BS: That’s an easy one, Equality Pennsylvania. At the time I got involved with Equality PA, most would agree that it was on its last leg. It had lost the best executive director that it had had for years and who was responsible for its growth over the years. It was extremely underfunded and, quite frankly, extremely inactive. Before I joined the board, they voted twice to shutter the organization altogether. I think people often think that it was my job for two-and-a-half years versus something I did wholeheartedly as a volunteer. It’s been three years since I stepped in and this is now an organization that has played an active role in every municipal nondiscrimination ordinance in the last two-and-a-half years. It’s now their second year in a row where they’ve been able to do endorsements of statewide LGBTQA candidates. It’s an organization that others around the country are looking at to establish a (c)(4) and a PAC and how to get steady streams of funding. I’m very proud of my background, very proud of my time in college football and of becoming an attorney, but stepping in and leading the charge at Equality PA was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done and also one of my proudest moments.
PGN: What would you do to curb crime in the 182nd District?
BS: Engagement, engagement, engagement. There is no “silver bullet” to end crime anywhere. Here in the 182nd District, I am a strong advocate of allowing Philadelphia to enact its own gun-control law. I disagree with the current laws that force Philadelphia to accept the same gun laws as, say, in Potter County, Pa. But it’s also about engagement. Throughout Philadelphia’s history, when the services the city provides are not enough to sustain a neighborhood, the neighborhood steps up and rises up. When we’ve seen success at curbing crimes, it’s in things like nuisance court at night, town-watch programs, things that engage people who live in the neighborhoods directly. We also need to engage with police officers and law enforcement, but it starts with engaging the community, which is something I’ve done in my campaign and my whole career.
PGN: What would you do to bring jobs to the district?
BS: This is probably my favorite topic. I’ve spent a whole lot of time working on jobs because that’s what people in this district are focusing on. I go door to door and I could talk for hours on end about civil rights, education, the environment, but most people want to talk about jobs. I just released an extremely comprehensive jobs program that focuses on three things: incentivizing the types of businesses we want here in Philadelphia — so, green, high-tech businesses; innovation, because that is the future of green jobs and tax reform. Unfortunately, the tax system we have in this state does a great deal of harm to Philadelphia businesses. Having to compete against New Jersey or Delaware businesses, with a shift in revenue to Delaware so you don’t have to pay taxes, is ridiculous and puts all businesses, small and large, at a massive disadvantage. By shifting to a commercial activity tax, we’re lowering corporate tax rates to a way that is revenue-neutral and putting money into the pockets of our local businesses.
PGN: How would you ensure that your office represents the makeup of the 182nd District?
BS: Diversity is the name of the game when it comes to modern success. While I was recruiting board members for Equality PA, we would talk about their job, their backgrounds, their likes and dislikes, and then afterward, about what affinity they were a part of — were they African American, a woman, did they use a wheelchair, were they Hispanic or Latino? People deserve to hear from people who understand their backgrounds — that’s not pandering. This is one of the most diverse districts in the state. My staff is as diverse as the district and, if I’m successful, my office in and of itself will absolutely reflect my campaign, the district and the people who surround me in my life, who are massively diverse.
PGN: What would you do to support funding for LGBT youth programs?
BS: This is a two-part answer. There is RCAP funding that legislators are able to bring to those in their district, so I would no doubt bring RCAP funding to youth programs. It harkens to what I was talking about, about crime. But also, the district has, without a doubt, the best-funded nonprofit, public-interest organizations in the state, and they’re not engaged in the way they should be. I would work to get funding from Harrisburg and help Philadelphia push funding toward youth, but I’d also use my voice and my coalition-building skills to form partnerships that are able to build an influx of private money.
PGN: What would you do to support funding for LGBT seniors programs?
BS: It’s almost an identical answer. RCAP funding is important for youth and for seniors; there’s always a certain amount of money I can bring back to my district, and I’m very committed to bringing that money to youth and to seniors but that’s only half the answer. The other is making the case for private investment — that it’s not just good for neighborhood- and community-building but also it’s good for people to build good corporate citizenship and stewardship.
PGN: What would you do to decrease HIV infection rates in Philadelphia?
BS: It comes down to research and development. We need an investment in biomedical research in Philadelphia, which will create jobs and put the focus on HIV rates here in the city. One of the things I hope to be able to do is bring more funding to biomedical research in Philadelphia. There are a number of places, not just CHOP and Penn, focusing research on the HIV infection rates in the city. There are a number of populations that we may describe as LGBT but who don’t identify as LGBT, so it may be difficult to address that community. But we need to be out there finding out why the rates are high, talking to people in the communities and drawing as much attention to the fact that HIV is still a massive issue, more so in Philadelphia that anywhere in the state.
PGN: What LGBT issue will you work most closely on in the next legislative session?
BS: I plan to start with anti-bullying and with a version of HB 300. Both can be worked on at the same time on day one. Our anti-bullying legislation is so woefully inadequate. Yet New Jersey, which has a governor who is not a fan of LGBT people, clearly, still signed into law perhaps the strongest anti-bullying policy in the country. Given what’s happening nationally and in retail politics and in Pennsylvania, a solid push for anti-bullying will happen on day one.
PGN: What is the first piece of legislation you would introduce next session?
BS: It would be one of those two. Several years ago I worked closely with [state Rep.] Tim Briggs out in King of Prussia to develop what I believe is the comprehensive anti-bullying bill put together in Pennsylvania. We pulled language from laws from all over the country and I plan to reintroduce that bill, and I know there are a number of co-spsonsors throughout the state who are anxious to support it.
PGN: How would your plan for taxes impact the residents of the 182nd District?
BS: The truth is it will lower the tax rate of every business owner here in Philadelphia. It broadens the tax base but lessens the overall tax burden, so we’ll literally be putting money into every pocket in Philadelphia, which they can use to invest in future business or, frankly, invest on their own. Having a tax rate that no longer punishes Philadelphia businesses is a benefit to all Philadelphians. It brings more money into Philadelphia from companies actually based in the city.
PGN: What will you do to build support for LGBT issues among lawmakers outside the Philadelphia area and with Republicans?
BS: I spent a lot of time over the last couple of years building relationships with legislators outside of Philadelphia. One of the things we did with Equality PA early on was move the headquarters to Harrisburg. One, because a lot of the action on these issues is happening in Harrisburg, and also any one statewide organization that’s based in Philadelphia isn’t viewed as statewide by the rest of the state. I’ve spent a lot of time in the last two-and-a-half years reaching out to people all over the state, all the way out to Erie, to engage people. It’s about relationships. Legislators haven’t been able to hear from an LGBT colleague about their lives, who they are. Every legislator uses examples from their own lives when they’re advocating, and I plan to do that every single day. On the flip side, it’s not about how many times you sit down with a representative from Potter County and say, “I’m LGBT and I want you to focus on LGBT issues.” It’s about how many times you’re sitting together in a cafeteria, in caucus meetings working on bridges or the budget, on the train to and from Harrisburg. The more exposed these legislators are to LGBT people, the more they will be able to make the cases in their own mind about why they should support LGBT issues.
PGN: How would you work against anti-women’s rights measures, such as the recent ultrasound bill?
BS: I plan on making it very clear from day one that an attack on women’s rights is an attack on my rights as well. I live in a state where my mother, my sister, my future daughter, my best friend, my neighbor all have the same rights as I do. This is something some men in the House are forgetting. Every civil-rights fight in history has benefited from unexpected allies. I will be the strongest man in the Pennsylvania House on women’s rights. Anyone who thinks women’s rights are only a woman’s issue are unprepared for what I will have to say about women’s rights. I got to my LGBT work through feminism. I’m the son of an Army-colonel mother, and I’m fond of telling people that I never once heard the phrase, “Wait until your father gets home.” My mother was enough. I was raised by co-equal parents who were strong, loving and caring people. A state that would treat my father differently than it would treat my mother would rob me of my rights, and it’s not something I’ll stand for.
PGN: How will you work to mobilize LGBTs and allies to lobby for pro-LGBT measures?
