As a voting rights advocate and integrated voter engagement organizer, there is a frame for voting justice called “electoral justice” coined by Jessica Byrd, Rukia Lumumba, JD and Kayla Reed of the Movement for Black Lives. It represents the idea posed in your questions created by Black women and femmes working at the intersection of racial justice and electoral politics.
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
I first met La’Tasha about 15 years ago when she joined me on a now-defunct podcast to discuss her work with New Voices Pittsburgh. Her passionate calm caught my imagination and I began educating myself about reproductive justice. I tried to show up, listen, and learn. I also remember in 2015 during her bid for Pittsburgh City Council, she was told that she should move to a “Black district” instead of running in the district she called home. That disclosure has stayed with me all of these years, a reflection of the deep hold white supremacy has on regional Democratic politics and institutions. The sort of visceral reaction to the openings to replace Ed Gainey and Jake Wheatley has had that subtle vibe (to my ears) this cycle. That’s not what creating predominantly Black districts means. That comment to La’Tasha has been a seminal moment in my own political consciousness.
Her confidence has always impressed me as has her willingness to share her worldview. Sending a qualified out Black lesbian to the Pennsylvania General Assembly is long past due. A political assemblage of cisgender heterosexual men has landed us in a space where we’ve been stuck for literal decades on the most basic of LGBTQ rights. Pennsylvania still has an active DOMA law on the books so if SCOTUS does erode Roe v Wade and the Penumbra of privacy that also underlies Lawrence v Texas and Obergefell v. Hodges, La’Tasha would be the right leader at just the right time in that regard. It is about far more than marriage equality, after all, as she eloquently explains below. Please read on …
Name: La’Tasha D. Mayes
Pronouns: she / her / hers
Office Held/Seeking: Pennsylvania House of Representatives – District 24
How do you describe your identity? I am masculine of center Black lesbian woman.
Tell us about your district. What is a hidden gem most people might not know about? The 24th Legislative District is the heart of the City! From unique neighborhoods to majestic views, our district is representative of the greatness of our region. One of my favorite hidden gems is Casa Brasil in Highland Park owned by Keyla Nogueira Cook and Tim Guthrie. It is a Black-owned, Latinx-owned and woman-owned business that opens its doors with the purpose and intention to bring our community together. It’s the food, vibes and community space for me and I hope the residents of our district get to experience it.
How has redistricting impacted your district? The broader question is how has income inequality, gentrification and social inequity impacted redistricting in my district. With the displacement of Black residents from the core of the previous and newly drawn district, the demographics have changed with significant decreases in Black residents and increase in white residents and inclusion of more AAPI residents. I never thought Wilkinsburg would be out of the district and never imagined that most of the Hill District would become part of this new district. This certainly brings political dilution for Black voters who will still likely have a Black State Representative; however, we would not enjoy the same statistical majorities that ensure representation. It also shifts more progressive with new neighborhoods drawn into the new map from Shadyside and Friendship down to Oakland and the University of Pittsburgh.
There have been so many LGBTQ+ organizations that have come and gone both locally and statewide leaving significant gaps in the social and political fabric which has created opportunities for archaic institutions to become defunct and new visionary organizations to emerge. We saw the rise and fall of Pittsburgh Pride and new iterations of Pride that take us in a direction of intersectionality and expansiveness. Today, we have the opportunity to increase political representation by electing me as the first openly Black lesbian woman to the Pennsylvania House of Representative
Tell us about the first LGBTQ person you met and the impact they had on you (It is fine to use first names only or initials. The first LGBTQ+ person I met was a family member but no one in my family discussed that person’s sexual orientation – it was understood even though I was a child and this family member was an very important to me during my childhood.
The first openly LGBTQ+ person I met was KL when I was in high school at my first job – I was probably about 17. She was a Black lesbian probably in her mid-twenties but of course as a teenager, she seemed much older. I thought KL was so cool – she had her own style, she was managing the business where we worked and she loved basketball. I was a WNBA fanatic at that time and really thought I was going to play basketball professionally.
