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Philly’s ‘rainbow wave’ election a beginning, not an ending | Kevin Riordan

City Council primary candidates Adrian Rivera-Reyes, Deja Lynn Alvarez, and Lauren Vidas are all openly LGBTQ.
City Council primary candidates Adrian Rivera-Reyes, Deja Lynn Alvarez, and Lauren Vidas are all openly LGBTQ.Read moreSTAFF

Win or lose on Tuesday, Philadelphia City Council candidates Deja Lynn Alvarez, Adrian Rivera-Reyes, and Lauren Vidas already have made history.

The three Democrats are among the first openly LGBTQ Council hopefuls on a major-party primary ballot in the city. The Alvarez candidacy is a milestone for Philly’s transgender community, as is that of Henry Sias; he and fellow Democrat Tiffany Palmer are seeking seats on Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas as openly LGBTQ candidates.

Together, the candidates are an unprecedented “rainbow wave” that has veteran activists like Tyrone Smith and Kathy Hogan feeling proud.

“It brings me joy in so many ways,” said Smith, a Southwest Philly resident who came out as a teenager, helped lead the campaign against AIDS in communities of color, and, at 76, is still fighting on behalf of LGBTQ youth.

“Philadelphia has lots of LGBTQ ‘firsts,’ such as the demonstrations that began at Independence Hall in 1965," said Hogan, 65, a pioneering lesbian street activist in Philly and the first out deputy mayor of Haddon Township, N.J. “Having these Council candidates isn’t a national first. But it’s great."

It certainly is — particularly as our community celebrates the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, the New York City tavern uprising widely considered a spark for the modern gay-rights movement. The fact that “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg, an out gay man from America’s heartland, is making a credible run for the Democratic presidential nomination adds to the sense of 2019 as an LGBTQ moment.

We wouldn’t have gotten to this point without the bravery and hard work of people like Smith, Hogan, and thousands of other activists and advocates of many colors and varieties of gender expression. At a time when it was risky to do so, they came out publicly and organized a grassroots movement to open hearts and minds —and establish legal precedents and protections.

Hogan pointed out that the Philadelphia Gay News and other print publications — as well as books and bookstores like the city’s iconic Giovanni’s Room — helped document and nurture the rise of LGBTQ culture. And as Smith noted, the AIDS epidemic has been a tragedy but also stands as a testament to the solidarity and caring of LGBTQ people and our straight allies, fighting shoulder-to-shoulder to save lives.

As national LGBTQ rights luminary Barbara Gittings, a Philadelphian, once told an interviewer, a key goal of the early movement was to get “as much publicity as possible.” Only after straight people understood that some of their family members, friends, neighbors, and coworkers were gay could we hope to overcome the official hostility and homophobic, often misplaced faith-based propaganda that had enforced our silence.

The movement, the epidemic, the legal and electoral victories, and, most important of all, the coming-out decisions of generations of LGBTQ people have surely put an end to that invisibility. But AIDS has hardly gone away, fervent opposition to the existence of “unrepentant” LGBTQ people remains an article of faith in some quarters, and our community continues wrestling with issues of representation, inequality, and privilege. “We must still fight against racism and sexism,” said Smith.

The potential rollback of reproductive and other rights by a Trump-impacted U.S. Supreme Court underscores the fact that elections have consequences. On Tuesday, city Democrats will select from an enormous field of quality candidates that includes five openly LGBTQ people. That in itself is a victory. But the battle continues.