Which out candidates could join Sims in PA House?
Nov 01, 2012 | 1254 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<b>Jeffrey Dahlander</b>
Jeffrey Dahlander
<b>Christopher Dietz</b>
Christopher Dietz
<b>Kelly McEntee</b>
Kelly McEntee
Brian Sims is set to become Pennsylvania’s first openly LGBT state lawmaker, as he is running unopposed next week, after having won the April primary against longtime LGBT ally Rep. Babette Josephs. When Sims is sworn in in January, he could be joined by up to three other LGBT legislators: Christopher Dietz, Kelly McEntee or Jeffrey Dahlander. The trio represents different districts throughout different parts of the state, but all have waged tireless campaigns against longtime Republican incumbents. Each candidate spoke with PGN about his or her campaign and goals should they reach the halls of Harrisburg.

Jeffrey Dahlander

While becoming one of the first out state lawmakers in Pennsylvania would be a milestone, Dahlander’s sexual orientation has played little role in his campaign to represent the 111th District. Dahlander, 39, is challenging Republican Rep. Sandra Major, who has held the district — which encompasses Susquehanna County in Northern Pennsylvania — since 1995.

Dahlander, who in his day job assists those victimized by financial fraud, said that having LGBT representation would be especially important for the younger generation.

“For younger people to see someone who is proud of who they are is very important,” he said. “It demonstrates that anyone can accomplish anything. I think visibility is important, just like for any other marginalized group.”

He said he would work for LGBT equality in practical, small steps.

“I look forward to making sure that we are a protected class in Pennsylvania and have the same protections other groups do.”

Dahlander is an active supporter of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network and said the organization can be an important resource for Pennsylvania schools.

A graduate of Penn State, he volunteered for an HIV/AIDS group at the university and said he’d be eager to refocus attention on the epidemic, if elected.

“It’s almost as if the younger generation has forgotten that it exists,” the candidate said, addint that “education, especially in rural areas, is needed to foster HIV/AIDS prevention.

In terms of equal-rights legislation, Dahlander said that, while he’ll respect the views of all district residents, he will oppose measures that limit rights.

“I look at the constituents and what their priorities are,” he said. “I will not support legislation that restricts anyone’s rights.”

In addition to LGBT work, Dahlander said he plans to focus on enhancing education in the Keystone State.

“We have excellent public-school systems, and one of my goals is to make sure everyone has the same opportunity to an education,” he said. “I want to get us back to where our schools are not only adequate, but funded and successful.”

Dahlander said that running against an entrenched Republican incumbent has been a challenge, but he’s grateful for the vast support he has received.

“I’ve had excellent support,” he said. “I’ve received support from everyday people who just want their voices to be heard.”

Dahlander has been endorsed by Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club and Equality Pennsylvania.

Christopher Dietz

Dietz hopes that, come January, he will be sworn in as one of the first out lawmakers in the state.

Dietz, 37, is the Democratic nominee for state representative for the 104th District, in Dauphin County. He is challenging Republican incumbent Sue Helm, in office since 2006.

The district has been represented by a Republican since its inception in 1969.

Dietz said it is not only time for a Democratic voice in the county, but for LGBT voices in the legislature.

“I think with any group, there needs to be someone to work in the legislature to advance any topic,” he said. “It is great to have a representative at the table. We’ve never had that in the LGBT community in Pennsylvania. It is crucial that we are there.”

Dietz, who has been engaged to his partner for more than four years, said he will fight for marriage equality but acknowledged that it will be a process.

“We have come a long way and there have been a lot of people fighting for it. I want to work with the LGBT Caucus to reach out to all people to know that we’re every bit as boring as they are. We go to the movies, we go bowling, we do all of the same things. Marriage, for me, is more of an affirmation to the public of this relationship that I have, that it exists. Having legal recognition of that will go a long way.”

One of his other priorities is to enhance education and end bullying.

Dietz has participated in anti-bullying workshops at his local school district, which included segments for teachers, students and parents.

“We want an environment where kids won’t have to go through those type of things. I think it is important that we do work within the schools so that kids get the idea that bullying is not appropriate.”

The candidate said he hopes to work on the issue legislatively to make sure that anti-bullying training is present in schools.

Dietz also plans to tackle job creation, an issue that has impacted his own life: He was laid off from his job as a product engineer for a year.

“I know what it was like looking for work: It isn’t an easy thing to do,” he said.

Dietz has worked within his hometown of Millersburg to promote tourism by collaborating with local businesses, and said he will work on reforms to repeal automatic pay raises.

“I went door-to-door campaigning and heard a lot of people talk about the raises and how out of touch [the legislature is],” he said.

Dietz also plans to work within the realm of public education.

“Last year, nearly a billion dollars was cut from public education. I will do my best to restore that funding,” he said. “I am going to stand up and make sure that our kids are successful in the future.”

While it has been challenging getting his name recognized against a six-year incumbent, Dietz said he has been able to reach a wealth of voters and has seen LGBT support locally and nationally: He was endorsed by Victory Fund, Equality Pennsylvania and Capital Region Stonewall Democrats.

“I couldn’t be happier with the support I have been given from the LGBT community,” he said.

Kelly McEntee

McEntee is running for the 105th congressional district against a Republican incumbent who has been in office more than two decades. If elected, she’ll be the first openly gay female state lawmaker in Pennsylvania — but that isn’t why she’s running.

“The fact that I am a lesbian was an afterthought to running,” she said. “I am primarily running because I see inefficiency in the government.”

However, McEntee, 50, would be proud to represent the LGBT community in the legislature.

“I think the fact that we haven’t had any voices for the LGBT community in our legislature is a disadvantage for us. It is important for people to know we are just like them, with the same concerns for our neighborhood and friends.”

McEntee said she considers discrimination to be the top issue facing the LGBT community, and would look forward to working to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the state’s nondiscrimination law.

McEntee would also be an advocate for the anti-conversion therapy bill that was recently introduced by outgoing state Rep. Babette Josephs (D-182nd Dist.).

“The most important thing to do is talk to colleagues about realities of conversion therapy, give them facts and let them know that it is not a valid type of therapy,” she said.

Suicide prevention is something that has affected McEntee’s personal life, prompting advocacy work that she said would continue in the legislature, including a push for anti-bullying legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“For me, that is something that sets me out as different,” she said. “I want to be a voice for mental health and suicide prevention.”

McEntee would also work for local-level action on HIV/AIDS issues.

“HIV/AIDS prevention education needs to be included in the counties and it needs to have funding so that it is visible to everyone,” she said.

McEntee said she would advocate for marriage equality by having her own relationship as a visible model.

“My partner and I are an example in the community and I would take that opportunity to point out to others the rights that we don’t have because we are not legally married,” she said. “It is the best thing we can do in our state.”

Some of McEntee’s non-LGBT-focused priorities include public education, economic growth and infrastructure.

The candidate said fundraising has been the biggest challenge of her campaign.

She has, however, seen support from some unexpected sectors.

“Women Republicans are very receptive to having a woman in the legislature,” she said.

McEntee was endorsed by Equality Pennsylvania and Capital Region Stonewall Democrats.

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