Currently, there has never been an openly trans-state lawmaker in the PA legislature nor has a trans-Latina been elected nationwide. We know representation directly impacts how our voices are heard, budget is spent, and resources are allocated. For the trans community in particular our lived experiences should not exclude us from being part of the process. It is those very experiences that inspire change and help shape the future of politics for generations to come.
This is the next post of our 2022 primary election season series ‘Political Q&A’ with progressive candidates throughout Pennsylvania. Candidates can be anywhere in Pennsylvania running for any level of office. Please note that these are not necessarily endorsements, more of an opportunity for candidates to connect with the LGBTQ community, progressives neighbors, and others with an interest in Western Pennsylvania. If your candidate would like to participate, please contact us pghlesbian at gmail dot com. We welcome candidates at all levels of government across the entire Commonwealth
By participating, candidates are saying that they
- must be an LGBTQIA+ ally
- identify as pro-choice
- must affirm that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and that you accept the certified Pennsylvania’s election results
While I’ve never met Deja in person, we are connected via social media. She’s been kind enough to help me report on several LGBTQ stories. Her involvement in LGBTQ politics has been precedent setting and this election is no exception – a high profile race by multiple out LGBTQ candidates to fill a State House seat formerly held by the first out LGBTQ candidate to successfully win a state level campaign. He is now running for another office himself. So this is a very important race in itself (we did reach out to the other candidates, but no response yet.) She is one of the first candidates outside of Western Pennsylvania to complete this Q&A, something I appreciate. Our communities disconnect from the LGBTQ community in Philadelphia and statewide is a true barrier to achieving progress in the General Assembly. Maybe this will help.
Name: Deja Alvarez
Office Held/Seeking: State Representative of 182nd District (Philadelphia)
How do you describe your identity? Transgender Woman
Tell us about your district. What is a hidden gem most people might not know about? My district encompasses much of the main business district of Center City Philadelphia – many of the buildings you would recognize from our famous skyline as well as City Hall, Rittenhouse Square, and the historic Gayborhood!
How has redistricting impacted your district? I was very happy to see the statewide redistricting with more fair maps. Fortunately in Center City the lines did not move too drastically – there were definitely some shifts in a few blocks and divisions, but it still encompasses much of the same neighborhoods
Please tell me about your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region. I am a proud trans-Latina. I am the Director of Community Engagement for WHCI/TPAC and the LGBTQ Care Coordinator for the Department of Public Health. I am someone that has lived through survival sex work, homelessness, hunger, addiction and built my career in the very neighborhoods that I am now running to represent. We lack both Latina and trans representation in government, especially in the PA House. We continue to uplift and elect individuals without the lived experience of the most marginalized which continues to lead to hateful, bigoted attacks and legislation against the most vulnerable populations. How do we truly represent these communities when we do not uplift and support those with the lived experience v. those with the money and privilege including within our own LGBTQIA+ communities.
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? I am running for the PA house, for a seat that has been held within our community for the last 10 years, because there is still a lack of representation in politics and especially in Harrisburg. Currently, there has never been an openly trans-state lawmaker in the PA legislature nor has a trans-Latina been elected nationwide. We know representation directly impacts how our voices are heard, budget is spent, and resources are allocated. For the trans community in particular our lived experiences should not exclude us from being part of the process. It is those very experiences that inspire change and help shape the future of politics for generations to come. As the saying goes, “if you are not at the table, you are on the menu”. Over the years, we have seen our government systematically stripping away all of our rights and vilifying the most vulnerable and marginalized, particularly the transgender community. Because historical change has always come from those who were not afraid to challenge the status quo and the current systems of power, I know running for office this cycle can help place a stopgap to the assault on our rights by the Republican Party. Here in Pennsylvania, the House and Senate has just passed a bill targeted at trans youth athletes – fortunately, our Democratic Governor will veto it. I believe strongly that we must have equality under the law, be it by executive order, case law, or through our own state legislature. Being pragmatic is also an attribute I learned over the years out of necessity. I learned we can either be angry about not having access or we can be part of the change and make our voices heard in the spaces where decisions are being made. Running for office in the 182nd, the district that helped shape who I am as a Latina-trans woman, where I began my two decades of LGBTQ advocacy, my victim’s advocacy, and where my career in public health began is also where we can all make history, again
The threats of ‘religious liberty’ laws and exemptions target both LGBTQ rights and women’s rights. Pennsylvania has no law protecting marriage equality, second-parent adoption, nondiscrimination, or similar important rights. If SCOTUS overturns or waters down Roe v Wade and the ‘penumbra of privacy’ protecting us, what do you anticipate happening in Pennsylvania? As a proud transwoman and someone who has worked in public health for over a decade making sure marginalized communities have access to healthcare, reproductive health, and protecting patient’s ability to make their own decisions that impact their body is both something I am personally and professionally invested in and will be a champion for in Harrisburg. The legislative role in reproductive health care to me is much like the role of religion, there should be a separation. Currently, established law is under attack on both the state level and the federal level as we await the court case to overturn Roe v. Wade. Let it be known, I support Roe v. Wade, and I will stand with those in elected office and communities in calls to action to oppose any measure that would chip away at citizens’ rights to make the best decision for them and their families. Part of the strategy has to be to protect Democrats’ seats while growing our majority.