While KL did not hide her sexual orientation, it was not something that she actually ever discussed in the six months or so that I worked with her. I was not identifying as a lesbian at that time – I am pretty sure I had a boyfriend who was my co-worker. Later in my own life, I realized that KL was the first lesbian known to me and I did not meet another Black lesbian probably until I met Kelly e. Parker my Senior year at Pitt in 2002. Of course, I came out myself in 2001 starting with my best friend from high school and she in turn came out to me and then to my college best friends in 2002. I did not tell my Brother until Christmas 2003 and I told my Mother in 2005.
To bring it back to KL, her imapct was helping me to understand homophobia and discrimination in the workplace. I was a standout employee and I was really proud of my first job so much so that I took Senior photos in my uniform. When I was applying to colleges my Senior year, KL approved my days off for college visits. I normally worked on the weekend and Mondays. When I came back from my college visit to Pitt, I called to get my schedule but I was not on the schedule. I went to work to get my schedule and another co-worker was acting really strange. I can still see that person’s face and feel that moment – it’s clear as day. This co-worker said you are not on the schedule and I asked why. This co-worker said, you had a no-call, no-show. I said no, KL approved my time off so I could visit Pitt. This co-worker told me I was fired. I asked to speak to KL and this co-worker said that she was fired too. I was fuming, frustrated and determined to get answers.
I did not understand why I would be fired for going on a college visit when all my co-workers were excited for me and I was an excellent employee. I called other superiors and could not get an answer and I even called the regional headquarters to try to get some answers. I remember calling from the pay phone in my high school during one of my free periods. It was not until years later probably in my mid twenties that I realized that it was employment discrimination based on sexual orientation for KL and perceived sexual orientation for me. None of it makes sense to this day.
I would go on to co-organize the passage of the Non-Discrimination Ordinance in 2009 for LGBTQ+ residents in Allegheny County to provide civil rights protections against discrimination in employment, housing and public accomodations. This ordinance created the Allegheny County Human Relations Commission and I served as the inaugural Vice Chair for several years.
I also was Regional Field Director for Human Rights Campaign in 2013 and led a campaign in Western Pennsylvania called Americans for Workplace Opportunity and our goal was to pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). My Team was successful in organizing supporters to influence Senator Pat Toomey to vote yes on ENDA which was thought to be impossible. This was a major legislative victory for LGBTQ+ workers in Pennsylvania and across the nation.
Please tell me about your familiarity with the LGBTQ community in your district and the region. This is my life and my lived experience. I have been out and proud my entire public life and career. Being a lesbian and part of the LGBTQ+ community in my district and the Greater Pittsburgh Region has made me who I am today. The short answer is I am familiar with the LGBTQ+ community over its evolutions for two decades. I was out as a lesbian when there were only AOL Chat Rooms and BlackPlanet.com and when the place to be was Pegasus on Liberty Avenue, the after hours spot in the Hill and multi-level club under the highway in the Northside. I remember when my best friend Bekezela Mguni and I went in search of spaces for Black lesbian women and when we could not find them, we created a series of events through New Voices called the “LGBTQ+ Women of Color Reproductive Justice Series” to bring this community together through arts, culture, politics and activism working in partnership with organizations like the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater for years. This pioneering work has contributed to the entire LGBTQ+ community in the region to this very moment. I was in Downtown Pittsburgh in 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court rendered their decision in support of marriage equality – it was an incredible day but I knew it did not change the lived experiences or material condition of Black and Brown LGBTQ+ communities. There have been so many LGBTQ+ organizations that have come and gone both locally and statewide leaving significant gaps in the social and political fabric which has created opportunities for archaic institutions to become defunct and new visionary organizations to emerge. We saw the rise and fall of Pittsburgh Pride and new iterations of Pride that take us in a direction of intersectionality and expansiveness. Today, we have the opportunity to increase political representation by electing me as the first openly Black lesbian woman to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
The time is now to elect progressive Black women to office especially in our state legislatures as we face the end of Roe v. Wade, the end of systems and institutions that perpetuate white supremacy and patriarchy and as we face the end of our planet if we do not take immediate action for climate change and environmental justice.
