Over the past week, the LGBT community witnessed several key events: Houston swore in a lesbian mayor — her partner at her side; same-sex marriages went into effect in New Hampshire; Salt Lake City swore it its first openly gay councilman; and the first transgender individual presidentially appointed to an executive branch position started work.
For the LGBT community in Philadelphia, these events should serve as inspiration — particularly the swearing-in of Stan Penfold to the Salt Lake City Council. It’s a testament to progress that Salt Lake — home of the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who contributed heavily to the 2008 campaign to overturn gay marriage in California, and with an estimated 53-percent Mormon population — has elected an out gay man to city council.
Philadelphia, on the other hand, has had a gay-rights ordinance in place for over 25 years, but has yet to elect an openly gay or lesbian councilperson; nor has an openly gay or lesbian candidate been elected to the state legislature.
A few out candidates have run unsuccessfully for state House seats recently, and there are several openly gay or lesbian candidates who plan to run for City Council and the state legislature.
That there are even out candidates running at all is progress: It takes an incredible amount of courage to run for elected office, particularly when you might be the first in your respective legislative body to be openly gay.
Electing LGBT candidates to office is imperative to ensuring equal treatment under the law. And that’s not to say that allies can’t effectively advocate for equality or that there’s a “gay agenda” to push. But it is to say that sexual minorities can conduct quiet advocacy, forging alliances over issues and building relationships with colleagues that will allow meaningful conversations to take place, but doesn’t require them.
Likewise, having openly LGBT individuals in positions where they can build alliances with other minorities is crucial: While the goals and experiences might not be exactly the same, they are no doubt similar. And when the LGBT community stands with other minorities, it strengthens us all.
Two specific areas where alliances with other minorities would be key are the statewide nondiscrimination and hate-crimes legislation — both of which would allow LGBT individuals to engage in quiet advocacy, gaining allies and friends.