A statewide advocacy organization hosted a demonstration calling for a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania to protect LGBT citizens.
More than 500 protesters gathered in front of Sen. Pat Toomey’s office for the weekly event, Tuesdays with Toomey, where organization leaders collected letters and Valentine’s Day cards addressed to the senator. The Feb. 14 protest featured a theme relating to LGBT equality and included several guest speakers from Philadelphia’s LGBT community.
Speakers included state Rep. Brian Sims, Sharron L. Cooks, Nikki López, Leigh Braden, Kelly Burkhardt and Anne Wakabayashi.
Sims, the only openly LGBT individual in the state legislature, talked about what it is like to be LGBT in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
“Pennsylvania doesn’t offer a single statewide LGBTQ civil right to people like me and my friends other than marriage and that is wrong,” Sims said as other protesters cheered.
Sims also mentioned that Toomey will be voting on President Trump's Supreme Court nominee and how “that vote is most pivotal vote to the rights of the LGBT community.”
Social-justice advocate Cooks discussed the need to reach out to allies in other parts of the state.
“We need all of you to reach out to your friends, reach out to your neighbors, to go out to other areas in the Commonwealth that are not as progressive as Philadelphia,” Cooks said. “We have the privilege of living in a very progressive city with very regressive leadership. We need this across our state.”
López, the executive director of GALAEI, noted the demonstration was a “call to action” to “achieve freedom.”
“I sit here today with the voices and lives of immigrants, of black folks, of Muslims, of able-bodied folks, of disabled folks of all communities resting on my soul who have been affected by this administration. And this administration is crumbling,” López said.
López concluded her speech with the chant, “We must love each other. We must protect each other.”
Braden, the executive director of the Foyer of Philadelphia, discussed how she built a family with her wife and son.
“As happy as we were, we worried about the world outside of our home and how the world will greet our son knowing that his family was different and we knew he would be judged for it,” Braden said. “We did what every transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual parent does. We teach our son to be proud of who he is and who his family is.”
Artist/photographer Burkhardt talked about her fibromyalgia diagnosis and how Toomey’s lack of support for the Affordable Care Act could hurt her and others. She mentioned the words of the late Gloria Casarez, the city’s first director of LGBT Affairs.
“In her last speech that she gave to the public, she told us to ‘engage, find your voice and build community,’” Burkhardt said.
Burkhardt led a chant where the crowd repeated Casarez’s words.
Wakabayashi, executive director of Emerge Pennsylvania and co-chair of the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, concluded the guest speakers by paraphrasing a quote from former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro's keynote speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.
“This isn’t a marathon, this isn’t a sprint, but this is a relay,” Wakabayashi echoed Castro’s words. “And if we’re going to get to the finish line, we have to get there together.”
Additionally, LGBT and ally leaders hosted a separate demonstration in front of Toomey’s Allentown office asking the senator to oppose the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Speakers included Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center Executive Director Adrian Shanker, Allentown City Councilwoman Candida Affa and author Alisa Bowman.