BS: This is the thing I’m most excited to get the opportunity to do. The last time LGBT organizations in the state really mobilized was in 2006 to get rid of Rick Santorum. We partnered with many other progressive organizations as well, but that was the last time the state’s LGBT community really rallied together. I’ve had the opportunity to work with many, if not all, of this state’s LGBT organizations, not just Equality PA and ACLU, but the LGBT Center Coalition in Harrisburg, the PA Diversity Network and Mazzoni Center, which often doesn’t get included in these discussions but, as the state’s largest LGBT organization, it should. Mobilizing LGBT people and allies to lobby for pro-LGBT legislation is the definition of being a legislator who’s really working on this legislation. There’s not a single legislator who can introduce a bill and get it passed without the support of those organizations with a vested interest in the issue. We’ve seen a lot of that with LGBT bills. Bills get introduced before those groups who are most vested in it have the ability to get out the vote, to raise awareness, so we see a history of failed votes on LGBT issues that perhaps shouldn’t have been brought up until stronger partnerships have been formed. About a third of Democrats in the state House don’t vote how we as progressive Philadelphians would like them to vote, so when we bring bills up that we know they’re going to vote against, we hurt ourselves because, two years down the line, we’ll hear from Republicans that this bill failed by a bipartisan vote in the past. So we need to make sure we are bringing all of our interest groups together, and that’s something I know I can do because I’ve done it before. And having an LGBT voice in the House would be an impetus to bring even more voices together. We need strength in numbers.
PGN: What will be the top issues facing LGBTs and other Pennsylvanians in the coming session?
BS: Hands down, we’ll still be talking about the budget a year from now. It’s no surprise that Gov. Corbett slashed the budget; we expected that to happen because it does when there’s a power change. But what is unexpected is that, after the wholesale, chainsaw slashing, there has been no thoughtful period where those organizations and institutions that had their funding cut can make their case. That’s not happening, so the budget will be a big part of the discussion going forward. Education as well. The state will not for a whole lot longer be able to continue to control all of Philadelphia’s schools. That’s not intended to be a permanent fix, and only those in the legislature in Harrisburg and those in Philadelphia over the next two years can make a serious case for reform. Also, jobs, jobs, jobs. I wish all Republicans in the state House and Corbett, when they said they were running on jobs and economy, actually meant it. Because we haven’t seen jobs bills and those addressing the economy. There’s no way they can continue to not address the economy. Over the next couple years, we need to be bringing green jobs to Pennsylvania, and with all the issues we have in the state, with fracking and environmental issues, we need to be talking about how we can continue to grow new jobs and hold on to those jobs. There’s been a lot of lip service but no substantive legislative conversation to make sure Pennsylvania is competitive in five, 10, 20 years.
PGN: How would you work to build support for these issues among Democrats, and how would you work to build support among Republicans?
BS: I will help elect other Democrats. In Political Science 101, you’re told the middle district in the largest city in the state is going to have the most Democratic leverage, but that’s not the case here. When you have the privilege of running in a one-party town where, after the primary, the elected candidate is the presumptive winner, you should be going out and raising money for other Democrats. This district has been woefully lax in supporting other Democrats around the state. When Democratic candidates from Montgomery County are looking for support, they come to Philadelphia because this is where the hub of Democratic power and authority is, but they do everything on their own. There’s not coordinated help from this district. In the next six months after I win, I’ll raise as much as I did over the last seven months, which is pretty historic in itself, for Democrats in Potter, Elk, Center counties. That’s not happened before. The potential for this district to capitalize on its assets and its strength to support other Democrats outside this region is incredible, but is perhaps one of the areas where we have been most lacking over the last several decades. This is the way we get legislation passed in Harrisburg, by leveraging relationships and helping build relationships. We get things passed when we have more Democrats in the House, so we need to get out and help raise money for them, and that’s what I’ll be doing every day after the primary election until Nov. 2. I hope to raise more money than anybody has. That’s how you build leverage, power and get things done.
PGN: Why should the LGBT community vote for you?
BS: I’m running after years of working and advocating on behalf of the LGBT community and of the many communities and neighborhoods they’re a part of. It became clear to me that my values and my experience could lead me to do a better job for this district than has been done. My experience taught me that in the absence of actual representation, allied representation can only go so far. We’ve come a long way in the history of LGBT civil rights in this state but, for the toughest roads ahead, we have to be ready, we have to be capable and we have to be present. Barney Frank always says, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu,” and the LGBT community has been on this state’s menu for years and years. A gay man joining the legislature is not a referendum on the last 20 years, but a referendum on the future.