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David Bielenberg will be the first-ever executive director in the organization’s 37-year history

In his teen years, David Bielenberg sang in school musicals and church choirs. He later grew into the LGBTQ choral movement.

“It became a way to tell the LGBTQ story, in addition to a hobby, he said.


A recent study found 63 percent of LGBTQ millennials are considering growing their families

Doctors using the wrong pronouns. Considering freezing eggs or sperm before transitioning. Deciding which person in a couple should carry the child.

Tuesday proved to be a difficult night for LGBTQ candidates in Philadelphia’s primary election.

Tiffany Palmer, a lesbian who lives in Mount Airy, prevailed in the Court of Common Pleas judgeship race. Meanwhile, Republican candidate Daniel “Duke” Orsino proceeds with his unchallenged District 1 bid.

But all the Democratic City Council candidates — Deja Lynn Alvarez, at-large; Lauren Vidas, District 2; and Adrian Rivera-Reyes, at-large —  lost. Sherrie Cohen, a gay LGBTQ activist, also dropped out of the City Council race in April.

No LGBTQ candidate has ever been elected to Philadelphia City Council. The large number of out candidates in the 2019 primary is a notable occurrence and has been nationally recognized as a historic “rainbow wave.” 

Palmer will duke it out against the other left-leaning victors and Beth Grossman, the Republican winner, in the Nov. 5 general municipal election.

The Philadelphia Bar Association “highly recommended” Palmer earlier this month. Of the 25 candidates who ran for the Court of Common Pleas judgeship, only four received the organization’s highest endorsement, and Palmer was the only woman who did.

“I’m just really excited to be a part of progressive reform in our government systems,” Palmer said, adding she’d like to see future LGBTQ candidates collaborate with other communities in the city. “I have so many ideas to help improve our system of justice and I’m really excited to finally be in a position of power where I can implement some positive changes for the people of our city.”

If elected in fall, Palmer wants to ensure the institution recognizes the diversity of all types of families. This will begin with small administrative changes, Palmer said, like implementing court forms that change language like “mother,” “father,” “husband” or “wife” to gender-neutral choices of “parent” or “spouse.”

“If [a form] says ‘mother’ and ‘father’ and you’re in a two-mom household, you immediately feel like this is a system that doesn’t accept [your] family,” she added. “We need to make sure that every family feels accepted within our court system.”

Many celebrated Palmer’s victory with her Tuesday night.

“I’m not sure that there’s a more genuine or compassionate person that could have run,” said Heather Kemp, who worked on Palmer’s campaign. “It’s a long, hard road to win something like this, and she has done everything in an upstanding way, and I’m really proud of her for that.”

Palmer was touched by the amount of support she received from the LGBTQ community, particularly her "fellow lesbian moms" and others across the city, like South Philadelphia-based grassroots organizer and "friend for many years," Paul Fitzgerald and local activist Perry Monastero.

"Perry really helped me mobilize a truly grassroots fundraising effort," she said. 

"There wasn’t one individual person who was helping fund my campaign. ...Twenty years worth of happy clients have just stepped up, they volunteered, they threw fundraisers, they were just amazing supporters," added Palmer, who became a lawyer in 1998.  

The other out candidate in the Court of Common Pleas judgeship primary was Henry Sias, a transman and lawyer who lives in Passyunk. Sias could not be reached for comment.

In November, Orsino, who received 1,994 votes in the City Council District 1 primary, will go against incumbent Councilman Mark Squilla, a Democrat who earned 16,506 votes Tuesday. Unlike Palmer, Orsino has a difficult road ahead in a primarily Democratic city. He could not be reached for comment.

Despite losing the City Council at-large race Tuesday with his 34,897 votes, Rivera-Reyes, 26, said he wants to stay politically involved in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community and does “not discard” the possibility of running again.

“Since I got to the city, the community opened its arms and has been nothing but receptive and loving and kind toward me,” said Rivera-Reyes, who moved to Philadelphia from Puerto Rico. “I absolutely want to be involved in our community and making sure that our issues are at the table and that we are doing what’s necessary for our communities and elevating our voices together, especially as a man of color.”

Amber Hikes, executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, said the record number of out candidates in this year’s primary was “inspiring” in a statement to PGN.

“Representation of marginalized communities within government is vital, and the 2019 primary showed us that there are plenty of qualified LGBTQ individuals who are eager to take on that responsibility here in Philadelphia,” Hikes added. “I’m excited that at least one of those candidates will be moving on to the general election in November, and I hope that in the future even more members of the community will feel comfortable throwing their hat into the ring. We deserve to be in the rooms where decisions are made, and the more LGBTQ people we can have at the table the better.”

In District 2, Vidas won 40 percent of the vote Tuesday, losing to incumbent Councilman Johnson’s 60 percent. Johnson received 13,164 votes in the primary and will run against Republican Michael Bradley, who nabbed 1,429, in November.

If elected, Johnson said he wants to explore “the relationship with the Philadelphia Police Department and the transgender community, and making sure that community has a voice and as instances of hate take place, or violence, they’re addressed.”

