BJ: One was the work I was able to do as majority chair of the State Government Committee on trying to expand the jurisdiction of the Human Relations Act to cover sexual orientation and gender expression. Even though Philadelphia and a handful of other localities do include sexual orientation, 80 percent of people in the state are not covered. If they’re fired, they have no recourse. So we did hearings all over the state — in Erie, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh — and we had such effecting testimony. I left a couple of those hearings in tears. To hear about the lives these people have to live was very moving. And, historically speaking, there had never been a positive hearing, an official action, from the Pennsylvania legislature for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning people until I did those hearings. In the next session, we voted the bill out of committee but we didn’t feel it was safe to bring it to the floor, and then we lost the majority. I’m also proud of what I’m working on now, HB 1828, which allows life partners, both same-sex and opposite-sex, to not pay the onerous inheritance tax. It would treat them the same as married couples are treated. I testified in front of the Finance Committee on that and plan to hold a policy committee hearing on it after the primary. I’m also proud of being instrumental in stopping the constitutional DOMA.
PGN: What would you do to curb crime in the 182nd District?
BJ: I would like to be in a position to get some money for town watches. They’re the answer in many ways. We need to prevent crimes and the more cohesive a neighborhood is, the fewer crimes there are. The whole reason we have so much crime in urban areas is because people are pretty anonymous. In a small village, everyone knows you and if you’re someplace you aren’t supposed to be, somebody’s father would chase you or a grandmother would threaten to tell your mom. But in urban areas we need to work very hard to make our neighborhood more cohesive, to get people involved in neighborhood organizations, involved on the street. We need small-town atmospheres in our Center City and South Philadelphia neighborhoods — and to some extent we do — but the more we can achieve that, the less and less crime we’ll have.
PGN: What would you do to bring jobs to the district?
BJ: I would bring pressure on the governor to fund what his own commission said must be funded — transportation and transit. We will have no economy whatsoever in Philadelphia if we do not fund transit. That’s how people get to work, how people come from the suburbs, how tourists get here, how students get around. We have bridges that are over 100 years old, and they have to be fixed. Also, I don’t like to criticize the mayor because he is in a bad position, but he should be in Harrisburg advocating for education money, not turning to the growth areas in the cities through this value-assessment project and raising our property taxes. I can’t figure out how it helps to punish people who live in middle-class neighborhoods. Philadelphia is growing and we’re growing in middle-class neighborhoods where people are investing in property. Turning that around is a job killer. This also has to do with the idea of crime. We have a certain amount of money, and we can spend it on jails or we can spend it on schools. We need to spend it on schools and go back to the reputation we had under the Rendell administration where our reading scores went up in every grade between 2003-08, even in Philadelphia, because of the fiscal choices the Rendell administration made with early-childhood education and some other programs. We can’t bring jobs to the city, to my district, if we don’t have a pool of people a business would want to hire, if we don’t have a reputation for turning out workers who can work and learn on the job. We went from going up a mountain to falling over a cliff and into an abyss.
PGN: How would you ensure that your office represents the makeup of the 182nd District?
BJ: I have tried to be diverse in my campaign staff, and the same with the staff in my office. In my campaign, I asked Brian Sims to be my treasurer because I wanted that to be a signal that I understand how important LGBT issues are and that LGBT people, along with others like those here without papers, are a legitimate object of discrimination from some people. That cannot be in society. Brian actually approached me to be in the campaign and I asked him to be treasurer. And then he emailed me and resigned, never telling me any problems he had with me, never complaining about anything. I knew by his tone in the email that he was running against me.
PGN: What would you do to support funding for LGBT youth and senior programs?
BJ: Both populations are unfortunately very vulnerable. I’m working with [PGN publisher] Mark Segal and [state Rep.] Mike O’Brien on the senior-housing project. I’m very willing to do whatever I can to bring money forward for that. I think especially older men, who haven’t been allowed to get married, who don’t have children, are very isolated in their older age. Women tend to have better social networks but that’s not always the case. But older LGBT people are very isolated and so are youth in a different way. It goes back to the problem that this governor signed a stupid pledge not to tax this enormous industry, which is taking minerals out of our soil and which is not a huge job provider. We pay more than we get back from Harrisburg, that’s why the city’s taxes are so high and why it’s so difficult for small businesses to get along here. If we had a decent tax on Marcellus Shale, we would have the resources to fund senior and youth programs for LGBTs and other people. All I can do is raise my voice because right now we don’t have the votes to make that happen.
PGN: What would you do to decrease HIV infection rates in Philadelphia?
BJ: We need more good, objective sex education for everybody in our schools. And when I say that, I mean it in the widest, broadest sense. Kindergarten children should be talked to about babies, and third-graders should have a little bit of info about your responsibilities as a big sister or big brother. And once kids get to the age where they’re sexually active, which is sadly younger and younger, they should have some knowledge to protect themselves from venereal diseases and HIV. And we need more money for research. I’ve constantly advocated for absolute anonymity and confidentiality for people who get tested for HIV. I’ve worked to pass legislation like the HIV Preventive Education Act, which requires counseling even when a test turns out negative. If you come to get a test because you think you’re engaged in risky behavior, then you should have somebody to talk to who’s a professional. And I’d like to see that expanded and adhered to. The more we talk about this, the more people get information from objective sources, and the less transmission of HIV we have. I would hope there’s a cure but right now we have take other steps, and they’re not expensive to fund, not nearly as expensive as dealing with someone who dies of AIDS. For a person to die of AIDS prematurely, and that’s always the case, is the most expensive thing because we’ve lost a person. That’s an untold price. It’s shameful and it shouldn’t happen. I was the first person, working with Sen. Fumo, in the legislature in the 1980s to get serious money — a million dollars — for HIV preventive education. It wasn’t all the money we needed but it was our first million and that was before people were seriously talking about this.