I don’t think Harrisburg has the will to move forward on infrastructure funding. Convince me otherwise Unfortunately, Harrisburg is still controlled by Republicans. We as Democrats have the will but dont have the numbers to move it forward. It is crucial that all Democrats use their platforms to help get dems elected in republican strongholds so we can flip the house and Senate.
We lack both Latina and trans representation in government, especially in the PA House. We continue to uplift and elect individuals without the lived experience of the most marginalized which continues to lead to hateful, bigoted attacks and legislation against the most vulnerable populations.
One of your positions that caught my attention was your detailed plan for constituent services.It reminds me a bit of the municipal 311 programs that are in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh among other cities. I’ve found that the “squeaky wheel gets the grease” approach has been most useful with state and federal offices so it would be refreshing not to have to be squeaky every single time I need information. What motivated you to add this to your platform? My work in public health is about responding to the needs of people. Often times it is something that requires immediate attention. My policy has always been to address every concern, message, email, or call as a priority and respond within 24 hours. Often times a quick response can make all the difference for someone in crisis. I will take that same mindset and policy in to Harrisburg.
Trans youth, indeed all LGBTQ youth, are under assault in our Commonwealth and in your district. Programs have closed in the wake of the pandemic. Schools struggle with bullying and book bans. Four young BIPOC trans folx were murdered in the SW PA region over the past year and that number is much higher in Philadelphia. Affordable housing is dear, discrimination is everywhere. But the General Assembly is prioritizing the non-issue of trans girls playing soccer as the real threat. What are you going to do about that? As a very loud and proud Trans woman I have been on the front lines of this work for over 2 decades and I will always be on the frontline of all equality issues. One of my goals in getting elected is to bring more visibility and representation to the trans communities and assure that we have a voice where the legislation is created, discussed, debated, and pushed.
There’s a clear need to actively create space for women, especially Black women and other women of color, in elected office AND on campaign and legislative staffs. These are issues of representationand realities. Tell us about your teams. My campaign team is currently all women and quite diverse. My campaign manager is Latina and Jewish. My deputy campaign manager is an Asian American woman, my communications director identifies as queer/bisexual, and my Amazing rising star intern is a young trans woman with an incredibly bright future
If elected, you would be the first trans Latinx person to serve in a state level elected office anywhere in the United States as well as Pennsylvania and I believe the first trans person to serve in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Help our readers understand why that representation matters? Although I have not held office yet I decided decades ago to put myself on the frontlines of advancing transgender visibility and rights by being as open, authentic, and visible as I could. By doing this I knew it would put me at great risk physically, mentally, and emotionally. People often confuse authenticity with aggression or temperament when in fact it is just that we as a society still hold personal biases towards people with difficult lived experiences as unqualified or unfit for things such as holding public office. We know that visibility is key to changing hearts and minds and I will continue to use my platform to help get other democrats elected and continue breaking down the barriers, stereotypes, and biases. None of us can do this alone so I will continue to strengthen my current relationships in Harrisburg and work to build strong coalitions within the state legislature to get non-discrimination legislation passed.
