In an effort to advance LGBTQ inclusion in Pennsylvania, leaders from across the state formed Keystone Equality, a nonpartisan organization with a goal of organizing statewide LGBTQ advocacy initiatives. The organization’s membership will accomplish this via community building within local, state and federal governments; and it will work to get LGBTQ community supporters elected, facilitate LGBTQ voter participation and convey to government officials that LGBTQ Pennsylvanians have political power.
“We have been in need of a state-wide LGBT group for some time now,” said Keystone Equality Board Co-Chair Bre Reynolds, president and founder of the Clinton County LGBTQ+ Network. “Several folks came to the table from a variety of different areas to start this. It’s very necessary with the way politics are going these days, with the way that the elections shook out in the fall.”
Many LGBTQ Pennsylvanians are concerned about the stability or absence of LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections in employment, healthcare and other avenues, Reynolds pointed out. “We wanted to form something where we could work with the legislature and really mobilize voters as well.”
According to Keystone Equality’s website, its members plan to execute voter mobilization by providing voter registration info to LGBTQ-centric community orgs throughout Pa. and pushing Get Out the Vote initiatives. To get LGBTQ allies and accomplices elected, members will endorse candidates, distribute info on LGBTQ policies to political candidates, and provide commentary on political races. Membership also plans to carry out political organizing in conjunction with other state LGBTQ stakeholders and local organizations, which will manifest in supporting constituents who contact their local and state legislators and putting out statements on legislative activities.
“Everyday, the headlines show that we are in a struggle to guarantee that LGBQ, trans, and nonbinary folx can live their lives freely, in peace, and with dignity,” Julie Zaebst, senior policy advocate for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, said in an email. “ACLU-PA is thrilled to welcome Keystone Equality to the fold to help advocate for a culture, both social and political, that is welcoming and inclusive. We look forward to partnering with Keystone Equality to move Pennsylvania forward.”
A potential partnership with ACLU of PA will be a topic of discussion at Keystone Equality’s first executive board meeting at the end of February, Reynolds said. “We’re compiling a lot of different areas to talk about and that will definitely be one of them. We do have our full board selected and all ready to go, but the executive board wants to drill down and look at what committees we might need, how we’re structuring our goals to align with our mission, and how we execute these things.”
Mirroring the diversity of LGBTQ communities, Keystone Equality’s board of directors is made up of people from cities, suburban and rural parts of Pennsylvania. Although board members’ involvement in Keystone Equality is separate from their affiliation with organizations for which they work or volunteer, they still bring strong backgrounds in regional LGBTQ leadership, trans-led support organizations and politics.
Some of Keystone Equality’s board members include Stroudsburg Mayor Mike Moreno, Hatboro Borough Council Member Alex Myers, Gettysburg Borough Council Member Chad-Alan Carr, and Naiymah Sanchez, Trans Justice Coordinator for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, who co-chairs the board with Reynolds. Other members hail from Pittsburgh, Erie, Chambersburg, Allentown, Lancaster, Abington and Scottdale.
“As Lancaster County’s first Black legislator, first LGBTQ+ legislator, it thrills me to see organizations building political power that are with, by, and for queer Pennsylvanians,” state Rep. Ismail Smith-Wade-El said in a press release. Smith-Wade-El is listed as one of Keystone Equality’s “Equality Champions,” Pennsylvania elected officials who are pushing for comprehensive LGBTQ equality and who advocate for LGBTQ leadership in the state. “Every person in the Commonwealth deserves a good job, a safe home, affordable healthcare, and the right to determine what their families look like. In this generation, we are going to see a lot of ‘first’ LGBTQ+ legislators from their region, city or community. I look forward to working with Keystone Equality to ensure that none of them are the last.”
The selection of board members from a variety of cities and towns in Pennsylvania, not just big cities like Philadelphia, was intentional, said Reynolds, who lives in Lock Haven in North Central Pa.
“The popular areas in the state – Philadelphia, Pittsburgh – are where we hear the most voices,” she said. “But we’re all over the state and it’s a big state. It’s very needed, the support that we’re going to be getting from Keystone Equality.”
She pointed out that much of North Central Pennsylvania is Republican, and that LGBTQ folks are a little bit more dispersed.
“We have a lot of LGBTQ folks here in North Central PA, we just don’t have as much of a voice,” Reynolds added. “This intentional selecting of board members is giving those people a voice.”