When history comes knocking

Headshots of Josh Shapiro and Milton Shapp.
From left, PA Gov. Josh Shapiro and former PA Gov. Milton Shapp.

When history comes knocking, answer the damn door already. It’s Monday night and I’m sitting in a hotel room in Harrisburg, Pa. I’m not a fan of this town, so I try not to come here, but I received an invitation for an event tomorrow from the governor, and when the governor asks, you answer the call. 

Tomorrow is the governor’s annual Budget Address. Think of it like the governor’s version of the president’s State of The Union address. All the representatives and senators and who’s who are all in one room in the Capitol to hear the governor give his priorities for the coming year.

And that’s why the governor invited me. He knows LGBTQ+ history. Back in 1974, I urged then Gov. Milton Shapp to have the legislature introduce the state’s first LGBTQ+ nondiscrimination act — similar to the Fairness Act currently in the U.S. Senate/House — and he then issued an executive order to extend workplace protections to state employees based on sexual orientation in 1975. 

So tomorrow, current PA Gov. Josh Shapiro will state that the Fairness Act is one of his priorities for the coming year. That alone couldn’t get me to Harrisburg, but he tells me he’ll be invoking the name of Gov. Shapp and stating that he wishes to finish his work. Just writing that here brings me to tears. Shapp was my political mentor and as an ally, he made history for our community and introduced initiatives that are still being used today all the way to the White House. LGBTQ+ government commissions, LGBTQ+ liaisons — they were all first introduced by Gov. Shapp. If you are an openly LGBTQ+ appointee, LGBTQ+ liaison, or serve on an LGBTQ+ commission, you stand on the shoulders of Gov. Shapp. 

So Shapp showed me that all things political were possible if you had an elected official with passion and a heart. If you have the passion for equal justice, you’ll make it a priority and if you have a heart, you’ll treat all people equally. Invoking Gov. Shapp’s name tells me that Gov. Shapiro has the passion and heart to get the job done.   

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It’s late Tuesday night. I’ve just arrived in Austin, Texas for a Local Media Association conference, and I realized that I hadn’t had a chance to thank Gov. Shapiro. That should have happened at a reception at the governor’s residence after the address, but I had to catch a flight to Austin, so I skipped the reception. Here’s what the governor said today.

“In 1974, right here in Harrisburg, Gov. Milton Shapp, working alongside my friend Mark Segal, became the first governor in the nation to meet with the LGBTQ community, and one year later, he became the first to ban discrimination against LGBTQ state employees.

“That’s a history we should be proud of.

“We were leading the nation when it came to LGBTQ rights.

“Now we’re falling behind.

“It’s ridiculous that here in Pennsylvania, two women can get married on a Sunday and fired from their job on a Monday, just because they’re in love.

“That their landlord can legally throw them out of their apartment just because he’s bigoted.

“The House passed the Fairness Act to fix this.

“The Senate should honor our legacy of tolerance, pass that bill and put it on my desk.”

The governor is correct. The legislation has passed the State House. It only needs to come up for a vote in the Senate. The Senate Republicans thus far have not brought it to the floor for a vote. 

Thank you Gov. Shapiro for making this a priority. Let’s make this the year we finish the work that Gov. Shapp started.