More than 550 LGBTQ elected officials, leaders and activists from across the globe — including Pennsylvania State Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta and Brian Sims — gathered in Washington, D.C. this week for a conference dedicated to LGBTQ policy.
The International LGBTQ Leaders Conference is the largest gathering of LGBTQ elected officials in the world, according to the organizer Victory Institute, a national organization dedicated to elevating queer leaders in government. The 35th-annual, four-day event kicked off Wednesday at the JW Marriott Washington, DC. In addition to Sims and Kenyatta, scheduled speakers include presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT); U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-RI), Angie Craig (D-MN), Sharice Davids (D-KS), Deb Haaland (D-NM) and Pramila Jayapal (D-WA); and Virginia Delegate Danica Roem, the first openly trans person to win and serve in a state legislature.
“The conference is an incredible opportunity for these leaders to strategize how we can work together across domestic and international boundaries to move equality forward for our community, and also learn how to become more effective elected officials,” Elliot Imse, senior director of communications at Victory Institute, told PGN. “This network … is so important to the many LGBTQ elected officials and leaders who often feel isolated or alone in their legislatures back home.”
The conference first took place in 1984, when just 24 LGBTQ elected officials attended and there were no more than 50 out queer elected officials in the world, he added. While more than 760 out officials now serve in the United States alone, at least 22,000 more would need to be elected to “achieve equitable representation.”
Kenyatta, Pennsylvania’s first out state legislator of color, said the event is a testament to the LGBTQ community’s accomplishments.
“I'm proud to see people around the world finally recognizing great leadership isn't based on who you love but who you are,” he said in a statement to PGN. “The event is a great way to highlight the fact that more voters are electing LGBTQ members into office, and what better place to do that than our nation's capital.”
Conference discussions center on topics including far-right nationalist parties and power balances in the European Union, the challenges impacting those of intersecting queer and indigenous identities and criminal justice reform.
Other noteworthy attendees include Mara Kiesling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of The AIDS Institute, and Jennifer Snow, director of public policy at the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Kenyatta said he’s excited to connect with other elected officials to discover new policies and strategies that have benefited LGBTQ folks outside of Pennsylvania.
According to data nonprofit Movement Advancement Project, 20 states and Washington, D.C. have laws explicitly banning discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. While a statewide Fairness Act does not exist in Pennsylvania, 54 of its cities have local ordinances prohibiting such discrimination, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg.
“My hope is that we can use this conference to show the nation a united effort to ensure equal rights for all people. No one should lose their job or their home because of who they love or how they identify,” Kenyatta said. “The unfortunate reality is that is still possible in Pennsylvania. We must work to pass legislation that provides the same protections for everyone, no matter a person's makeup.”
Sims did not reply to PGN’s request for comment.