Conklin, on the ticket with Democratic candidate for governor Dan Onorato, will face off with Bucks County commissioner Jim Cawley and Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett — Republican lieutenant governor and governor candidates, respectively — in the Nov. 2 election.
Conklin defeated Republican incumbent Barbara Spencer to represent Centre County in 2006. Prior to becoming a state legislator, he served for seven years as a Centre County Commissioner and, as chair of the board of commissioners in 2001, oversaw the implementation of the county’s nondiscrimination policy that was inclusive of sexual orientation.
He said he has several close friends who are openly gay and nearly 30 percent of his campaign staff are members of the LGBT community.
“I’m someone who grew up with individuals who were gay, so it’s never been anything new or different to me, but just part of life,” he said.
Conklin’s district encompasses Penn State University, which he said has a large LGBT community that he advocates for.
“One of the largest gay communities in Pennsylvania is in my district, which is something people don’t realize,” he said. “When you think of rural Pennsylvania, it’s different from Philadelphia or from Pittsburgh, but this is actually a very progressive district that’s in the middle of Central Pennsylvania, so it’s kind of deceptive in nature. So as a representative — just like the Babettes [Josephs (D-182nd Dist.)] and the Dan Frankels [D-23rd Dist.], my district has a very large community, and I work to represent all of the people in my district.”
Conklin was endorsed by the Capital Region Stonewall Democrats, although Philadelphia’s Liberty City Democratic Club endorsed Saidel.
Conklin favors civil unions for same-sex couples but is not an advocate of full marriage equality. He said, however, that he opposes efforts to ban same-sex marriage in the state constitution, the latest of which was defeated in a state Senate committee earlier this year.
“Gay marriage is not recognized in the state of Pennsylvania but I would never vote to ban it. I would never allow that to happen,” he said. “I am in favor of gay couples having the same rights as any other couples.”
Conklin is also supportive of efforts to include sexual orientation and gender identity into the state hate-crimes law and to ban LGBT discrimination.
There are currently bills in the House that address civil unions, hate crimes and nondiscrimination and, although Conklin said he would vote for such measures, he is not currently a cosponsor of them, which he said is on par with his typical approach.
“I’m not trying to slight the community in any way,” he said. “I personally don’t cosponsor a lot of bills. Bills can be changed and morphed, and I’ve been burnt a few times on bills that I’ve cosponsored and then have been amended drastically, so I’m always leery about it. I just don’t cosponsor many bills but that doesn’t mean I don’t support them.”
Conklin said he’d also support efforts to mandate equal hospital-visitation rights for same-sex couples and the inclusion of LGBT protections in the state anti-bullying law.
The House recently passed a measure Conklin introduced earlier this year that seeks to combat teen-dating violence. The bill — named after Demi Brae Cuccia, a 16-year-old from Monroeville who was killed by her boyfriend in 2007 — defines dating partners as those in intimate relationships, regardless of gender.
Conklin said he plans to expand his outreach to Philadelphia in the next few months and is eager to meet members of the local LGBT community.
“I’m going to be doing a lot of work in Philadelphia, and I’m looking forward to coming down to functions that the community has if I’m able to be there. That’s definitely something I want to do.”
Jen Colletta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.