As gay people, we are not one to sit around and be quiet. We have a history of being marginalized. In 2020, we had one of the highest voter registrations. It’s queer people getting out and doing it.
A few days after Election Day 2021, the Victory Fund released a list of known out LGBTQ candidates who won their offices. They identified nine in Pennsylvania who were victorious. This list is based on VF candidates, but I suspect there are others, especially in very local elections. If you know someone who should be on this list, please message them to message me privately. Loosely speaking, I’m interested in out LGBTQ candidates who won their office in Pennsylvania.
So I created a political Q&A for these specific candidates who are mostly brand new to municipal politics. And we’ll be using their responses as a launch pad to explore equality issues in their municipalities. It is all exciting stuff and worth diving into, I promise. Stay tuned for an announcement of how we are sliding into electoral politics in 2022.
Greg made time to complete his Q&A while taking some personal time – a reflection of how much he values you, dear readers. Greg along with Tiffany Sizemore are the only two out LGBTQ individuals elected to this level of Municipal Courts, Greg in Philadelphia and Tiffany in Allegheny.
Now, I was shocked to read that he has never been to Pittsburgh! That makes me think the bar association should ensure all judges visit the entire state. And lawyers, maybe, as well.
Please take some time to read Greg’s responses about transforming judicial systems as queer people.
Name: Gregory O. Yorgey-Girdy
Elected Office: Judge-Elect – Philadelphia Municipal Court
How do you describe your identity?
A gay man who is proud to be a provider and protector of his interracial gay family and a fierce advocate for equality, inclusion, and active community engagement.
Tell us about your district. Who are your constituents and the community you will serve?
The First Judicial District of Pennsylvania is composed of two courts which make up the Philadelphia County Court System: The Court of Common Pleas; and Municipal Court.
The Municipal Court is a limited jurisdiction court of record serving an estimated population of 1.5 million residents. It is organized into three divisions: Criminal, Civil and Traffic.
Why did you decide to run for this office?
Less than a year ago to this day, I wasn’t seriously considering a run for public office. But with the encouragement of my family, friends, and the grace of God, I decided that I’d launch a campaign. I ran because the judicial system is fundamentally broken and one of the only ways to fix it is from within. Philadelphians deserve a court system that is transparent, accountable, and fair. As a judge, I will fight from within to ensure that court culture changes.
Who were your endorsements and supporters?
I’m honored to have received the number of votes I did in both the primary and general election. I also honored, humbled and blessed to have received the following endorsements: The Philadelphia Democratic Party; The Working Families Party; The LGBTQ Victory Fund; Reclaim Philadelphia; Philadelphia Wards 1,2,5, 8, 9, 18, 22nd Ward Open Caucus, 27, 30, 46, and 48; Laborers District Council, Eastern Atlantic States Regional Council of Carpenters; AFSCME; National Organization For Women; Philadelphia Neighborhood Networks; 215 People’s Alliance, Liberty City LGBTQ Democratic Club; Free The Ballot; Philadelphia Gay News; The Philadelphia Tribune; Philly For Change; Roadmap for Progress PAC; The CollectivePAC; Americans For Democratic Action, SE PA Chapter; State Sen. Sharif Street; State Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta, Rick Krajewski, Brian Sims; and City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart.
What are your priorities for your first months in office?
Restoring trust: Our justice system is broken, and one of the only ways to fix the system is from within. In January, The Philadelphia Inquirer published an op-ed I wrote about how crucial PA’s court elections are for racial justice this year. The documented culture of systemic racism and nepotism within the courts is alarming and must be changed from within — and I am deeply concerned this culture could trickle down to how defendants are treated.
Ensuring fairness: As a judge, I will work hard to ensure that every person gets their right to a fair hearing. Every person who passes through the court system deserves a fair and just experience — regardless of their background, race, ethnicity, religion, sex, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, language, disability, or socioeconomic status. As a Black, gay man, I have experienced first-hand how our society can treat less privileged people, and that has influenced how I have lived my personal and professional life.
Increasing accessibility: I will also work to expand the accessibility of our courts for all, particularly marginalized and compromised communities. This will include working with court leadership, when possible, to find potential ways to expand access to the courts for seniors and to ensure continued legal education programs and training programs related to language barriers for judges, attorneys, court personnel and administrative agency personnel.
How did your identity as an openly LGBTQ person impact and inform your campaign? How will it impact and inform your tenure in office?
As gay people, we are not one to sit around and be quiet. We have a history of being marginalized. In 2020, we had one of the highest voter registrations. It’s queer people getting out and doing it. Again, queer folks came out strong in this election. It was important because Municipal Court is a people’s court, and a lot of people in the queer community come through that court. One of the things I’ve seen as a litigator, and personally, is that there’s a lot of biases in the court. Queer folks and people of color come in and are stigmatized. I would remove all of that. It’s extremely important that we have respect and fairness in our courtrooms.
How does open and visible representation of different LGBTQ identities in elected office change the world?
Representation matters and getting as many LGBTQ+ people in office affirms our power.
At least 410 LGBTQ candidates were on the general election ballot in 2021, including 26 from Pennsylvania. We had the third largest number of candidates in this most recent election and many high profile folx lined up to run in 2022. What are your thoughts about this?
It is always a great thing when we are active participates in our democracy. Representation matters.
Are there ways in which the harmful impact of the pandemic on the lives of LGBTQ folks could be lessened by government intervention?
LGBTQ+ people are at greater risk of experiencing economic insecurities due to disproportionate economic hardships compared with the general population. Discrimination is a key driver of employment instability and unemployment among LGBTQ+ communities, therefore access to public programs and federal benefits are essential.
Please tell us about your very first impression of Pittsburgh.
I am embarrassed to reveal that I have never visited Pittsburgh, but the Steelers are my third favorite NFL team, and my grandmother loved the Pirates.
What Pittsburghers have influenced your life and work?
Even though Chuck Noll was born in Ohio, he had a tremendous impact in Pittsburgh. Noll provided many opportunities for African Americans including starting the first black NFL quarterback, Joe Gilliam.
Please tell us about the first LGBTQ person that you knew and what impact they had on your life.
Judge Daniel J. Anders is the first openly gay male judge to serve on the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. He has been a great friend, mentor, and inspiration as I ran to become the first openly black gay male to sit on the bench for the First Judicial District of Pennsylvania.
What is your message to the LGBTQ youth who may not realize that people like them hold elected office?
Don’t fear nor shy away from adversity. Use it as a tool to be successful…be a voice for the unheard.
What’s particularly unique about out LGBTQ people serving on the bench? Why does that matter?
Empathy and respect. When someone comes from court, respect them. That should begin with the judge all the way down, and that’s through empathy and education. You take people as they are. You have better participation when you are respectful of all people.
Where can readers find you on social media?
Is there anything you’d like to add?
If you are on the fence about doing your next big thing — whether that’s running for office or something else — do it. You’ll never know until you try.
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