He said he’d encourage communication between police and transpeople, ensure crimes against transpeople were thoroughly investigated and that police department personnel were appraised on how they interact with the trans community.

Johnson supported the historical markers recently resurrected to commemorate the residence of Barbara Gittings, an LGBTQ civil rights movement activist, and what is widely known as the nation’s first LGBTQ rights sit-in protest in 1965 at Dewey’s restaurant in Rittenhouse Square. He said he is committed to preserving LGBTQ history. 

“I’m humbled I have the opportunity to serve and make sure the gay community knows that they have access to me and my office,” Johnson added, “and mostly they have a voice and I will fight on their behalf.”

Other surprising victories in the primary include Rochelle Bilal, who won the sheriff’s race against two-term incumbent Jewell Williams, and Jamie Gauthier, who prevailed in City Council’s third district.

Bilal won’t face a Republican challenger in November, positioning her to become the first woman elected as Philadelphia’s sheriff in the department’s 181-year history. Meanwhile, Gauthier beat out 27-year incumbent Jannie Blackwell, whose husband, Lucien Blackwell, held the seat before her beginning in 1974.

Gauthier said she is excited to work with LGBTQ residents in her West Philadelphia district and plans to engage with them by listening to their concerns and building a council office that is representative of her constituents and includes members of the gay community.

She plans to focus on stopping gentrification in her district, which has recently been dominated by major colleges like the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel, and the displacement of long-time residents.

“We have to work really hard to ensure the third district remains a place where everyone can afford to live,” Gauthier said. “The diversity here is one of the things that makes it so special and I think we really have to fight to keep it.”

For Rivera-Reyes, there are still “glass ceilings” that LGBTQ people must break in the political world. He hopes having several out candidates in this year’s primary pool will encourage members of the gay community to run for various government positions in the future.

“We really have the talent and the qualified people to do so, and I hope that, at the very least, children in the city, especially black and brown children from working-class communities and LGBTQ children, see that they can and they have the ability,” Rivera-Reyes said. “We are fighting for all of us and I hope they see that there’s a future where they can and they should.” n


All primary election vote counts are representative of the 98% of precincts accounted for at time of publication.



Police arrested a suspect in last weekend’s murder of a transwoman and community advocate in the city’s Franklinville section. 

Michelle Washington, a transwoman of color, was shot to death in the early hours of May 19 on the 3400 block of North 11th Street. Police responded to the scene at approximately 5:07 a.m.

Out candidate Tiffany Palmer has won in the May 2019 primary election for the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. 

"I'm very excited to be able to win by running a campaign based on progressive values and integrity," Palmer said. 

Heather Kemp has worked on Palmer's campaign. 

"I’m not sure that there’s a more genuine or compassionate person that could have run," Kemp said. "It’s a long, hard road to win something like this, and she has done everything in an upstanding way, and I’m really proud of her for that."

Palmer's daughter, Ellie Palmer, watched her mother win the election. 

"Thank god she won," Ellie Palmer said. 

"I now commend the bill to the House and the House to history." So ended the four-hour debate on the House floor on the most important civil rights legislation since the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. Rep. Jerry Nadler, who had chaired the debate called the vote for HR5, also known as the Equality Act.

The bill will protect LGBTQ Americans from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, public education, federal funding, credit, and the jury system.

In its current form, the bill was first introduced in 2015. It is sponsored by Representatives David Cicilline (D-RI) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) in the House and Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Susan Collins (R-ME), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) in the Senate. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) prioritized passage of the legislation, which now heads to the U.S. Senate.

In a sweeping assent from the Democratic Party, the bill passed 236-173. Eight Republicans, including the bill’s co-sponsor, Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), joined 228 Democrats in passing the legislation. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) called one of the most historic bills in American history.

The bill faces likely defeat in the Senate where Democrats do not have the votes for passage. On May 13 a senior aide to President Trump said he was against the bill, signaling veto even if the Senate were to pass it.

Nevertheless, the overwhelming support in the House was a historic event because it marked the first time the legislation had gotten a full vote in Congress.

In an emotional speech, Hoyer said, "It’s a shame that the House is not full and the gallery not packed with people because this is an historic day."

Hoyer said that the Civil Rights Act and the ADA were voted in through bipartisan actions. He said, "Every Democrat will vote for this bill. The Equality Act is about America. It’s about who we are and what we believe."

Rep. John Lewis, one of the great Civil Rights icons in American history spoke with eloquence and passion. "Today is May 17. On May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court ruled on Brown versus Topeka Board of Education. I remember that day," Lewis said, his voice rising. "I was 17 years old. I thought I would be attending desegregated schools. It never happened for me. Today we have the opportunity to cast this vote and set all of our people free."

The floor erupted into spontaneous applause.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX18), another leader of the Congressional Black Caucus, read from a pocket copy of the Constitution. Lee said the bill had been "germinating for five years plus." In response to Republicans who asserted that the bill harms religious freedom, Lee said, "Religious liberty is not dead but it is alive. This bill stands up for transgender people denied the right to serve in the U.S. military, stands up for transgender women killed in my area of the South."

