just to end segregation but to affirm the principles we set down in our Constitution: “Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

When fighting against systematic oppression in the form of segregation, redistricting, and complex voter registration laws, these activists hoped to build a better America. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. declared on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. that his dream of a nation that fulfills its promise of inalienable rights was “a dream deeply rooted in the American dream”. Despite the sometimes hard and violent struggle, he was not working against America as the opposition thought, but for it in the purest of ideals.

As a student with a disability, I find the more recent fight for disability rights in America to be more relatable and empowering. Prior to the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, people with disabilities were segregated in the public school system in a way that had nothing to do with mental ability. It was common practice to institutionalize those with disabilities without reason. The disabled population was excluded from public spaces because of a lack of accessible accommodations and deemed not useful in the workplace, leading to social isolation, and economic difficulties.

Similar to the protests and sit-ins used in the 60’s, Americans with disabilities and their allies gathered in town halls and bombarded legislators with letters encouraging them not to deregulate businesses that found providing accessible facilities a hardship.

The inclusions that the ADA granted did not just make discrimination in regard to ability illegal, but granted these citizens dignity. Problems like unemployment and lack of education that faced Americans with disabilities were no longer seen as inevitable consequences of the individual’s disability. Instead, it was recognized that societal barriers and prejudices led to lower economic class. When these barriers are removed and legislators actively work against injustice, those with disabilities have been able to find a productive place in our society.

The thousands of citizens who worked to make this legislation law, did so in the hope of creating a more inclusive environment for all our citizens. By challenging the status quo and engaging their government, advocates were able to make changes that affect nearly every American who is likely to face a temporary disability at some point in life. They did so to better themselves and help those they loved. If any anger could be found in their voices, it was out of frustration and knowing that America could do better. Likewise, the recent and often passionate calls for LGBT equality are rooted in a love for friends and family who are being treated like second class citizens.

I appreciate the privilege I have as an American citizen and know that I am blessed to wake up each morning in the country that I do. I choose to use that privilege to ensure that on our soil, humans are treated with dignity and all citizens have equal protection under the law. One of the most patriotic things a citizen can do is to be actively engaged in their community and fight to have the principles of the constitution met to their fullest extent.

Court Rules PA Schools Have No Obligation to Protect Students

The United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled on June 5th that school districts have no obligation to protect students from abuse and harassment from their peers. Brittany and Emily Morrow, siblings who attended Blackhawk High School in Beaver County, were subject to racially motivated verbal harassment and physical attacks by another student. When Brittany was assaulted in the lunchroom, she was suspended for retaliating against her attacker, who was then charged in juvenile court with harassment, terroristic threats, and assault. The school readmitted the attacker after a period of expulsion. She continued to verbally and physically attack Brittany upon returning to the school. Emily was also bullied by students at Blackhawk High School. When the Morrow’s parents approached the school board, they were advised to pull their daughters out of the school, which they did in 2008. The Morrow family sued the Blackhawk School District for violation of the fourteenth amendment.

In the ruling, the court claimed that, “Parents in [the victim’s] position should be able to send their children off to school with some level of comfort that those children will be safe from bullies… Nonetheless, the Constitution does not provide judicial remedies for every social ill.” The decision stated that public schools have no special relationship with their students which necessitates that they protect their students from harm brought about by their peers.

This verdict is incredibly troubling for a number of reasons. It conflicts with anti-bullying legislation across the country, many of which state that the school has an obligation to monitor and follow up on incidents of bullying. Additionally, if the school district has no legal responsibility for the actions students take towards one another, how are school suspensions and expulsions for violent behavior to be regulated? Under this ruling, is it possible that a school district could arbitrarily assign disciplinary action against students who exhibit violent behavior, with some students receiving no punishment at all?

There is no word yet on whether or not the Morrow family plans on pursuing the case further. Perhaps with continuing legal action, a more clear answer on school violence will emerge.

The US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit opinion for Morrow v. Balaski can be downloaded here.

Why I’m Tired of the LGBT Political Elite

Following recent allegations of homophobic remarks made against Bryan Tate, an openly gay Republican running for a State House seat in York, by the volunteers of Democratic candidate and LGBT-organization backed Kevin Schreiber, many questions have been raised for LGBT Pennsylvanians. Tate would have been the third openly gay representative in the state, but was defeated on May 21st by democratic candidate Schreiber.  Despite Schreiber’s pro-LGBT stance, Tate has alleged that campaign members of both the representative-elect and York’s mayor, Kim Bracey, told those heading to the polls “not to vote for Tate because he’s gay.”  Despite this, Equality PA, a leading statewide LGBT organization, decided to endorse Schreiber’s campaign.  Schreiber’s candidacy was also endorsed by Pennsylvania’s SEIU Healthcare, one of Equality PA’s main financial sponsors.

