This morning I awoke to read the great news that openly gay Brian Sims defeated incumbent Democrat Babette Josephs in the PA primary for her state seat. Brian is the first openly gay man to win statewide office in Pennsylvania (I believe - stats are a little fuzzy - but certainly the first to be elected to the State General Assembly) Well, he's not in yet, folks, but with no Republican challenger its just a matter of time.
Wow. We elected an openly gay man in Pennsylvania. How about that?
Well, how about that? We "unelected" a stalwart ally - a smart progressive woman - to do so.
Representative Josephs most recently was credited with beating back the "marriage protection amendment" in the House State Government Committee, a noteworthy accomplishment given the power of the Committee Chair and Bill Sponsor, Daryl Metcalfe. Does Sims have the power to do that in the next session? Ummm, I don't know.
Sims is also plagued by allegations that his support of women in general has been less than stellar.
So while noteworthy, I think Sims has a long road to prove himself a worthy successor. I speak from experience. In 2006, a wonderfully progressive lawyer named Lisa Bennington defeated incumbent Frank Pistella - a gay ally - and then promptly chose not to run for office again. We ended up with Dom Costa. Of "The" Costas. Yes, a stalwart liberal vote for the LGBT community ended up in the hands of another legacy family member with a tepid moderate stance on most things.
My point is that its fine to note the accomplishment and give Brian the benefit of the doubt, but he didn't defeat Metcalfe. We didn't "gain" some immediate swagger in Harrisburg. It will take time to build up the prestige of a Babette Josephs and the percentage of women in statewide office just nosedived. I believe there were 17 out of 18 kazillion?
Another statewide race of note: former Congressman and perhaps one of the greatest allies of the LGBT community ever, Patrick Murphy, was unsuccessful in his bid for Attorney General. Pennsylvania prosecutor Kathleen Kane defeated him. This race was so tough that many refused to endorse; both candidates were just so qualified. In the end, I believe Kathleen's experience as a prosecutor made her more qualified than Patrick's slightly less prominent work as an attorney in the military. Patrick had political edge and that was prominent in his campaign. He was Tom Corbett's "Worst Nightmare." Well, I suspect a tough, smart, progressive lawyer who happens to be a woman is up there in his nightmares. (Murphy if you fail to remember was the stalwart architect of the repeal of DADT, he never wavered and it cost him his House seat.)
Today I hashed this and some more local races out on my blog, Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspodents. Another blogger started a dialogue with me and we agreed that it was a good thing to have so many choices.
But electing gay people is not the same thing as electing candidates who will successfully promote a social agenda that is respectful and inclusive of the LGBTQ community. Being an elected gay man doesn't mean you have your finger on the pulse of the LGBTQ community, nor should it. It means you have a responsibility to find that pulse and not make assumptions.
I'm reminded of a meeting with a to-remain-anonymous state elected official who came to town and asked me about marriage, then ignored me and said he was going to do what he thought was best. It wasn't and years later we are still in the stage of beating back a "marriage protection amendment" every so often. Perhaps a more open-minded dialogue is in order.
Note to elected officials: I'm tired of being the "time for another blog for marriage equality girl." I want a new blogswarm topic!
I suppose that's another concern - hand in hand with the jubilation at so many electoral triumphs was an undercurrent of "Is Pennsylvania ready for marriage equality?"chatter.
OMG, we are so not. We are battling the University of Pittsburgh over transgender bathroom policies and facing the potential for a Tennessee-like "no discrimination unless the state says there is discrimination" law which might repeal municipal ordinances - all 28 of them! Pittsburgh is filled with "pro-life, pro-gun, pro-traditional marriage, anti-welfare state" Democrats. It is not exactly comforting that Mark Critz defeated Jason Altmire for the US Congress seat. They are like fraternal twins in terms of distinguishing their records. Its not a win. (And I'm sure Altmire will be back and next time he won't bother stopping in at the Stonewall picnic.)
Hey, this is just my opinion. But our statewide group is not statewide. Funding for basic services is being cut. And I'm still wrapping my mind around the fact that we are paying for Melissa Etheridge to perform at PrideFest when education cuts threaten GSA, anti-bullying and other programs. I'm sure her fee (she has two ex-wives and 4 kids to support) could help.
Note to Pittsburgh: You don't need to send another round of "Why does she hate Pridefest?" tweets - I get that expecting Melissa Etheridge to support marriage equality in her divorce is not a popular stance.
The increasing number of choices/options is a good thing, but the payoff may take awhile. We have ten active pieces of legislation in the General Assembly - all gay positive and all stuck in committee. One bill's sponsor left office. It was a sexual education bill which was a step forward. What will happen next term? Well, it might be nice to see some rallying and organization around hate crimes or non-discrimination rather than five bills on these same topics.
I personally believe that non-discrimination legislation as embodied in PA HB300 is the way to go. I believe it would have protected the trans couple who are embroiled in a nightmarish situation at Pitt. It would protect the jobs, housing and public accommodations of all of us.
The most important thing is that Pennsylvania is not blue or red. We are a very unique hue of lavender (ha!) and it really requires some on-the-ground knowledge to get a feel for what's happening. Do the queer identified folks in Pittsburgh's East End believe a gay state legislator will impact their safety or police response to bashing? Do the Philadelphia folks who can drive the agenda with their significant power, access and money, care if the Representative for State House District 22 is progressive or not? Her district might be gone in 2 years.
Can you name the first openly lesbian woman to win elected office in Southwestern PA? If not, I suspect you might hold back on assuming its time for marriage equality or that there is a central well-organized statewide movement on anything other than Pridefests. Seriously.
You really need to ask questions. We appreciate the enthusiasm, but let's work on the bathrooms and the cop harassment. Seriously.