Lee held up a pocket version of the Constitution and asserted, "the Constitution will be alongside of the Equality Act. The Civil Rights Act will stand alongside for fair housing and accommodations and no matter who you are in this country you will have this act."

Lee urged people in the religious community to vote for the Equality Act.

Newly elected Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA04) said simply, "This is a historic day, I am proud to be a part of it" as she urged everyone to vote for the bill.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), chair of the Democratic Caucus, quoted from the Declaration of Independence, noting, "these words are incomplete in their application." Jeffries cited "the legendary Barbara Jordan," a black lesbian member of the House, and her observation that those words "did not apply to African-Americans, to people of color, to Native Americans, to women, to the LGBTQ community."

Jeffries said, "If you truly believe in liberty and justice for all, support the quality act, if you truly believe in equal protection under the law and if you truly believe that we are created equally under the law, we are all God’s children. Love does not discriminate and neither should the law, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity."

Most of the Republicans who spoke, claimed the bill would harm both religious freedom and women’s rights. Rep. Ross Stano (R-FL15) said he was a "proud Christian" and spoke about the "fundamental importance" of the First Amendment, quoting Coretta Scott King to undermine the bill.

Rep James Comer (R-KY-01) and Rep Bradley Byrne (R-AL01) focused on women’s sports. Both said they were "deeply troubled" that there would be "unintended consequences–serious, harmful consequences" by eradicating all protections based on gender and subverting them to gender identity. Comer said the Equality Act "delivers a serious blow to one and totally redefines the other."

Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO04) insisted, "a vote for this bill is a vote against women." Describing herself as a former teacher and coach, she made a detailed case that teams and even the Olympics would be "recruiting men who identify as women" to "win medals." She deconstructed how all of women’s sports would become "men competing as women" and repeatedly referred to trans women athletes as men pretending to be women in order to win easily against female competitors instead of men. "Men are taking home the Gold in women’s sports," she said.

Hartzler claimed, "In case after case, men competing as women are out-competing, out-cycling, out-running, out–fighting women. Welcome to the brave new world of HR5."

Hartzler added, "Women’s scholarships would be ended by HR5" and declared the Equality Act "Devastating legislation."

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX01) quoted Antonin Scalia and said, "Gender dysphoria is the opposite of euphoria." Gohmert invoked images of rape victims "triggered" by being forced to share public bathrooms "with men" and battered women forced to share shelters with men.

But Rep. Sylvia Garcia (D-TX29) said the Equality Act would mean having "explicit protections for LGBTQ people for the first time–first time. Finally in Texas when we say ‘y’all’ we will mean you all."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), whose district includes San Francisco, was smiling and beaming as she laid out a history of anti-gay legislation that had been overturned. She referenced longtime lesbian activists and San Franciscans Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons as "an inspiration to many of us" who had taught her and many others about the need for comprehensive civil rights for LGBTQ people.

Pelosi said, "Tolerance–that’s a condescending word to me. Respect. That’s what we need."

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD08) invokes Abraham Lincoln and the original Civil Rights Act which he said passed in 1964, 334-85. "We brought down the walls of segregation. Today is a triumphant and glorious moment for the House and the United States of America. Let us finally bring down the walls of discrimination against all Americans. Let us vote

for this bill."

LGBTQ activist groups argue that federal law should shield LGBTQ people from discrimination, because bans on sex discrimination should extend to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This has been the basis for all discrimination lawsuits in recent years.

HRC President Chad Griffin said, "Today's historic vote is a major milestone for equality and sends a powerful and profound message to LGBTQ people, especially LGBTQ youth, that the U.S. House has their backs. No one’s rights should depend on which side of a state or city line they live on, and today we took a giant step forward in our journey toward full equality. This historic victory would not have been possible without the millions of LGBTQ people and our allies who organized, mobilized and turned out to elect a pro-equality majority in 2018.

“Now, we will take our fight to the U.S. Senate and turn up the pressure on Leader McConnell to allow a vote on this crucial legislation. And we won’t slow down in working to turn out the 10 million eligible LGBTQ voters and our millions more allies to elect a pro-equality president in 2020 who will sign the Equality Act into law."

A majority of people in every state support laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination in jobs, housing, education and public accommodations. This applies even in red states in the Deep South.

The bill now moves to the Senate.

With President Trump and other conservatives in strong opposition, the Equality Act is no nearer passage than it was before Democrats regained the House in the November 2018. A House vote will ensure that those voting for and against make a statement, but the Senate does not have the votes to pass it, and Trump would apparently veto it.

 Since its founding five years ago, Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, an organization that advocates for queer Latinx communities, has been working on the ground to educate, organize and ultimately liberate queer, Latinx immigrants.This weekend, from May 15 through 17, the national organization comes to Philadelphia for its first national conference: Mi Existires es Resistir 2019 National Encuentro.

Kentucky city rejects anti-discrimination ordinance

Officials in a south-central Kentucky city have again voted against an ordinance that would add specific housing and employment protections for gay, lesbian and transgender residents according to the Daily News.

The Bowling Green City Commission voted 3-2 on May 7 to reject the second reading of the ordinance. The vote came after three hours of impassioned discussion and comments from 85 speakers.

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