Last week I was disheartened to read about the backflips Indiana state lawmakers did to prevent funding from going to an LGBT youth support group, in Jean Ann Esselink’s “On Our Radar” piece about the Indiana Youth Group.
Also last week, Joe.My.God. reported that the GOP-dominated Kansas House voted to legalize anti-gay discrimination based on religious objections. The vote passed by an overwhelming vote of 89-27 and will protect landlords who refuse to rent to gay people.
This week and every week, I live in Pennsylvania, which lacks any statewide civil rights for LGBT people, where marriage equality is banned by law, where a constitutional amendment banning marriage equality came up just weeks ago, and where we lack clear legal recourse for sexual orientation and gender identity based bullying in schools. I am fortunate to be protected by local ordinances in Philadelphia, but according to the state, I may be evicted from my home, fired from my job, and denied public accommodations with no legal recourse. This is a daily reality for many Pennsylvanians.
What is the common thread in these three scenarios? According to the Victory Fund, an organization dedicated to increasing the number of openly LGBT officials at all levels of government, not one of these states has an out lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender state legislator. In fact, Kansas only has one out official in the whole state at any level; he is a human rights commissioner is Lawrence, the city whose progressive politics the new law seeks to undercut.
While I’ve counted myself as a Progressive since watching Captain Planet as a young child, and a Democrat since the fourth grade, when I developed political awareness around New Jersey’s 1993 gubernatorial election, my particular passion for supporting the Victory Fund’s mission, both financially and through my actions, is more recent. It started with the first campaign I’ve ever canvassed for, supporting my friend Brian Sims, featured in this week’s On Our Radar, to become Pennsylvania’s first out gay Representative.
While Sims’ district is among the most progressive in the state, and thus most likely to elect an out gay man, I was thrilled when Equality Pennsylvania endorsed five out candidates for the state legislature, including Victory Fund backed candidates Brian Sims and Chris Dietz. I wish I could say Kansas and Indiana were doing so well; neither have any Victory Fund candidates this point.
So where to go from here?
1. Support out candidates in your state. If they don’t exist, train with the Victory fund and become one.
2. Support the Victory Fund. Things are almost as bleak in Congress, with only four out members in the House (out of four hundred thirty five) and no out Senators in history; out Representative Tammy Baldwin hopes to make history and become the first out Senator in the upcoming election.
3. Support out candidates, even when they are not in your state. Every out legislator brings millions of LGBT citizens closer to full civil equality and dignity under the law. Furthermore, the out state legislators of today will be the out Congresspersons and even Presidents of tomorrow. We must support their political ascent from now.
So while Kansas and Indiana look for their LGBT legislators, support Brian Sims to win his April 24th primary, and once he has secured that victory, support Chris Dietz in his bid to unseat a Republican incumbent. From the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of the millions of Pennsylvanians who want and sorely need out LGBT representatives to bring our issues to the State House in Harrisburg, I thank you.
Full disclosure: I am a donor to Equality Pennsylvania and to The Victory Fund, and have donated time and money to Brian Sims’ campaign. I will, of course, be a future donor to Chris Dietz as well.
J. Rudy Flesher, a Philadelphia based actor and author, holds a B.A. in Women’s and Gender Studies from The College of New Jersey, and is an award-winning feminist scholar. Ze blogs here and at The Pistol in Bed Thirteen, works with PhinLi Bookings to connect LGBTQ and sex positive talent with audiences, and is currently writing hir first book, an essay collection on the daily experiences of a genderqueer life. Ze will also be published in the forthcoming anthology “Beyond Masculinity.”
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