While a candidate cannot be held entirely responsible for the actions of his campaign, the fact that this incident occurred has raised serious questions about the decision making process of Equality PA and other LGBT organizations for endorsing candidates.  Every candidate in that election had virtually identical stances on LGBT rights, but only one of them was openly gay.  In a state that has only two openly gay lawmakers, and a country that according to the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund has less than 100, being out has to play a role in endorsing pro-LGBT candidates. And in fact, it would seem that in the past it has.

Back in the 2012 primary election for the 182nd house district between incumbent Babette Josephs, who had served for nearly 30 years, and Brian Sims, the former president of Equality PA, Sims received direct donations from many current and former Equality PA board members and staff.  He was also personally endorsed by the organization’s current President.  Sims also garnered the endorsement of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, of which he has been a board member since 2009.


Rep. Babette Joseph’s rallies with LGBT advocates at the 2009 Philadelphia Dyke March

Josephs declined to apply for the endorsement of Equality PA because of this. She wrote to the Equality PA board in an email that, “No organization can make an unbiased, fair or just endorsement when its executive director is supporting one of the contenders.” She added, “You have crossed the line and discredited your own organization’s endorsement procedure. I refuse to participate in a dishonest and inherently biased process.”  Equality PA never responded to her. She focused her campaign on promoting her reputation as one of the first and strongest LGBT allies in state government history; however, the thousands of dollars that poured into Brian Sims’ coffers, largely from outside the district, bested her chance at reelection.

Is an endorsement ethical if clearly biased individuals refuse to recuse themselves from the voting process?  Josephs also wrote that unless those who have financially contributed to Sims’ campaign “voluntarily withdraw from activity in the race between myself and my challenger, you will have tarnished Equality PA’s reputation beyond repair and it will be impossible to restore any integrity to its endorsement procedure.”  This is the age of the super PAC.  While we’ve all become aware of the legality of this behavior, it remains hardly scrupulous, and clearly serves to further the interests of certain individuals, who may or may not have an entire community’s best interests in mind.

Josephs was actually recommended by the endorsement committee of Philadelphia’s Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, before their motion was voted down.  It should be noted that this decision and the LCDC’s concurrent endorsement of openly bisexual candidate for the 188th district, Fatimah Muhammad, raised a number of philosophical questions that are relevant  to LGBT politics across the country.  Most importantly, whether or not LGBT voters should prioritize outness.

Bryan Tate

Republican Bryan Tate (right) in York with his partner, Ralph Serpe (left)

Obviously, their decision was that outness is paramount, and up until recently, that seems to have been the case for Equality PA, as well as most other major statewide and nationwide LGBT organizations.  That line of thought deserves to be questioned, though.  Certainly outness counts for something; representation is pivotal to achieving justice for any oppressed minority.  But should representation trump all other considerations?  To assume that out LGBT people, by virtue of being out, are our best advocates for LGBT issues seems obviously faulty.  That is not to say any of the candidates discussed necessarily express anti-LGBT views, but simply that a better understanding of why candidates are being supported is in order.  We cannot simply assume that because a candidate is out and LGBT, or because an LGBT organization endorses them, that they will do the most good for our community.

These issues have come to the forefront for LGBT Pennsylvanians, but they are omnipresent throughout the nation.  Major organizations like the Human Rights Campaign make endorsements of candidates all over the country.  The reality is that many people will blindly vote for candidates that get the rubber stamp of approval from major LGBT organizations.  Certain groups have simply become the face of the LGBT rights movement, for better or for worse.

What I ask is that these organizations become more transparent. I want to know not only why candidates are being endorsed, but why other candidates are not. I want to know not only what issues are being prioritized, but what issues are being ignored.  But most importantly, I want to know who is really benefiting from these decisions and who is being cast aside.  It helps no one if LGBT people simply create another elite social class within ourselves, and the nepotistic endorsement of candidates by organizations like Equality PA seems very likely to be doing just that.

These endorsements were not necessarily wrong.  I’m sure that every organization which made them firmly believes that they made the best decisions for their interests.  However, were their interests truly in line with the interests of all LGBT people?  That’s hard to say, but we’ll never know until we get more information. Will it take another scandal like Tate and Josephs’ for our community to catch on and become aware of these issues?  Or can we say no more to self-interested pursuits under the guise of the representation of true equality?

