William Way Community Center hosts GOTV event

The William Way LGBT Community Center.

On October 19, the William Way LGBT Community Center hosted a Turn Out the Vote event intended to promote voter registration in the LGBT community as well as further education concerning people’s rights as voters. The event was co-hosted and facilitated by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, the event was 

Naiymah A. Sanchez, a trans activist from the ACLU and facilitator of the event, emphasized the importance of getting the LGBT community involved on a grassroots level, especially given the continuing efforts by the Republican-led state legislature to pass voter suppression laws. “ We can’t always depend on the veto to protect us,” she said, “be it, currently, from Wolf, or in the future, hopefully, from Josh Shapiro.”

Sanchez went on to point out how effective the right wing was in promoting its agenda on the local level. “People aren’t always aware of how much local politics can impact our personal lives,” she said. “ Decisions made by school boards and city councils really affect us. Progressives like to address their issues from the top down, but the right is really effective pushing their agenda from the bottom up. We have to be able to counter that.”

This was the third Get Out the Vote organized by the ACLU-PA during the current election cycle, and garnered a modest but enthusiastic crowd of about 40 people.

The evening’s event was also co-sponsored by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office on LGBT Affairs. The Office’s executive director, Celena Morrison, addressed the crowd.

“You may be feeling overwhelmed by everything that’s going on,” she said. “ But the thing to remember is this: elections have consequences. We know that voting doesn’t solve everything — but it’s a start.”

Morrison went on to discuss some of the issues LGBT voters may face in casting their ballots. For instance, voter ID laws have required that the ID specify a gender identity, and if the gender presentation doesn’t match, the person’s right to vote may be challenged if they are a first-time voter. Fortunately, Pennsylvania has enacted certain provisions regarding gender identity on ID’s, but not everyone knows what their rights in such a situation would be.

“Know your rights,” urged Morrison. “Know them in case your right to vote is challenged.”

Sanchez added, “We’re here to give you accurate voter information. Over 100 pieces of legislation have been introduced or passed to suppress the right to vote, particularly for people of color, poor people, incarcerated people.”

Sanchez repeated the mantra of the evening: “Know your rights. Know how to protect your rights.”

An activist named Madusah also spoke, urging attendees to support the Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, especially focused on the needs of incarcerated pregnant women, who are often subjected to demeaning and sometimes dangerous practices while incarcerated. The act would, among other things, ban shackling of pregnant women, ban solitary confinement for these women, and mandate enhanced trauma-informed training for those working with pregnant incarcerates.

Also present to lend their support were members of the advocacy groups galaei and Colors.

Attendees were given a hotline number for information on voting rights if they encounter problems casting their ballots. The number is 866-OUR-VOTE.

The last day to register to vote in Pennsylvania in person or online is Oct. 24. All mail-in ballots are due on Nov. 8, and polls are open Nov. 8 until 8:00 p.m. 

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