Gay emergency medicine doctor joins U.S. Senate race

Dr. Kevin Baumlin

Dr. Kevin Baumlin, chief of emergency and urgent care services at Pennsylvania Hospital, recently joined the Democratic primary race for the U.S. Senate. If elected, he would be the first openly gay senator from Pennsylvania.

“The journey toward acceptance is still ongoing,” Baumlin said. “In my lifetime, I never imagined as a kid I’d be able to get married, and certainly never imagined I’d be able to run for U.S. Senate as an out, proud gay man. There’s a lot of work that’s been done, and we still have a long way to go.” 

Baumlin considers the health-related issues he encounters as an ER doctor to parallel those plaguing many Americans, “from the opioid crisis to homelessness, to poverty, to wages that are not fair, to dealing with older adult problems we can find better solutions for,” he said. “I advocate for resources during the pandemic. Just getting vaccines for patients in the hospital and the ER is a daily phone call for me — getting the appropriate number of staff to care for patients who are poor and disenfranchised.” 

People of color, LGBTQ+ folks and other minority communities have been hit hardest by the pandemic, economically and health-wise.

The issues that Baumlin deems most important in his campaign — healthcare, jobs that pay living wages and access to education — are the biggest matters that he believes LGBTQ communities experience. 

According to a 2018 Human Rights Watch report, many LGBT Americans have trouble finding culturally-competent healthcare providers, experience discrimination from insurers, or avoid seeking medical care out of fear of improper treatment. The report also cites a 2017 survey conducted by the Center for American Progress showing that 8% of LGB resondants and 29% of transgender respondents said that in the previous year, a healthcare provider declined to see them because of their sexual orientation or gender.  

Practicing culturally-competent care and treating patients as human beings regardless of the health issues they may experience are some of the tenets Baumlin plans to bring to the Senate if elected. 

“All of the acute needs of society come through my doors,” Baumlin said. “My job is to fight for resources, advocate for change, advocate for people to use the right language and leave their biases at home when they’re caring for people. It sounds like a little thing, but that’s a lot — just teaching people how to use the right pronouns when they address people.”

Baumlin enters the Democratic primary race with several other challengers vying to represent Pa., including state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who would also be the first out Pa. senator if elected; Pa. Lieutenant Gov. John Fetterman; Montgomery County Board of Commissioners Chair and physician Dr. Valerie Arkoosh; state Sen. Sharif Street; former Brighton, Alabama Mayor Brandaun Dean; Jenkintown Borough Councilmember Alexandria Khalil and former Norristown Municipal Council President John McGuigan.

Republican U.S. Senate candidates from Pa. are Montgomery County real estate developer Jeff Bartos, 2018 Pa. lieutenant governor nominee; Kathy Barnette, political commentator and 2020 U.S. House of Representatives candidate; Sean Gale, 2019 Montgomery County Commission candidate and Everett Stern, 2016 U.S. Senate candidate. More candidates are expected to join both the Democratic and Republican primaries. 

Baumlin believes that his work in emergency medicine sets him apart from some of his competitors. “When we talk about policies, they’re not lofty ideas to me, they’re about people that I care for,” he said. As an example, he cited a patient for whom he prescribed Suboxone as part of their treatment for opioid addiction. 

“He’s got a job and a place to live now,” Baumlin said. “He was living on the streets homeless. That’s a person to me.” Baumlin prioritizes “how we engage government on the federal level to decrease the stigma of people with addictions, to make sure that policies and law reflect the rights that we all have in the [LGBT] community.”

According to The 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 9% of sexual minority (LGBTQ) adults 18 and older reported using opioids, compared to 3.8% of their straight, cisgender peers. The Philadelphia Department of Public Health reported that of the 1,150 people in Philadelphia who died of drug overdoses in 2019, 80% of those deaths were opioid-related. 

It’s relatively early in the primary race, but Baumlin feels confident in his campaign message of putting the needs of the American public before all else, he told PGN.   

“We have a message of compassion, about working on the inequities in society, a message of my being a doctor who’s worked on the frontlines through the COVID pandemic and a message of listening,” he said. “That’s what I want to do for the Commonwealth, make things better [in] healthcare, jobs and education, listen to people and create workable solutions.”

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Michele Zipkin is a staff writer for Philadelphia Gay News, where she reports on issues including LGBTQ youth issues, housing insecurity, healthcare, city government and advocacy organizations, and events. Her work has been recognized by the Keystone Media Awards, Society of Professional Journalists, National Newspaper Association, and more. She received her BA from Goucher College and her MA in journalism from Temple University. She has been on staff with PGN since January 2020 and previously worked as a freelancer.