A few years ago, I answered a knock on my door in Manchester and met this energetic young man who was running for a committee seat. His enthusiasm was contagious and we became Facebook friends. I’ve followed his career and continue to admire his enthusiasm, his leadership in Manchester, and his passion for service. Aerion is running for the State House Seat in the 19th District which includes Manchester. This is his second challenge to incumbent Jake Wheatley who has held the seat since 2003. I asked Aerion to answer a few questions that I’ve also posed to other Democratic challengers in local House races.
Your Name: Aerion Andrew Abney
Your Pronouns: he/him/his
How do you describe your identity? African American-Heterosexual-Male
Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and what impact they had on your life? In 2007 while in college at Pitt I met my future fraternity brother who identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community. Going through the process to join our fraternity he was a motivational and supportive figure that helped me successfully finish the process despite the challenges that come along with initiation.
The impact he had on me was reaffirming my belief that our differences shouldn’t define our ability to embrace each other and work together.
Since that time in 2007 our brotherhood has grown and I am looking forward to having him as one of my groomsmen in my wedding later this year.
Please tell me about your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region. The LGBTQ community in the district and region is growing and becoming more organized around issues that matter to them. When we talk about diversity and inclusion in this region the first thought people generally have is on the need for more African-American participation in the workforce etc. The LGBTQ community is doing a great job at bringing awareness to the fact that diversity is about embracing the opinions and experiences of multiple marginalized populations.
I have partnered with Delta Foundation on a citywide effort to build police and community relations for all. Additionally I have been endorsed by the Steel City Stonewall Democrats the LGBTQ political group as their candidate to promote their agenda in Harrisburg.
Based on this, what do you understand to be our top LGBTQ concerns and priorities for the General Assembly? How will you respond to those priorities? It is unfortunate that in PA we do not have extended non-discrimination laws to protect people from getting fired, not getting hired or not getting housing based off their sexual orientation or identity. I will fully support the PA Fairness Act and other legislation that seeks to even the playing field and respect members of the LGBTQ community as equal citizens.
How does intersectionality inform your work? As a social worker I am always cognizant that there are social and economic forces that create opportunities for success which are interconnected and reinforcing and they impact people differently. For those that identify with multiple minority groups these negative impacts on them are enhanced. Thus when we think about policies, programs, and initiatives we can no longer create them without considering the unintended consequences of how it affects the diverse population in our society. We live in a very nuanced culture and things aren’t as black and white as they used to be. We need to have pragmatic leadership that adapts to where we are as a society today and where we’re going.
The threats of ‘religious liberty’ laws and exemptions target both LGBTQ rights and women’s rights. How does the General Assembly navigate this equivalency of personal religious freedom with systemic oppression and control of underserved people? My ability to respect multiple truths even truths that appear in direct opposition to each other is a characteristic I have developed with experience. We can learn to see the humanity in others when we figure out how to balance the tensions of religious constructs and personal lifestyle choices. This cannot be completely solved through policy without a broader cultural shift as well.
Nonetheless, non-discrimination laws need to be expanded to better protect all of our residents. I would oppose any legislation similar to Indiana’s as it is a direct attack on members of the LGBTQ community.
Affordable housing is an ongoing concern on the Northside where we both live. You mention ‘anti-displacement strategies’ in your campaign. Please give us an example of such a strategy and how it would work on the Northside. We need to work towards building place and building people at the same time and bring responsible development to our neighborhoods that doesn’t displace current residents.
I want to develop anti-displacement strategies that are integrated into our policies, planning, and programs. This includes but is not limited to: expanding first time home buyer programs for residents unfamiliar with the process but interested in buying a home, one-for-one housing replacement or no net loss housing, tax abatement opportunities for seniors and long term residents in transitional areas.
I don’t want to live in a Pittsburgh where 15 years from now we still have some people living like the Jetsons and others living like the Flintstones.
Political dynasties are rampant in Southwestern Pennsylvania politics – including the Costas, Wagners, etc. Two other Democratic members of the State House, Markosek and Hanna, are retiring because their sons are going to run, unopposed, for their seats. Some of these are ‘good guys’ but their ascent to power is not truly democratic. Why is it important to disrupt this legacy of political dynasties? Democracy was not designed for people to run unopposed or for small factions to develop centralized political power. It is important to challenge the status quo to ensure the people representing us are held accountable for their actions. When people run unopposed or rely on name recognition often times they feel absolved from explaining to the people why they deserve our support. Everyone who wants to run for public office should earn the support of their constituents and not depend on family legacy as a reason for why they run and why they deserve to win.
Tell me about your other endorsements and supporters.
Run for Something
Steel City Stonewall Democrats
Where can readers find your campaign on social media?
Thank you, Aerion.
We hope to bring other Q&A’s in the coming weeks. Are you registered to vote in Pennsylvania’s upcoming Primary Election on Tuesday, May 15 ,2018?