Blog Post- Equality Rights and York Leadership

For the past 50 years, since the Stonewall Riots, we’ve been fighting for equality rights. It is important to continue conversations that identify what actions we can take going forward. This summer the South Central PA delegation of the House Democratic Caucus, including State Reps Mike Sturla (Lancaster), Patty Kim (Harrisburg), and Carol Hill-Evans (York) will be holding the first collaborative events including a LGBTQIA listening tour. We’re excited to find a new voice and speak with existing groups so all voices can be heard.

On June 28,  the York Revolution hosted Pride Night, in coordination with Equality Fest and York LGBT Center; an exciting event that was sponsored by the York County Economic Alliance and the York County Community Foundation. We used the nearby location as an opportunity to allow openly gay people to discuss issues of discrimination, legislation, and the path forward. This was also an opportunity to showcase the diversity and work being done in the 95th district by a sampling of LGBTQIA allies and those who identify as LGBTQIA .

The following are examples of discrimination experienced by some of the leaders who wanted to share their stories regarding discrimination within the 95th district: William Penn Cyber Coordinator and Advisor for the Gay/Straight Alliance, Audra Lapp recalls being discriminated against by her children’s’ former school district.

“I was told that I could not be homeroom parent any longer due to ‘my situation’. I had recently come out and the teacher had heard about it somehow. I went directly to the principal who heard me out. He had a private meeting with the teacher, and my duties were reinstated.”

From that point forward her family experienced no further discrimination in the school district. An incident also occurred with an administrator of the Girl Scouts, that grew nearly to the level of  legal action against the organization. 

Secretary of PFLAG York and Coordinator of Spectrum York, both run out of the 95th district’s Unitarian Congregation, Tesla Taliaferro, identifies as gay transgender male, and while Tesla has not specifically been discriminated against in the district, Tesla recalls a rental company agent making the statement, “we rent to your people”. It is an awkward moment of memory, but Tesla has heard the same company allows landlords to discriminate. Discrimination comes in many forms.

As an expansion we wondered if education could help with awkward interactions like Tesla’s. Our office has been asked to provide diversity presentations that we use for staff education to Kingston House and Delphia House’s senior citizens. For Lou Rivera, Chairman and Founder of Latinos Unidos, and a married gay male, he thinks older generations can create an environment for younger people to feel accepted. Charles Kress, life-long resident of the 95th district, partner of Tesla, and Treasurer of PFLAG York, believes educating older generations by being out, proud, and young is not effective. Charles, who identifies as a gay male, rationalizes having older members of the LGBTQIA community be out and open with their peers will negate the dismissiveness of intergenerational bias. Baby Boomers and older generations, “did not have that kind of open communication when they were younger,” Charles explains. It is never too late.

Professional education is also needed, multiple leaders reveal. Carla Christopher, Director of Children and Family Services at Union Lutheran Church in the 95th, a 12 year constituent, who identifies as a lesbian sees, “LGBT healthcare outcomes so much poorer for trans health and lesbian gynecology”. Carla, who is cofounder of Equality Fest and Acting Director of the LGBT Center of York, notes gynecologists in the district routinely have lesbians, “take pregnancy tests and undergo invasive exams, not even asking if they face penetration”. There is no training and sensitivity in the profession locally it appears. As Tesla Taliafero and Carla Christopher both advised, there is just one doctor in York who does hormone replacement therapy for transgender and intersex individuals. Both conclude the government could do more to ensure equal access to healthcare for individuals who are transgender.

We are given the impression the 95th legislative district is a relatively safe place to live, work, and play. Both York City and its school district specifically prohibit discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity. Other municipalities and schools without these protections exist throughout York County. One thing legislators are asked often is how to stop bullying. So we asked Audra Lapp what the situation looks like throughout her tenure in the York City School District.

“I do not feel as though students necessarily experience less bullying than when I started, but they do have more support. More adult support in the form of speaking up when they hear or see the bullying occur, as well as more safe spaces within the school. In addition, I feel as though they experience more peer support in the form of more acceptance and peer bystanders who are not willing to be silent in the face of bullying.”

James Sawor, York City School Board Member, cofounder of Equality Fest and Lancaster Pride, who identifies as a partnered gay male, recently asked administration about the protections and assurances for transgender students at a school district public meeting. Administration assured the board that the school buildings have the support and open listening for any students who are out as transgender. On the ground, Audra agrees that staff makes sure the wishes are heard and followed through. She believes there is more they can do, but was not completely aware of all actions taken.

Workplaces for the residents within the 95th district appear to be, at least corporately, ready to recruit and support a diverse workforce and clientele. Michelle Kreeger, who identifies as an ally and runs a State Farm agency says, “State Farm has increased inclusiveness and support marketing for LGBT events”. While she believes State Farm intends to treat everyone the same, there are, “indicators of welcome” specifically for LGBT individuals and families. Ryan Supler, a bisexual male and current PA Democratic State Committeeman states that he is able to see past people’s identities and work with people as necessary with domestic partnerships. Hallam Councilman Michael Wascovich, a married gay male, who comes into the 95th district mainly for the nightlife and entertainment, says that in the back of his mind he is concerned about being discriminated against at work, but the corporate policy at his employer, Church and Dwight, is inclusive.

Ralph Serpe, who runs Guerilla Gay Bar, former Chair of the City of York Human Relations Commission and Secretary/Treasurer of the General Authority believes York has a long way to go to recognize the value of all residents no matter who they are. Yet Ralph, who identifies as Queer, believes protections should come from the Federal level.  Lou Rivera believes York residents are ready to elect an openly gay Latino and are excited for change.  Asking in terms at a state and local level, our final question was to ask what policy changes are most important to you. Charles and Tesla both agree change must start with conversations to bridge the gap between conservative and religious believers, and have an open dialogue. That is why I truly hope that legislation affecting the LGBT community will get public hearing time scheduled. They agree anti-discrimination and anti-harassment legislation is welcome at any level of government.

Carla Christopher tends to agree with policy change starting at home. She says in families of color, it is still taboo to have open conversations about identity. “Being gay is still perceived differently; especially new immigrants from Latin America, the Caribbean, and in Christian black communities”, Carla notes. To her the gender gap in pay and job opportunity at the executive level for non-profits and business is top priority, “As a black female and queer women, we are at the intersection of race and gender and orientation.” Carla believes that these intersections can be navigated through mentorship, and passing the Fairness Act finally. Ryan Supler agrees that passing the Fairness Act should be top priority.

Michael Wascovich believes raising minimum wage and education funding should be the priorities for the LGBT community however, in policy. James Sawor, who is also my Chief of Staff, agrees with Michael on education policy as he spoke in 2018 at Equity First town hall meetings. James understands the numbers, and has a passion to help everyone else understand the severity of all 3 school districts in the 95th being underfunded, with York City being the most per pupil in the Commonwealth. Ralph Serpe, who is also President of the Adams County Community Foundation, puts education funding as his top policy priority. Ralph understands solutions are needed for disparities, stating, “Our children in York are on the short end of the stick and we cannot abandon them or settle for a political system that is made up of so many school districts.”

It is with great admiration I present you with some of York’s LGBTQIA leaders living, working, and playing in the 95th district. These leaders are diverse even among themselves, in many ways. When we group people together to denounce their lives we often forget what they have been through, what they could go through, and what they will go through in their future. We forget that being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer are only one part of how they see themselves in the mirror. No matter our legislative priorities, we must prioritize fairness, equity, safety, and use sound judgement as representatives of the people. Now that the introductions have been made, follow the work these handful of people are doing to make the 95th legislative district a more secure place to be.