Out state rep candidate speaks on campaign, LGBT visibility

When he was a Temple University student, Alex Deering took a class taught by former Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street. The out community member, who was also an intern at the time with former U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz’s congressional campaign, ended up taking Street’s advice.

“John Street said, ‘Honestly, you’ll never know what will happen unless you get involved and try it,’” the 34-year-old recalled.

After taking Street’s class, Deering began a successful campaign and became a committeeperson for the state’s 16th Ward, Sixth Division. Now, the Democrat is running for state representative for the 181st District.

“I think nothing can be done unless we build coalitions,” he said of his campaign slogan, “Stand United.” “I am African-American. I am LGBTQ. And those are two very different things. If we, as a community, find ways to connect with people who necessarily aren’t like us or don’t look like us, we will find common issues and rally together to make sure things get done. If we stand united and stand together, we can really make impact happen. If we find issues that bring us together, we can really change this world and make sure the next generation of Americans, or Philadelphians, are prepared to live in a dynamic economy.”

If elected to represent the 181st District, Deering said he would prioritize community development within the district, which covers North Philadelphia.

“My goal is to empower people and to develop organizations within the district,” he said, adding that he plans to focus on economic, social and educational justice.

Additionally, Deering, who works in the nonprofit field, said he intends to combat poverty.

“Sometimes, people are born into these situations and they don’t realize they are going through poverty. These are the people I want to touch and try to connect with.”

He also said he wants to “raise the engagement of state representatives.”

“[I want to] help them connect with some of the people that are being left behind,” Deering said. “What we don’t want to do is leave people who have been living in the city for years behind. We need to find ways to empower them so they can continue to live in the city and experience a lift in the quality of life.”

If elected, Deering would unseat 15-term incumbent Curtis Thomas and become the first black openly gay state representative. Deering noted the importance of the public’s exposure to his intersectional identity.

“I think a young black kid in my community — who may be in a situation where people around him don’t necessarily accept his sexuality or tell him that he can’t be successful — will see someone like me out there being open about who I am.”

He added that he hopes to inspire the next generation to be “authentically themselves.”

“If the 181st District gives me the pleasure of representing them and being their voice, that’s going to be a big deal. That’s going to be thousands of people saying, ‘This queer black man is someone I feel represents me.”

Deering noted the racism LGBT people of color have experienced in the community and the steps advocates have made in fighting these issues. This includes Councilman Derek Green’s legislation, which passed in June, to allow the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations to issue cease-and-desist orders to businesses that violate the LGBT-inclusive Fair Practices Ordinance. Green introduced the bill shortly after stories on racism in LGBT bars and nonprofits were brought to the forefront.

“I think that was a really good first start [but] I think we have a lot farther to go,” Deering said. “There’s a lack of exposure and diversity with the organizations that serve LGBTQ people in the city. If you put people of color, trans people and gender-nonconforming people in spaces where they are helping to influence the decision-making of a company and the direction of a company, I think it will help ease some of these issues that we have. When people don’t understand people, they tend to come up with stereotypes about how those people are and what those people are. We really need to learn how to expose each other and humanize ourselves so we’re not just stories and pictures that we see in the media.”

Deering said the city’s diversity motivated him to accomplish his goals. He grew up with a religious background and said he did not believe he could discuss his sexuality openly, nor did he believe he could advance his career if he came out.

“Moving to the city and seeing such a dynamic LGBTQ community and seeing people thrive in their careers while being authentically themselves has really inspired me. The city has the ability to heal some of these wounds,” Deering said about the effects of bias and bigotry.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” he added. “If we start providing exposure and start doing the work now, I think we can really move forward.”

If Deering is elected, he would also be the second gay person serving in the state legislature, next to state Rep. Brian Sims. The candidate said the city needs more visible examples of LGBT people.

“We need another person in the state House to help Brian Sims. He’s the only one there and, while he is a very strong voice and strong advocate, I think he needs somebody to support him. Then, you have the ability to have more than one voice to speak for issues in the LGBTQ community, and we can also develop some sort of a caucus in the House that helps us work on some of those issues.”

Deering is aware that he is “not your average candidate,” since he does not come from a legacy of politicians, nor does he have a high-paying job. However, he hopes voters will see what he can bring to the table.

“I’m out here and I’m really just trying to make a positive change,” he said. “I think that my message is going to resonate with other people of this district because a lot of them are just everyday people trying to make sure they are surviving and their children have a bright future.” 

For more information on Alex Deering, visit www.unitedwithalex.com.