I am an LGBT voter, and I’m tired of this.  I hope that you are, too.

Jake Tolan is the former Vice-Chair for Political Affairs of the Lambda Alliance at the University of Pennsylvania. He is from Shippensburg in Franklin County, PA.







Photos: Bryan Tate for PA,

Some Ridiculous Sexism and Racism in Pennsylvania Universities

Occasionally while browsing the news, I find an article which is so ridiculous that I assume it’s from The Onion, or taken verbatim from a Colbert Report diatribe. A few web searches on the headline later, and I’m typically left shaking my head, still holding out on the slight glimmer of hope that it’s all a misunderstanding, and that no one would really ever find it acceptable to publish an article about the swamp creature-like horror of their girlfriend’s menstrual cycle, or dress up as racist caricatures of Hispanic men and post pictures of themselves on Facebook. But, alas, both of these events really did happen at Pennsylvania universities this week.

Temple University newspaper romance columnist John Corrigan penned what is sure to be a Pulitzer Prize winning article—as well as a solid recommendation to any future employer who Googles his name—on the delicate nature of the female menstrual cycle. Corrigan lovingly describes his girlfriend as waking him with a “lion’s roar,” and demanding 7-Eleven jalapeno taquitos, and sexual satisfaction longer than “a quickie.” The horror!

Although any man can sympathize with the crotch shots suffered on every episode of America’s Funniest Home Videos, imagine Sandshrew digging in your nether regions like the mini game in Pokemon Stadium.

Ouch. I’ll give you a moment to recover from that mental image.

The article then goes on to lament the plight of women everywhere, claiming that “Maybe Chaz Bono had the right idea,” because, obviously the only reason someone born biologically female would elect for gender reassignment surgery would be to escape the horror of their period. Uh huh.

While I don’t think Corrigan meant to touch on anything more than some “bro-humor” with his article, it’s an indication of how acceptable sexism still is within our society. Men are urged to duck and cover when their lady friend’s fragile emotional state utterly shatters with the addition of some extra hormones, and the thought of—gasp—actually spending some time watching a movie with their girlfriend is treated as some kind of Herculean sacrifice.

If you’d like to read his advice in full, it’s up on Temple-News, with a comment section that’s sure to provide you with at least a few minutes of entertainment.

In another prime example of how to utilize the internet to make sure you are never hired, Penn State University’s Chi Omega sorority chapter is facing public backlash after a picture from their “Fiesta” themed sorority social was posted on Facebook, with several members tagged. The picture in question is of multiple members of the sorority, dressed in sombrero hats and ponchos, with two members in the front of the group holding cardboard signs reading, “Will mow lawn for weed+beer,” and “I don’t cut grass I smoke it.” Penn State has not confirmed if the sorority will be facing any penalties for their actions.

The President of the Penn State chapter of Chi Omega gave a statement to the campus newspaper, The Daily Collegian, saying, “Our chapter of Chi Omega sincerely apologizes for portraying inappropriate and untrue stereotypes. The picture in question does not support any of Chi Omega’s values or reflect what the organization aspires to be.”

I find it rather disheartening that there is a need to clarify that Chi Omega’s values do not include racism. Once again, the fact that this sort of action can be justified as “humorous” says a lot about what we as a society find acceptable.

There’s no place in our communities for sexist and racist attitudes. Just because something looks like it might be funny at first glance doesn’t mean it really is. When prejudiced behavior is dismissed as humor, it becomes easier and easier for people to think that it’s acceptable. But, the truth is, it’s not okay to post yourself ranting about “women—am I right?”, or posting pictures on the internet claiming that Hispanics all smoke weed.

It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Apparently, for some, it’s not.

Opinion: Purplewashing

Last Friday, thousands of students and adults donned purple in solidarity with LGBTQ youth who are bullied in school. While I support the effort to raise visibility of the violence we face in our schools – I struggle with the issue becoming a commodity. Allow me to coin a term:

Purplewashing: the act of branding anti-LGBTQ bullying as an issue to be professionally marketed.

The harassment faced by LGBTQ students (and youth perceived to be LGBTQ) is widespread. You know the statistics.

Spirit Day may be a red-letter way of showing unity in some communities. However, I urge LGBTQ advocates to approach the day with caution. The idea is spreading that trendy activities such as wearing purple could be standalone ways to combat bullying, rather than accepting ownership of systemic and institutional causes of school violence.

