Regulars at Square One in Philadelphia got a little extra jolt with their morning coffee on Sunday. The Gayborhood outpost of the Lancaster-based roasting company was the setting for a discussion featuring US Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) and US Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) talking about issues facing the local and national LGBT community under the administration of President Donald Trump.
The dozens of people packing the coffee shop, located in the John C. Anderson LGBT Senior Affordable Apartments, heard Philadelphia Gay News founder/publisher Mark Segal moderate the freewheeling conversation, where participants asked questions on topics ranging from funding crises for homeless LGBT people of color to what the senators were going to do about Trump’s pick for Secretary of Labor, Andrew Puzder. (While cabinet picks weren’t on the original agenda, Casey responded by saying, “I’m on the Health, Education and Labor committees. Puzder will come in front of us. We’ve been so busy cross-examining DeVos and Price” – Education Secretary candidate Betsy DeVos and Secretary of Health and Human Services candidate Tom Price – “we haven’t gotten to the labor secretary, but rest assured, when we do get to it, he will be given the kind of scrutiny he warrants.”)
Booker noted that LGBT issues merit increased attention in the current political climate because “the trans community is like the canary in the coal mine. One of the communities most impacted by our criminal justice system is the trans community.” He added that there is no better example of the intersectional nature of the myriad causes driving people into the streets to protest. “Health care, education – all of these things are connected,” he emphasized. “If you say you’re an activist for women’s rights, you have to be an activist for LGBTQ rights. If you’re an activist against racism, you need to be an activist for LGBTQ rights. I caution that this is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue. There are just as many gay Republicans as there are gay Democrats.”
After the roundtable, Casey seconded the importance of understanding that supporting one issue means supporting others. “We are in a major fight across the country trying to preserve the Affordable Care Act,” he said. “Sometimes, we forget the first few words of that act are ‘patient protection and affordable care.’ We’re trying to fight for that, which would have dire consequences for Americans across the board, especially for LGBTQ folks, who are benefitting tremendously from existing protections and laws.”
Casey also addressed the chaos resulting from Trump’s executive order on Friday that banned refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the US, an action that resulted in massive protests in airports across the country, including Philadelphia International Airport. Rebutting Trump’s claim that the action was necessary to protect Americans against a lax and unsafe vetting system, Casey said: “If President Trump and the administration said to us that, despite all of the screening done by Homeland Security, the FBI, State Department – the most aggressive, intrusive screening in the history of the US – there is a defect in that system, we are certainly willing to work to fix it. But they haven’t done that – and that’s why you’re seeing these federal judges checking that action.”
The focus on intersectional priorities resonated strongly with Malcolm Kenyatta, one of the event’s attendees. Kenyatta, a board member of Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, used this weekend’s protests to highlight the connections brought up in the discussion.
“When we’re having a protest for refugees, some people might say, ‘That’s not an LGBT issue.’ It absolutely is an LGBT issue. One of the No. 1 reasons people seek asylum in America is because of how they identify, who they love, that it’s going to be dangerous for them in their country. We have to be supportive of one another. I don’t have to be an expert on refugee issues. It’s a question of, can we provide the manpower, can we be there to support you on these issues.”