PGN: What LGBT issue will you work most closely on in the next legislative session?
BJ: I’ll keep pushing on the inheritance-tax bill but I think it really depends on the makeup of the General Assembly. If voters are as angry as I think they are, we — the Democrats in the House and Senate — may make serious incursions. If that’s the case, I’d try my very best to move forward with the civil-rights issues, the marriage issues, all kinds of family and relationship issues regarding the second-class-citizen treatment of LGBT people. And if that doesn’t happen, it’ll be defensive. We’ll be fighting off the marriage amendment. But I can’t say what’ll happen in November.
PGN: What is the first piece of legislation you would introduce next session?
BJ: I would certainly introduce the inheritance bill on day one, and would also put the marriage bill out again. [State Rep.] Dan Frankel and I have been working together [on the LGBT nondiscrimination bill], so I wouldn’t introduce that because he will, but I would certainly put my name on it on day one.
PGN: How would your plan for taxes impact the residents of the 182nd District?
BJ: The reason why the city’s taxes are so burdensome is because we don’t get what we need from the state. My struggle is constantly trying to make the state give us back the dollars we send them in tax money. We should at least get that back and we don’t. That is atypical of big cities and it dampens the economy of the entire Delaware Valley and makes taxes go up. When we have a small tax base, each one of us is paying more and it’s wrong.
PGN: What will you do to build support for LGBT issues among lawmakers outside the Philadelphia area and with Republicans?
BJ: I’m very encouraged with the Democrats outside of the Philadelphia area. We have a lot of people in the LGBT Caucus who are not only younger in terms of service but who are also actually younger, people like Matt Smith, Pam DeLissio, Vanessa Lowery Brown. It’s encouraging to see that at least the Democrats are becoming interested in this, partly because they support me and because they know we’re going in the right direction. We have three co-chairs, myself, Dan Frankel and Daylin Leach, and I’d like to see some folks who don’t have our seniority to take on some leadership position in some form. That would encourage even more of their friends in the legislature to join. In terms of the Republicans, with the makeup we have now, I despair. I talk to them of course, but my opponent must be the only Democrat in Pennsylvania, or on the planet, who thinks he can sit down with Republicans and explain the dilemma of being LGBT and get them to vote with us. These people have an agenda: They’re taking bills word for word from the think-tank American Legislative Exchange Council. They don’t care who talks to them about anything: They have an ideological bent and they’re following it. Unless the people sets themselves on fire like they did with the Susan G. Komen issue and later with the ultrasound bill, we’re not going to see any change in the Republicans. Not until they’re threatened with really losing their seats to Democrats. I don’t care how handsome you are, you’re not going to talk them into voting with you. For him to believe that could happen is so naïve.
PGN: How would you work against anti-women’s rights measures, such as the recent ultrasound bill?
BJ: It’s the same thing in regards to LGBT issues. Organizing successfully makes for a win. You don’t win anything in the building, it all happens out in the community. I’m out in the public all the time, urging people to organize, to join organizations that fight these fights, to give these organizations money, to use social media, write letters to the press. None of these challenges are going to be addressed successfully without a firestorm from the public. That’s what I did with the voter ID bill. I saw it coming in the State Government Committee and held a press conference in the House with all of the leadership from the Democrats in the House and everyone ran stories about it. That’s what I attempt to do with all of the issues we can’t move forward because of the ideologically closed-minded, indoctrinated extremists we have in the House.
PGN: How will you work to mobilize LGBTs and allies to lobby for pro-LGBT measures?
BJ: There are four candidates in other parts of the state who are openly gay, and people from Philadelphia should be helping them. The community should be contacting their campaigns, offering them support, offering to volunteer and go door-to-door for them. There are two people running in districts just outside of Harrisburg, which is not far. They would be outstanding as the first openly gay people in the Pennsylvania legislature and they would defeat wicked Republicans. They wouldn’t defeat a longtime ally.
PGN: What will be the top issues facing LGBTs and other Pennsylvanians in the coming session?
BJ: I think this economy. People don’t have jobs. People are underemployed. College students are sitting at home. High-school students can’t get to college because tuition keeps going up. Voters — it doesn’t matter if you’re LGBT, straight, old or young — want this economy fixed. We want job training, job opportunities, we want businesses moving here and employing people. The Corbett administration and Republicans who got elected campaigned on that issue. They’ve been in office for 15 months. We have a meeting every week with the State Government Committee and this is the very first week we had a bill come up that actually helps somebody retain a job. It was a resolution to Congress to keep open a military facility outside of Pittsburgh, which would retain jobs.
PGN: How would you work to build support for these issues among Democrats, and how would you work to build support among Republicans?
BJ: If we have the Republicans we have now, I wouldn’t bother. I’d of course notify them and talk to them, but I wouldn’t expect to persuade them on much. It has to be a firestorm on the outside. Unremitting editorial. People asking, where’s the job growth? Where’s the business development? Where’s the support for small businesses? In Philadelphia, in the 182nd District in particular, small-business activity is by and far the biggest generator of jobs. I support all of the small-business associations. When I was in the majority, I worked hard to have minority and women businesses become contractors with the Department of General Services. Small businesses in places like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh deserve a chance to have a piece of the pie. That’s how you create jobs, and we saw that under the Rendell years.
PGN: Why should the LGBT community vote for you?
BJ: I think it would be hard to find anybody in this state who has been longer serving and more committed to the LGBT community than myself. I am the leader in the state and to turn on me in the way that my former treasurer, Mr. Sims, did sends a message to every other state legislator and elected official who wants to help this community. And we want to help not because we’re making a political judgment, but because it’s the right thing to do. The message is that when somebody does the right thing, we defeat her. Now how does that help the cause?