By Sebastian Fortino
ERIE, Pa. — In 2017, Dr. Tyler Titus became the first openly transgender-identifying person to win public office in the commonwealth , when they were elected to the Erie City School Board. It was the same year that Dr. Rachel Levine was appointed to serve as Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Health.
For the 2021 election cycle in Erie, Titus, a Democrat who now serves as Erie’s school board president, is once again running for elected office: this time for the vacant seat of Erie County executive.
Current County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper, a Democrat, is not running for re-election.
“The Erie County Executive manages all the services the county provides from the public libraries to the county health department to public safety. They oversee roughly 1200 employees and have a major role in determining the use of the significant $484 million budget,” Titus said, explaining that during the COVID-19 pandemic the role has proved increasingly crucial. “In the next year, it’ll be just as critical, as they determine the use of the $275 million allotted to Erie County in the American Rescue Plan.”
Making sure the funds are allocated correctly and sustainably is going to be a chief demand should Titus win election. Erie, like many sections of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and neighboring states are described as part of the “rust belt.” These communities — which once were prosperous prior to the closure of mines and local manufacturing — have unique demographics, as they are part-urban and part-rural.
It comes as no surprise that the Erie native described their part of the world as not exactly an “LGBTQ haven.” But over the course of the shutdown, they have come out as non-binary, a place they feel is “most like home.”
Throughout their career, Titus implemented a positive perception of those who identify as LGBTQ in their community. By winning the Erie County Executive role, they would continue expanding visibility and acceptance.
Titus also served with the Erie Mayor’s Council on LGBTQ Affairs. They however stepped down after disagreeing with the mayor’s stances on Black Lives Matter protests and demonstrations in the city. Despite leaving, they vowed to continue working to help Erie and its people, including launching a non-profit dedicated to both queer youth and assisting the most marginalized members of the local LGBTQ community.
“In a moment that can feel hopeless, I know how powerful it would be for trans youth to see me as county executive: to be able to look at me and feel hope — for themselves, and that a better world is possible. And I believe that — despite the perceptions or assumptions — Erie County is ready. This campaign will prove that if you speak directly to the values of the voters — and you fight for them fearlessly — LGBTQ candidates can win anywhere.”
In that regard, Titus has faced questions from (and is happy to educate) those in their constituency when asked about their identity as a queer person.
But, as state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia pointed out in his “Flip PA Tour” during the 2020 election cycle, Pennsylvanians — whether urban, rural, or suburban — are most interested in electing leaders who profess ability to resolve issues central to their lives.
Both Kenyatta and Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia, are both going to campaign with Titus “because they believe in what we’re fighting for, and they know how meaningful it would be to elevate the first trans person ever elected in Pennsylvania history,” Titus said.
As school board president, a working parent of two children who manages a non-profit, and as a small business owner since 2015 who works in private practice as a licensed counselor, Titus has a multidisciplinary view of life. They see equity and the need for equality.
“Striving for equity has been the driving force of my career, and is the core of our campaign. I believe that in order to achieve equity, we need to view it not as its own set of ideas, but as integral to the way we approach every issue. When talking about healthcare, education, or the economy, equity is at the center. It is at the heart of my politics, forms the foundation of my platform, and is the reason I am in this race.”