By Michele Zipkin
PHILADELPHIA — Andre Carroll wants to see more elected officials who have lived experiences similar to the people they’ll represent. Carroll grew up in Germantown and is now running to represent his community in Harrisburg.
The 201st House District, which encompasses areas of Germantown, Mt. Airy, West Oak Lane and Ogontz, is currently represented by Rep. Stephen Kinsey, who has served since 2013. If elected, Carroll would be the fourth out LGBTQ+ member of the Legislature and the second out Black gay man in the House.
“I think that’s historic on its own,” Carroll said. “I think there’s an opportunity here to make Pennsylvania more diverse and I’m looking forward to being a part of that progression.”
Carroll graduated from Germantown High School, was raised by his single-parent grandmother, and now owns his childhood house. His father was incarcerated for most of his life, his mother struggled with a drug addiction and his grandmother raised him on a fixed income due to a job-related injury. He said that the area that he lived in as a child has a median household income of $32,000 a year, and that 49 percent of the residents in his district earn less than that.
“I think that these lived experiences have not only been very similar to my other community members’, but it’s also a testament to why I do the work that I do,” Carroll said. “Why I’ve committed to connecting our seniors to quality healthcare resources after losing my grandmother to liver cancer, why I mentor young folks, how I focus on those that find themselves in the criminal justice system and why I decided to become an educator because of the closure of the high school that I graduated from.”
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In addition to working as a substitute teacher in Philadelphia schools, Carroll previously worked for the Philadelphia City Controller’s Office, where he launched a financial literacy program for high school students. He also volunteered for the campaigns of Bernie Sanders, District Attorney Larry Krasner and City Councilmember Isaiah Thomas; worked as campaign manager for Working Families Party candidate Nicolas O’Rourke and worked for State Sen. Anthony H. Williams doing constituent services.
Some of Carroll’s top political priorities include criminal justice reform, ensuring broad access to quality healthcare and fully funding Pennsylvania’s schools. In terms of how his priorities fit in with the needs of LGBTQ communities, Carroll spoke about the intersectionality of his identity and lived experiences.
“For instance, housing is a big thing for me,” he said. “I understand that throughout the Commonwealth and a lot of the spaces across the state, we have LGBTQ folks who have lost their housing simply because of their identity, and those kinds of things we need to prevent. When it comes to unemployment, we need to provide protections that we have here in Philadelphia that we don’t see in other collar counties and other municipalities across the state.”
Carroll also singled out education and healthcare as universal needs. “I think the [platform] that I stand on is to move everyone forward, including those who are from the LGBTQ community like myself,” he said.
As a young Black gay man, Carroll talked about his experiences having to choose between his Blackness and his queerness in certain situations. He said that he waited until his senior year of high school to come out to his grandmother because he didn’t feel comfortable being open with his sexual orientation until that point.
“That is the reality for a lot of young Black queer folks,” Carroll said. “It’s unfortunate because I see these young people like myself suffer in silence. I think that we need to continue to push that forward in making people know that it’s fine with just announcing who they are when they feel that they have arrived at that decision.”
Overall, Carroll said that he feels like his campaign is well-positioned for success. He has raised over $90,000, and has knocked on 3,000 constituents’ doors in the last few weeks, the large majority of whom said they support him. “That says a lot, when I’m running to represent a district with an incumbent who’s been here for 10 years.”
Michele Zipkin is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared.