Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced his candidacy for governor last month, hoping to fill the seat in Harrisburg occupied by Governor Tom Wolf since 2015.
“I’ve spent my life taking on the big and powerful on behalf of those who have been wronged, citizens who have been left out, and communities that have fallen behind,” Shapiro said in his first campaign video.
A longtime supporter of the LGBTQ community, Shapiro was previously the chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, as well as a State Representative for the 153rd District. Shapiro spoke with PGN about why he supports the LGBTQ community and how he’ll push LGBTQ rights forward as governor.
In 2006, you were trying to get nondiscrimination through in Montgomery County, and then a year later you were voting to make sure the state of Pennsylvania didn’t outlaw same-sex marriage. What brought you to these issues so early in the game?
You know, I think it’s just a matter of right and wrong. I’ve always been someone who’s been grounded in my public service, in my faith, in my family, and in trying to do what I think is right. The idea that someone could legally be discriminated against because they’re a man who’s in love with another man or a woman who’s in love with another woman, that somehow that was okay under the eyes of the law was unacceptable to me. And I’ve just always felt that these were the hills to die on and to fight on and try and make progress on. I think back to that moment in Montgomery County [in 2013] when D. Bruce Hanes came running up to my office and said “there’s two women downstairs who want to get married, what do we do?” and without missing a beat I said “you issue them the marriage license.” So I think for me it was more about just what’s right. And as the debate went on, I physically remember a conversation with my son 9 or 10 years ago, I guess he had heard that gay marriage was not legal in the United States, it must have been on the news or something, and he said to me “wait a sec, two boys and two girls can’t get married?” and I said “well no, unfortunately they can’t in America today.” He said “I thought you just had to be in love with someone to get married?” And it’s like from the mouth of babes, you know. It crystalized what I’ve always thought. So the bottom line is I’ve always viewed this as a civil rights issue, as an issue of right and wrong, and even before it was as popular as it is today in public opinion polls, I just felt like it was the important and right thing to do.
In this campaign for governor, the issue that I think you’re going to be hit with a lot because of your support for LGBTQ issues is the dog whistle of “religious freedom.” How do you respond to that?
I don’t think that anyone should be able to hide behind a religious label to discriminate against someone else. And I am someone who you know is a person of deep faith, and I spoke openly about my faith when I launched this campaign, in both the video and the spoken message. And while I don’t expect people to adopt the teachings of my faith, I certainly don’t think we should be adopting an approach where people use faith as a way to discriminate against others. Period. I just don’t think people should be using faith as a way to discriminate.
As attorney general, you and your staff have held hearings around the state on the issue of nondiscrimination, but of course your office could only prosecute some of the cases because we don’t have a nondiscrimination law in the state of Pennsylvania. If elected governor, is there anything you can do that other governors have not been able to do to pass nondiscrimination? The Fairness Act has been introduced in Pennsylvania for 47 years now, since Governor Shapp, and it has been continually held up by the state house and state senate.
And I was cosponsoring these bills when I was in the legislature. We’re going to get it done when I’m governor, because I give a damn, and I’m willing to put capital behind getting the nondiscrimination bill passed. And when I sign it into law, you’ll be sitting right there with me along with others. We’re going to get this done. I also think we need to expand Pennsylvania’s hate crime law to include crimes against our LGBTQ+ people. That’s something that I sponsored when I was in the house, but also something I’ve seen firsthand as attorney general that is lacking. We need to change that. I think both of those are critically important bills and I’m going to use my political capital to get that done.
In the 2016 PGN interview when you were running for Attorney General, you said you were going to diversify the AG’s office. Can you talk about your commitment to diversity?
I’ve always said that in order to have fairness and advocacy in our justice system, the people that work in it need to look like those they are sworn to serve. And I’m proud to have the strongest, smartest, and most diverse team in the AG’s office in the history of Pennsylvania. And I would note that my two top aides, my chief of staff and my first deputy, are both members of the LGBTQ community. Think about that for a minute. In a law enforcement agency, the chief law enforcement office in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, my two top aides, a woman and a man, are both members of the LGBTQ community. I think that speaks to my commitment to diversity and to making sure that the people around the table, for me, look different, have different life and personal experiences, and bring different approaches and different ways of thinking to the table. I think that’s what makes our office even more effective than it was prior.
What should the LGBTQ community look for in a Shapiro administration that they haven’t seen in any other administration?
Look at my record. They can expect to have an administration that is inclusive and diverse. They can expect to have a governor that puts real muscle behind getting these important bills passed like banning discrmination, expanding our hate crimes laws, and banning things like conversion therapy. These are the kinds of things that we’re going to do. This will be an administration that is inclusive for the LGBTQ community, an administration where the LGBTQ community is represented, and an administration that gets these bills passed into law. The other thing I want to say is that in addition to working to advance these issues, while I’m going to Harrisburg to bring Democrats and Republicans together to get big things done, if they come for your voting rights, if they come for your reproductive rights, if they come for your rights to organize, if they put bills on my desk that are discriminatory, I will not hesitate to use my veto pen to protect Pennsylvanians. So I am prepared to play offense, to bring people together and get a lot done; I’m also prepared to play defense when it means protecting Pennsylvanians.
You sound like someone who is ready for a battle.
I think I’ve proven that I’m fearless and that I’m willing to take on big fights on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania. That’s what I’ve done as Attorney General and most certainly what I’ll do as Governor.