What are the key environmental issues facing residents of your district? Last summer Philadelphia had horrific and historic flooding due to intense weather patterns and unprepared infrastructure. Remember seeing photos of people tubing down I-676? We need a robust plan focusing on our energy burden to address ways to stall global warming, save taxpayers money, and shore up our city and state from inevitably increasing weather events and infrastructure breakdowns. We need to invest in renewable energy and significantly decrease our dependence on fossil fuels. Corporations must be held responsible for damage to our environment and health – there is a path toward sustainable economic growth that does not put our communities in harm’s way and creates strong union jobs. Good use of funds and programs would allow us to be proactive, generate new revenue, and not force us to act reactively. By being both economically and environmentally prudent, we can become part of a competitive economy that bolsters a better quality of life and thriving neighborhoods.
Voter turnout is a significant concern, especially for municipal/local elections. What advice would you offer to organizations and groups concerned with turnout in Pennsylvania? We absolutely need to be engaging voters and making sure that elected officials earn their votes – not just expect it. We have amazing ideas coming from the youth in our city including voter turnout programs and a new plan for registering voters in our Philly public schools! We absolutely need to increase voter education, importance, and awareness. I think we should be taking notes from the engaged youth on this one!
People often confuse authenticity with aggression or temperament when in fact it is just that we as a society still hold personal biases towards people with difficult lived experiences as unqualified or unfit for things such as holding public office.
How can supporters get involved with campaigns while practicing social distancing and other protocols? We would love help with phone calls, canvassing, and spreading the word. We are super grassroots – please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we will find a great fit for anyone who wants to help
Tell us about your endorsements. I am incredibly proud of my endorsements and the diversity of support. I am endorsed by three local labor unions (International Union of Operating Engineers Local 542, Temple Association of University Professionals, and Teamsters Local 107, The Victory Fund, Liberty City Democratic Club, Represent PA, LPAC, and Latino Victory Fund. I am also endorsed by Incumbent State Rep. Brian Sims, State Senator and Vice President of the Democratic Party Sharif Street, PA State Rep. Joe Hohenstein, City Councilmember Mark Squilla, LGBTQ activist Kendall Stephens, Muslim advocate and leader Salima Suswell, MA State Senator Julian Cyr, former Vice President of Harrisburg City Council Ben Allatt, and President of Yardley Borough Council David Bria.
Finally, what are three reasons people should vote for you/support your campaign? My combination of lived and professional experience makes me a uniquely qualified candidate for state representative. I have been on the front lines of the fight against oppression in all forms for decades in Philadelphia, and I will take that experience and all our voices to Harrisburg. Representation directly impacts how our voices are heard, budget is spent and how our resources are allocated. As an openly trans-Latina, I have spent over twenty years in Philadelphia advocating for and working with those in the most marginalized communities while surviving in the very streets within the legislative district that I am now seeking to represent. My priorities include healthcare reform, public safety, infrastructure, fully-funded public education, government transparency, marijuana legalization, environmental justice, creation of more family-sustaining union jobs, and policies that address economic resurgence in the district.
Please list your social media accounts and your donation links.
Thank you, Deja.
- you must be an LGBTQIA+ ally
- identify as pro-choice
- you must affirm that President Joe Biden won the 2020 election and that you accept the certified Pennsylvania’s election results
Other Q&A’s in this election cycle series. You can read previous cycle Q&A’s here. Responses from this election cycle are listed below in the order they were returned by the campaign.
- Q&A With NaTisha Washington, Candidate for PA House District 24
- Q&A With Jerry Dickinson, Candidate for U.S. Congress PA-12
- Q&A with Emily Kinkead, Candidate for PA House District 22
- Q&A with John Fetterman, Candidate for US Senate
- Q&A with La’Tasha Mayes, Candidate for PA House District 24
- Q&A with Jessica Benham, Candidate for PA House District 36
- Q&A with Deja Alvarez, Candidate for PA House District 182
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