Spirit Day was created through grassroots efforts back in 2010. That autumn, the mainstream media took hold of the suicides of gay youth for the first time. These tragedies included the back-to-back deaths of Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Raymond Chase, Asher Brown, William Lukas, Justin Aaberg, and others. It was a very sad time as the general public was learning about how frequent LGBTQ youth suicide is.

Our Pennsylvania LGBTQ youth network supported over 25 vigils that October, called Pennsylvania Night to Live, to remember the countless youth who had been driven to end their lives related to extreme bullying. Vigils, concerts, and memorial services were held in communities across the country. Later that month, the idea organically spread through social media and celebrities to wear purple for a day in solidarity against anti-LGBTQ bullying, which became a national event. The non-profit media organization GLAAD eventually won the bid to take the reins of the day now known as ‘Spirit Day.’

This year I began to notice the day being driven by adult service providers and adult-run organizations more than the past two years. The adults in many major LGBTQ non-profit organizations posted pictures online of their staff all in purple. I even saw Esurance in my Facebook mini-feed about the importance of wearing purple. It was viral.

These concerns are not new to visibility movements. In the early 1990s, the breast cancer awareness and prevention community was struggling. Women were experiencing barriers to treatment and social stigma.  They were mad and things needed to be done – and so they marched in protest. Great progress was made with healthcare providers and insurance companies, and we were finally able to see breast cancer prevention become a national conversation. The rallies changed over time. The marches became fundraising races and walks.

Over the past two decades, breast cancer awareness advocates have promoted pink to become a multi-million dollar advocacy industry. These efforts are truly important to raise critical funds for prevention and research for a cure. However, some critics claim the global pink ribbon culture has become a professional fundraising machine. Numerous articles, books, and documentaries have been made on how the pink marketplace may be more interested in funding sources than direct service. Breast Cancer Action’s Think Before You Pink campaign has been advocating for more fundraising transparency over the past decade. Indeed, we’ve seen what happens when so much pink power goes to one organization with Susan G. Komen’s disastrous decision (and reversal) to cut funding to Planned Parenthood earlier this year.

Cities from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia light up their skylines pink this month. Perhaps one day soon they will go purple too.

Our efforts for visibility must be tied with direct action. This year it was a struggle working with several partners to convince them that we must wear more than purple to change policies and combat hatred. Some folks may feel like they are “doing their part” just by wearing a color. It’s a start, but having courageous conversations and getting involved with advocacy for safer schools can more directly lead to the change we seek. Instead of organizing to wear a color, I would press LGBTQ advocates to be more angry that often too little is being done.

We must realize the potential ramifications of marketing anti-LGBTQ bullying as a topical issue. The serious plight of youth who suffer from anti-LGBTQ bullying can be easily glossed over with high-fashion fundraising events that fail to address intersectionality and privilege. My mind races thinking of the Purple Walks ahead of us.

“Suicide is now sexy”, is how I’ve heard a friend from New York City regard LGBTQ donor culture today – that more gay male socialites are tending to flock to cocktail parties for the Trevor Project over other groups. Yes, clearly that’s an endgame for social change, when anti-LGBTQ bullying organizations are securing penthouse floors for their Manhattan headquarters by hosting the hottest VIP fundraisers in town.

We need to be angry, because if not, we are complacent.

Join an organization in marching. Help run a community-wide forum on bullying at your local school. We should not believe that sending money at an issue, or wearing a color alone, will entirely shift a cultural stigma – especially when the issue is intricately linked to policy.

A lesson learned from last week: the bigots also went national on Spirit Day. The Illinois Family Institute flooded the East Aurora School District board of directors with emails to strip the protections they recently put in place for trans students. On Spirit Day they voted to remove those policies and discuss firing the staff who proposed them. Imagine, if everyone who wore purple wrote letters to school boards that day, maybe, more communities could preserve and advance protections for LGBTQ students. Absolutely, visibility is needed, but policies and action certainly help.

Before the swarm of non-profits start planning on how to go even more purple next year, let us think critically to ensure that LGBTQ youth and bullying is not just an issue to be bought, traded, or sold. We, the students, are the youth struggling with this violence. We are strong and resilient too.

Please, don’t take wearing purple as taking a final stand. Our boldest moves will come when national safe schools action is driven by the students ourselves.

Jason Landau Goodman is a student at the University of Pennsylvania and the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition. He can be reached at