Governor Elect Tom Wolf Takes Two Important LGBTQ Visibility Steps

I’ve been pondering the issue of why LGBTQ visibility in municipal government matters. By pondering, I mean this is something I’ll write about again and again. And again.

By visibility, I specifically mean the presence of LGBTQ individuals in positions of senior leadership and responsibility. I think we all agree that a diverse workforce is a good thing and that having LGBTQ voices at the table creates more opportunity to address equality on a variety of matters.

Someone can be out to their coworkers, but not known to the public. We sometimes use indicators to assess if someone is at least LGBTQ culturally competent or friendly. Indicators might include boards positions or former places of employment. It might be a personal relationship. It might be an open Facebook profile. It could be a lot of things, none of which are exact.

Similarly, we use indicators to determine if a government is culturally competent. We look at policies, programs, funding streams. And we look to see who holds the leadership roles. Are we represented?

Today, I learned two things about Governor Elect Tom Wolfe. First, he invited the Renaissance City Choirs to perform at his inauguration on Tuesday. Second, he announced on Saturday the appointment of openly transgender female Dr. Rachel Levine as his personal physician.

Renaissance City Choir
The RCC rehearsing for the Inauguration.

Both are wonderful turns of events. The inauguration I liken to officiating at same-sex weddings. Important, visible, awareness raising, but short-term and limited in terms of impact beyond those present. The other event –  appointing an openly trans woman to a senior advisory role – is more like implementing new policy or regulations. Both are good, but different in terms of how they impact queer lives throughout the state.

Dr. Rachel Levine
Dr. Rachel Levine

According to Philadelphia Magazine “A rep from Wolf’s office wasn’t able to confirm with 100 percent certainty, but he believes Dr. Levine is the first transgender woman to hold the title of physician general.”

Being the first  (or the second or the most recent) LGBTQ anything is important. It does matter if for no other reason than to remind everyone on the face of the planet that we are here – we are visible! We are doctors, lawyers, accountants, program directors, secretaries, custodians and more. We are part of the fabric of society and you make a grave error when you look past our true and complete identities.

It isn’t the only thing that matters. Dr. Levine isn’t an expert on all LGBTQ medical issues. Her role isn’t a Cabinet level position. It is important that other people in the Administration are culturally competent in LGBTQ issues. But her presence there and her willingness to be visible gets us one step closer to that degree of competence. Just like the willingness of the choir members to sing proudly about LGBTQ identity will echo throughout Harrisburg, rejoicing in our visible role at such an important point in time. It all ties together to create the safer, more humane world where everyone can be out. We can’t get there unless we get through several more “firsts” – ask Sophia Masloff.

Together, these decisions are just the right note to launch a new Administration. We can only wait to see if the LGBTQ community will receive attention in this term. The presence of an openly LGBTQ senior advisor is the stronger indicator yet of Wolf’s commitment to a diverse workforce and the ensuing benefits for Pennsylvania.

Kudos to Dr. Levine, to the Renaissance City Choir and to Tom Wolf.

PS: No one is suggesting binders full of queer people, just in case you wondered. I did contact the folks in charge of binders full of women, but they are dusting things off in preparation for Romney 2016. Apparently, all the pink binders are otherwise occupied. 🙂


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