Next Tuesday, June 2, is election day for the Pennsylvania primaries. Because visiting a physical polling place may pose risks related to COVID-19, a record-breaking number of Pennsylvania voters have submitted applications for mail-in ballots. Now is a great time to review those local candidates who have demonstrated concern for the LGBTQ community.
As of last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that mail-in ballot requests in this city alone exceeded the number of statewide requests in the 2016 primary election. The number of Philadelphia voter mail-in requests total more than 145,000, with expectations for this to increase dramatically as the election date approaches. The reasons for this large number are two-fold: The pandemic and last year’s changes to Pennsylvanian election law that allows anyone to apply for mail-in ballots.
Voter turnout is always a pressing issue for campaigning candidates. That’s why Rep. Mary Isaacson (D-175th Dist.) introduced a bill in 2019 that requires employers to offer paid leave or no-fault unpaid leave for employees to go vote. Isaacson’s support for the LGBTQ community precedes her time as a representative. As chief of staff for Michael O’Brien, she supported the construction of the John C. Anderson Apartments — an LGBTQ-friendly affordable housing complex in Center City.
“I am an LGBTQ+ Equality champion who firmly believes that no one should have to worry about being evicted or fired from their job because of who they love,” said Isaacson, “and in Pennsylvania, that is a real fear as it is still legal for employers and landlords to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people. We must work to end discrimination in all forms, be that when it comes to accessing comprehensive health care, attending school, or opposing legislation that claims to protect religious liberty while actually attacking others’ human rights.”
Isaacson has consistently supported anti-discrimination bills, including two of out Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta’s recent bills to protect LGBTQ folks. In addition, it is central to Isaacson’s campaign to pass legislation to protect trans people, especially trans women of color. According to Isaacson’s campaign, she is additionally fighting to fund public schools, raise teacher salaries, move Pennsylvania to renewable energy, ease the opioid crisis with harm reduction policies and ban assault rifles and other automatic weapons. Isaacson is now running a tight race against three other candidates, Vanessa McGrath, Jeff Dempsey, and Andre Del Valle.
Vanessa McGrath’s campaign cites a commitment to equality under the law by supporting anti-discrimination laws on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Her campaign promises to increase funding for programs related to aging LGBTQ folks and funding for gender-affirming surgeries through government health programs. Other issues for McGrath include investment in renewable energy, advocating for women’s healthcare and reproductive rights, and criminal justice reform.
Jeff Dempsey joined Representative Boyle’s team as deputy chief of staff in 2010 to push progressive causes such as gun control and providing a path to education for undocumented children. Dempsey’s campaign also notes that he is working to ensure the LGBTQ community is protected by supporting anti-discrimination laws. Andre Del Valle, former President of both the Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Young Democrats, is running on a platform that keeps the Philadelphia community in focus — his platform tackles issues such as the opioid crisis and school safety but contends that no issue is too small, such as trash collection and road congestion as well.
Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-181st Dist.) is the Pennsylvania House’s first openly gay man of color who has made it his mission to protect and advocate for the LGBTQ community. He is running uncontested, but Kenyatta is one of the state’s most outspoken representatives on LGBTQ issues. He is a supporter of the Fairness Act, a piece of pending legislation that would extend statewide protections to LGBTQ people in work, housing, and public spaces. Because the Fairness Act has yet to pass, Kenyatta has proposed amendments to bills wherever he can. His most recent amendment to Bill 2489 failed by a narrow majority, but Kenyatta continues to doggedly pursue equality. Kenyatta told PGN that there are four integral pieces to his campaign: data justice for LGBTQ people through the Data for LGBTQ Live bill, Phillip’s Law which would require schools to hire more mental health professionals and his staunch stance on gun control.
Rep. Brian Sims (D-182nd Dist.) is the first openly gay man to win a seat in the Pennsylvania house. A longtime LGBTQ-rights activist, Sims has supported and introduced legislation on many LGBTQ civil rights issues. In 2013, he penned an open letter to Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey Jr. urging him to publicly support same-sex marriage. Due partially to Sims’ actions, Casey did end up voicing his support. Sims continues to fight against conversion therapy and for insurance coverage of HIV medications and he is also the co-sponsor of the Fairness Act. Sims’ seat is currently being challenged by advocate and policy veteran, Marisa Shaaban.
Shaaban’s campaign promised to protect LGBTQ folks by supporting anti-discrimination legislation, expanding protection under hate crime laws, banning conversion therapy, and raising funds for LGBTQ youth and elders. Shaaban’s campaign also advocates for investment in renewable energy, expanded access to healthcare, funding for public schools and teacher salary increases, reproductive rights and women’s healthcare and taking critical action on gun violence.
As for the state senate race, Sen. Sharif Street is running uncontested for the 3rd District and Sen. Larry Farnese has one challenger for the 1st District, Nikil Saval. Street has been a fierce LGBTQ ally for many years. Last year marked the third year in which Street tried to pass the Unanimous Consent Resolution that would recognize June as LGBT Pride Month. Additionally, Street has advocated for the Fairness Act and even invited LGBTQ activists to the Senate to give testimonials in support of it.
Farnese has also been a longtime ally of the LGBTQ community. Along with bipartisan support, Farnese introduced the Fairness Act in 2015 to the state senate. Farnese also held rallies to advocate for the passage of Bill 42, which would protect LGBTQ people from hate crimes. Farnese’s campaign addresses issues of gun violence by partnering with CeaseFire PA to stem the proliferation of guns in Philadelphia and commits to economic development and job creation.
Nikil Saval, challenger to incumbent Farnese, was the first Asian American to be elected as Second Ward leader in Philadelphia. According to Saval’s campaign site, his policies do not address LGBTQ issues directly. However, his campaign notes that Saval is committed to alleviating the housing crisis, establishing universal healthcare for families, supporting a green new deal for Pennsylvania, revitalizing public schools and implementing a recovery program for COVID-19.