The three Es of Erica Deuso, Chester County candidate for state rep

Erica Deuso, who is a white woman with shoulder-length blonde hair, stands holding a piece of paper. She wears a black blazer and purple top. Her fist is slightly raised at should height. Her mouth is ajar, as she is speaking.
Erica Deuso at a campaign launch event, speaking about her priorities for the district and her historic candidacy.

After researching her state representative, Erica Deuso felt dissatisfied — so she decided to run for public office herself. She recently announced her candidacy for state representative of District 155 in Chester County. If she wins, Deuso would become the first openly trans person to be elected to Pennsylvania’s General Assembly.

“I feel like it might be time for a change,” she said.

She wants whoever represents her community to be recognizable and for that leader to know the names of not just powerful, politically connected people but also of the district’s average constituents.

“I just felt like our community needed more,” she added. “They need someone who’s going to be visible. They need a good neighbor.”

“That’s what I’m trying to give them,” Deuso underlined. “A good neighbor who’s going to be there for them, to answer their questions, to help them through difficult times, and to really advocate for the community in Harrisburg. She underlined that she wants to collaborate with people from all parties and backgrounds and would never turn away a constituent — no matter their political beliefs — if they asked her to listen to their concerns.

The response to her candidacy has been overwhelmingly positive — but she’s had negative interactions too. 

“Surprisingly not just with the people [on the campaign trails] but also people within the party, with people who are questioning whether Pennsylvania, Chester County or District 155 is ready for a transgender candidate,” she explained.

“There’s a difference between somebody running to be a transgender state representative and someone wanting to be state representative who’s also transgender,” emphasized Deuso, who doesn’t want her identity to define her campaign. Instead, she hopes people recognize that her experiences of marginalization make her more qualified to notice and address issues of inequity.

“I’ve spent my entire life working with people who might not agree with me on everything — or anything — but we’ve been able to get things done for the good of our customers, for the good of the people we serve,” she said, explaining that she’s never let people’s personal beliefs or even their poor behavior towards her influence their ability to work together.

“And that’s why I think I have that experience to know how to really do that in Harrisburg as well,” Deuso added. She believes there is always common ground and overlapping goals that state representatives should be using to mitigate tangible outcomes for constituents.

Deuso, who works for the pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson, has spent over a decade professionally exploring what she called “process excellence — where we’re never satisfied,” she explained. “We want to continuously improve.” She’s bringing that drive for excellence to her ideas for District 155.

“I like to focus on something I call the three Es,” she said. 

Her first area of interest is the economy. As the child and grandchild of union workers, she values the trades and wants to improve options for apprenticeships. She also supports a $15/hour minimum wage.

“I think everybody should have the ability to go out and enjoy their life and not have to spend every waking minute working in order to make sure they have just the basics — like a roof over their head,” she said — underlining that housing costs continue to rise in Chester County, making home ownership and even renting unaffordable for average people.

She also worries about seniors who might own homes but struggle to pay property taxes — which can result in home seizures. Housing instability and lack of access ties into her second E: the goal of improving access to quality education — a resource often dictated by a child’s home address.

“In this district — District 155, there are two school districts. The first school district is Downingtown Area School District. We’re ranked 21st in the state of education. The second district is Coatesville — and they’re ranked below 275th in education,” she explained. “Those two school districts are right next to each other, so we need to find better ways to bring equity to the students.”

Deuso is also passionate about the environment — her third E — which she said is under attack by developers who want to build warehouses and distribution centers in Chester County. This would “add air pollution, noise pollution, light pollution to our community,” she said. She’s also concerned about fracking — which she believes should be regulated out of existence.

“Those who create these pipelines and participate in fracking — we need to hold them responsible for the environmental damage that they’re doing,” she said, highlighting that some of these projects sound good in theory but tend to go wrong in practice. “There’s been sinkholes or spills. There’s been leaks. And we need to make sure that we’re holding the developer responsible for those issues.”

Part of her plan to protect the community and environment is to improve alarm systems that notify companies and the public of potential threats. She also wants to better train first responders.

“The environment is big to me because that’s the way I grew up — protecting our environment,” said Deuso, who was raised in Vermont. “Living in Chester County for the past 20 years, I see the same issues. I see how important the environment is to people.”

Deuso later attended high school in York County, Pennsylvania — at the school in the Southern Western School District currently seeking to rescind protections for LGBTQ+ students. She’s thankful for community members who are stepping up to oppose those efforts.

“I graduated from there in 1998,” she said. “In a class of 268 students, I never experienced transphobia or hate from any alumni — despite seeing childish homophobia and transphobia while I was a student. Everyone I graduated with has been amazing, accepting and even curious — so to see right-wing extremists take over my old school district is disappointing and I feel it sets Hanover and the district back 30 years.”

Deuso came to the Philadelphia area to study science at Drexel University then became a research assistant in Denmark before returning to Drexel, where she earned an MBA. She later organized a flag-raising ceremony at the university in conjunction with the city’s first Trans Day of Remembrance.

As a student in Copenhagen, Deuso “fell in love with” socialized medicine. She said that Pennsylvania has a variety of queer-competent practitioners and many willing to learn about LGBTQ+ healthcare needs, including gender-affirming care. She wants those quality care providers to be more accessible and affordable.

“I was kind of thrown into a healthcare equity role by accident,” added Deuso, who was the first person to transition at her workplace in 2011. The corporation didn’t have any guidelines or policies for human resources regarding gender transition. It also lacked information about insurance coverage for trans health needs. “So I worked with our benefits group to come up with a health care plan for J&J,” she said. “And it quickly became an industry benchmark for what companies should cover as transition healthcare.”

“It’s been a journey to understand health care — and understand not only myself but other people and the struggles that other people have to deal with when trying to get health care, especially in the LGBTQ community,” she said.

“I’d love to see healthcare for all,” she underlined. “I believe healthcare is a right — not a privilege for those who can afford it.” That’s how Deuso hopes everyone will see her — as an advocate for all people.

“I’m a multifaceted person,” she emphasized. “I’m not just a trans candidate. I’m a candidate for everybody.”

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