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? The basic floor of what has to be done in Harrisburg for LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians is amending the Human Rights law to expand civil rights protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The ability to get or keep a job, to have a roof over your head or to be served in a restaurant or business or have recourse for discrimination is determined by the city or municipality where you live. We all have the human right to have our basic needs met and it is long past time to pass this statewide legislation to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act of 1955. The House just passed House 972 a bill on April 13 that prohibits transgender women and girls from playing on athletic teams consistent with their gender and this is one of many bills introduced in the state legislature to oppress transgender Pennsylvanians. These bills have real life consequences when Black trans women are killed, when trans youth face violence and harm in school and when trans people are discriminated against in employment, housing and public accommodations. While there are bills that harm the entire LGBTQ+ community, my experience in Harrisburg as leader of New Voices for Reproductive Justice is that the bills overwhelmingly are targeted toward trans folx. The priority concerns of different segments of the LGBTQ+ community will vary based on proximity to social, economic and political power so my response would account for this reality and I would take approaches that serve those first and most impacted by specific legislation. I would champion legislation and policy that protects the health, safety and of LGBTQ+ communities and ensure LGBTQ+ constituents in my district can rely on my office’s constituent support to access critical state services. I would join the LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus and would welcome the opportunity to serve on the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ+ Affairs that expands upon my previous experience of serving on the Governor’s Advisory Commission on African American Affairs.
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? We just witnessed the confirmation of the first Black woman to become U.S. Supreme Court Justice and that will not change the fact that the SCOTUS will overturn or eviscerate Roe v. Wade. This decision will have a domino effect that will activate trigger laws to ban abortion and we absolutely should expect this in Pennsylvania. I am a national Reproductive Justice leader with decades of experience operating and naviagating in a Post-Roe reality because Black and Brown women, femmes and gender-expansive folx have already been living in a time when abortion access was out of reach. I am the only candidate in this race who can lead the defense of Roe v. Wade and Reproductive Health, Rights and Justice in one of the greatest battles in Harrisburg. Not only this, our Republican opponents will seek to undermine every progressive legislative or policy advance related to privacy rights should we see the end of Roe v. Wade.
How do you plan to disrupt politics? What does that mean for the typical resident of your district? I am a community organizer so my decades of leadership has always been about putting marginalized people at the center of my work. This will remain true when I become State Representative, my constituents and residents will have a knowledgeable, resourceful and solutions-driven leader to support them in their daily needs and larger vision for a just community, city and region. My presence is a disruption to our local and statewide politics because I am still an “atypical” candidate in the eyes of the political machine regardless of all the important work I have done in this district, across Pennsylvania and nationally. I understand the assignment of delivering for those I would serve as State Representative and I have the ability to organize my constituents to confront systems and institutions of power.
Your identity as an out queer Black woman is part of your narrative – you are the first out queer Black woman to run in this district and potentially the first to go to Harrisburg. So why did you not seek an endorsement from Steel City Stonewall Democrats, the region’s LGBTQ Democratic group (there was no questionnaire from you among the nominees.) ? What does that say to out LGBTQ Democrats in your district? I had a family emergency that prevented me from meeting the deadline to submit this endorsement in spite of my best efforts. What it says is that I am a human being and family member first and sometimes that supersedes being a leader in this community and a candidate in this race. Even though I did not receive the Steel City Stonewall Democrats endorsement, no other candidate in this race could ever represent the LGBTQ+ community that way that I will once I am elected – it is simply not their lived experience or their policy and legislative expertise and that is what matters most in this political moment.
We talk about reproductive justice, environmental justice, racial justice, health care justice where justice is a specific framework that’s larger than one individual’s rights. Why aren’t we talking about voting justice instead of voting rights? Would that be a useful framework in the current environment? As a voting rights advocate and integrated voter engagement organizer, there is a frame for voting justice called “electoral justice” coined by Jessica Byrd, Rukia Lumumba, JD and Kayla Reed of the Movement for Black Lives. It represents the idea posed in your questions created by Black women and femmes working at the intersection of racial justice and electoral politics. This frame is extremely useful and breathed new life into the work I and New Voices led called the Voice Your Vote! Project, an integrated voter engagement program focused on building the voting power of Black women ages 18-49 across Pennsylvania and Ohio. This project outreached millions of times to our voters operating in five (5) counties across Pennsylvania at its height in 2020 and turning out 80% of the voters New Voices reached. I am extremely proud of this work and I would be an electoral justice champion in Harrisburg.
