By Jeremy Rodriguez
The Pennsylvania delegation to this year’s Democratic National Convention will include 27 LGBTQ community members, including several from Philadelphia.
Brendan Welch, the communications director for the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, called the LGBTQ community a “cornerstone of the Democratic Party.”
“We must actively uplift LGBTQ+ voices if we are to achieve the America that Democrats stand for: justice, equity and opportunity for all people, regardless of race, gender identity, or who you love,” Welch said in an email to PGN. “We welcome all of our LGBTQ+ delegates with open arms and look forward to electing Democrats who will fight for you — in both the nation’s capital and the state capital.”
Sherrie Cohen, a social-justice activist and a former City Council candidate, said it’s an “honor” to represent her community as one of the delegates. She noted the higher percentages of LGBTQ homelessness, the murders of Black trans women, and high HIV/AIDS infection rates as some of the unique challenges facing this marginalized population.
“Our community is disproportionately affected by every measure of wellbeing — whether it’s healthcare access, housing or employment discrimination,” Cohen said. “We are disproportionately underrepresented in every economic and social [issue] because of the historic bigotry our community has faced and continues to face. We need representation in the Democratic Party so we can fight for a platform that is going to uplift our community and to fight for candidates who are committed to being champions for our community.”
Deja Lynn Alvarez, a transgender activist who ran a campaign for Philadelphia City Council last year, said she is “super honored” to be one of the delegates but noted she feels an extra responsibility to not simply fill a “checkbox.”
“I’ve never been someone who wants to be appointed to something or join something just to be there,” she said. “I’m there to represent our different communities and I try to make sure I do that.”
Alvarez also said many people in the LGBTQ community do not feel like the Democratic Party truly represents them. To help them feel more supported, she said she intends to use her platform to ask Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden questions about how he will help the community. She said statements such as “Biden is better than [President Donald] Trump” or “Democrats are better than Republicans” are not helpful for this narrative.
“That’s not enough,” Alvarez said. “We can’t rest on that. Otherwise, we just allow things to go back to where they were. Where they were is not where they need to be in 2020.”
Sergio Cea, a pledged PLEO (Party Leader and Elected Officials) delegate, echoed Alvarez’s statements. Cea, who works as a Democratic committee person in the 46th ward and as a community organizer, supported Bernie Sanders’ campaign due to the candidate’s platform on issues such as Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Cea said he plans to push the Democratic Party on these issues.
“There are many issues we could be moving the Party on and in a moment like this — when the pandemic has shown [the status quo] isn’t working for us — this is the right time to be pushing to the left,” he said.
Additionally, Cea will be coming to the DNC with an intersectional approach. As a Latinx person and the son of Chilean immigrants, Cea said he is “blessed to have a lot of intersecting identities that bring a lot of different views and lenses to these issues.”
Cea recalled a time when he visited his family earlier this year in Chile. He was getting ice cream at a park when a police tank drove down the street and targeted citizens with water cannons.
This situation in Chile was very similar to his experience in West Philadelphia months later on May 31. On this day, police tanks drove through 52nd St., threw tear gas and shot rubber bullets at the community.
“As I was seeing those tanks coming into my neighborhood, it really made me think of the fascism and militarism of Chile that the US directly had a role in,” Cea said.
Malcolm Kenyatta, Pennsylvania’s first out Black state representative, will also be bringing his intersectional lens to the DNC as a delegate.
“Being a young person, a Black person, and a queer person — all those different intersections bring a certain perspective and I think it’s important because this president has tried very hard to divide folks up along race, class, gender and economic status,” Kenyatta said. “He is actively working to make life more difficult for the people he has sworn to serve. So all of the intersections that embody us are people Trump has gone after.”
Kenyatta also said he is looking forward to seeing the first woman vice president should Biden win November’s election.
“I think it’s going to be a huge historic moment across the board and I’m excited to be a part of that,” he said.
Micah Mahjoubian, the Policy Director and Chief Adviser to PA Senator Sharif Street, said he is proud to be one of the DNC delegates and praised Biden for his past work.
“He has the experience, the relationships and the empathy that we need right now,” Mahjoubian said. “I’m proud to support him.”
Jeremy Rodriguez is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared.