Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order Monday evening to form the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, the only one of its kind in the United States.
“The creation of the commission on LGBTQ Affairs is one step of many we have taken to ensure obstacles are removed for anyone who is facing an unfair disadvantage based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression,” Wolf said in a press statement.
The commission will “help coordinate and drive statewide equality efforts,” he added.
The commission is comprised of executive director Todd Snovel, formerly an assistant dean of Lebanon Valley College, and 40 commissioners. Nominees from Philadelphia include William Way LBGT Community Center director Chris Bartlett; civic activist and Democratic nominee for the state House Malcolm Kenyatta; state Sen. Larry Farnese; Jere Mahaffey of the Philadelphia Youth Network; state Rep. Brian Sims, Philadelphia attorney Henry Sias; Amber Hikes, director of the Mayor’s Office for LGBT Affairs; and Roberto Valdes, an assistant city solicitor in the Child Welfare Department.
“When I was a kid, I couldn’t have dreamed that I would be able to be myself and stand up for the intrinsic humanity and rights of people like me, from within the government,” said Sias, a trans man. “This commission is going to change lives.”
Wolf “understands that all Pennsylvanians deserve a voice in our government — no matter who you love, how you worship or how you identify. I welcome this opportunity and am grateful to the governor for his continued leadership and [being an] ally to the LGBT community,” said Kenyatta.
Bartlett echoed the other commissioners’ sentiments.
“I’m honored to serve alongside such a diverse group of Pennsylvanians from around the state who are committed to working with Gov. Wolf to address the pressing needs of our LGBTQ communities statewide — including trans equity, LGBT economic justice and civil rights for all,” he said. “We need this kind of statewide organizing now more than ever.”
The commission is necessary “to be able to speak on behalf of marginalized identities,” said Hikes. “I’ll be pulling from the work that we’re doing in Philadelphia and be able to receive some support on a state level with the initiatives that we’re doing within my office,” she added.
Another commissioner, Michael Kenton Mahler, co-editor of Erie Gay News, said he’s “looking forward to being able to keep Pennsylvania moving ahead.”
Jason Landau Goodman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, also was appointed to serve on the commission. He authored the proposal for the commission after Wolf came into office in 2015. “I want to make sure that the issues of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians are brought to the forefront,” he said. “Making sure there are community leaders on the ground having a platform to be at the table at the highest levels of government is critical.”
While the commission is the only one of its kind nationwide, it is not Pennsylvania’s first. In 1976, Gov. Milton Shapp formed the Council for Sexual Minorities, which looked at ways to implement nondiscrimination legislation and laws to support LGBTQ students. Members also discussed same-sex marriage, which would not be legal in Pennsylvania until 2014.
The council formed out of a meeting Shapp had with PGN publisher Mark Segal and Harry Langhorne, the paper’s political reporter, in its early days. Shapp “was way ahead of his time,” Segal said.
Shapp also issued an executive order banning employment discrimination based on sexual orientation — the first enacted in Pennsylvania. And he issued a statewide gay Pride resolution.
The council operated until 1987, with LGBT people from across the state and representatives from eight major state agencies meeting regularly. Gov. Bob Casey Sr. neglected to reappoint members when he took office, despite telling PGN in 1986 while campaigning for governor that he would continue the Council for Sexual Minorities.
The Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs
Executive Director – Todd Snovel
Chair – Anne Wakabayashi, EmergePA, Philadelphia
Co-Vice-Chair – Shaashawn Dial, City of Harrisburg, Harrisburg
Co-Vice-Chair – Tyler Titus, Erie School Board, Erie
Ben Allatt, Harrisburg City Council, Harrisburg
Rich Askey, PSEA, Etters
Mark Barbee, Mayor of Bridgeport, Bridgeport
Chris Bartlett, William Way LGBT Community Center, Philadelphia
Rosemary Browne, Alder Health Services, Harrisburg
Patricia Bucek, Vibrant Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh
Kathy Cameron, Washington County GSA, Washington
Joanne Carroll, TransCentralPA, Lancaster
Marc Coleman, The Tactile Group, Philadelphia
Katharine Dalke, Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute, Camp Hill
Jim DePoe, IBEW, Pittsburgh
Lawrence Farnese, State Senator, Philadelphia
Dan Frankel, State Representative, Pittsburgh
Elicia Gonzales, Women’s Medical Fund, Philadelphia
Amber Hikes, City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia
Jodi Hirsh, Sequal Consulting, Pittsburgh
Malcolm Kenyatta, Civic and Community Advocate, Philadelphia
Michele Kessler, UFCW, Mountain Top
Jason Landau Goodman, Pennsylvania Youth Congress, Lower Merion
Maryellen Madden, Attorney, Philadelphia
Jere Mahaffey, Philadelphia Youth Network, Philadelphia
Michael Mahler, Erie Gay News, Erie
Adil Mansoor, Theatre Director and Educator, Pittsburgh
Adanjesús Marín, Make the Road Pennsylvania, Allentown
Sean Meloy, Victory Fund, Gibsonia
Gerald Montano, UPMC, Glenshaw
Sebastian Palaez, Allentown Women’s Fund, Allentown
Brian Patchcoski, Penn State University, State College
Sarah Rosso, Persad Center, Pittsburgh
Kristin Seale, Rose Tree Media School Board, Media
Adrian Shanker, Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, Allentown
Henry Sias, Attorney, Philadelphia
Brian Sims, State Representative, Philadelphia
Sean Strub, Mayor of Milford, Milford
Roberto “Tito” Valdes, City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia
Harry Young, Central Pennsylvania Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, Harrisburg
Heshie Zinman, LGBT Elder Initiative, Philadelphia