Your district was represented by now-Mayor Ed Gainey. There will be a Special Election in April to fill his term (through December 2022) and then the traditional primary election in May to determine who serves in the next term (2023-2025) Are you running in both elections? Why or why not? I am running in the Primary Election on May 17, 2022. I did pursue the Special Election nomination from the Allegheny County Democratic Committee Members of the previous 24th Legislative District. When I came in second place in the vote that was held on February 5, I could not run as a Democrat in the Special Election that was held on April 5, 2022. It has been extremely confusing for voters during this truncated and chaotic campaign season.
I don’t think Harrisburg has the will to move forward on Infrastructure funding. Convince me otherwise. If the collapse of Fern Hollow is not enough motivation to move forward on infrastructure funding, I do not know if I could convince you otherwise.
These bills have real life consequences when Black trans women are killed, when trans youth face violence and harm in school and when trans people are discriminated against in employment, housing and public accommodations. While there are bills that harm the entire LGBTQ+ community, my experience in Harrisburg as leader of New Voices for Reproductive Justice is that the bills overwhelmingly are targeted toward trans folx.
Voter turnout is a significant concern, especially for municipal/local elections. What advice would you offer to organizations and groups concerned with turnout in Western Pennsylvania? Voters want inspired leadership, vision and ideas and they want to feel represented in experience, ideology and identity as those they elect. I would advise organizations and groups to work on voter engagement all year round in every election. This practice transformed the work, reach and impact of New Voices for Reproductive Justice and increased the scale of our community organizing and policy advocacy. It is extremely hard work but also extremely fulfilling work. I would also advise to provide practical support to voters and build relationships with community stakeholders long before any given election in any given year.
How can supporters get involved with campaigns while practicing social distancing and other protocols? I offer a variety of virtual or remote as well as solitary opportunities on my campaign including:
- – Virtual Phone Banks
- – Text Banking
- – Virtual Meet & Greets
- – Virtual Fundraisers
- – Yard Signs Locations
When I and my supporters knock on doors to talk to voters, we keep social distance, wear our masks and talk through screen doors when possible.
We also can assign volunteers individual tasks that can take place at home or outside weather permitting.
Tell us about your endorsements. I currently have been endorsed by Sunrise Movement Pittsburgh, a youth movement to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process and the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, a union organization designed to represent and exclusively bargain for the diverse interests of over 3100 teachers, paraprofessionals, technical/clerical staff and the PMOIU#2 unit in Pittsburgh Public Schools. I will be announcing additional organization endorsements in the coming weeks.
Finally, what are three reasons people should vote for you/support your campaign? I am a progressive, experienced and impactful leader who has a 22+ year track record of leading, organizing and serving the 24th Legislative District and I have the most policy and legislative experience in Harrisburg through my 18 years of leadership as Founder, President & CEO of New Voices for Reproductive Justice. The time is now to elect progressive Black women to office especially in our state legislatures as we face the end of Roe v. Wade, the end of systems and institutions that perpetuate white supremacy and patriarchy and as we face the end of our planet if we do not take immediate action for climate change and environmental justice. There has never been a woman elected to this seat since the 24th Legislative District since it was created over 50 years ago – this must change on May 17. I am running to disrupt politics as usual in Harrisburg and in this district and not to maintain the status quo.
Please list your social media accounts and your donation links.
- Website: www.latashaforpa.com
- Donations: https://secure.actblue.com/donate/latashaforpa
- Facebook: facebook.com/latashaforpa
- Instagram: instagram.com/latashaforpa
- Twitter: twitter.com/latashaforp
Thank you, La’Tasha.
- 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 Kinkean, 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
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