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Mixed Results for LGBTQ+ Pols in Pennsylvania Primary — Plus a First

Kenyatta Wade El Sims

Top left: Malcolm Kenyatta photographed by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival; bottom left: Izzy Smith Wade-El courtesy Victory Fund; right: Brian Sims photographed by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation

There were mixed results for LGBTQ+ candidates in Pennsylvania’s primary races Tuesday, with two out state representatives losing bids for higher office but a continued LGBTQ+ presence in the legislature assured — including, possibly, Pennsylvania’s first nonbinary state lawmaker.

John Fetterman, currently Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor, won the Democratic primary for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat, besting U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb and state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta.

Kenyatta, if he had prevailed in the primary and then the general election, would have been the first Black gay U.S. senator, and the first gay man in the body overall. He is still running for reelection to his Pennsylvania House seat, representing the 181st District, covering part of Philadelphia. He had no opposition in the Democratic primary and has none in the general election, so he is assured of holding the seat.

The Associated Press and other outlets called the Senate for Fetterman a few hours after polls closed Tuesday. Much later in the evening, the Republican primary had still not been called. It was shaping up to be a close contest between former hedge fund manager Dave McCormick and celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz; the latter had the endorsement of Donald Trump. Kathy Barnette, a former talk show host with a history of anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-Muslim comments, had risen in polls leading up to the election, but as of Wednesday afternoon she was trailing both McCormick and Oz by several percentage points. The contest between McCormick and Oz was so close it could go to a recount.

Kenyatta has pledged to campaign for Fetterman. “In this race, we know what’s at stake. We don’t know yet who the Republican nominee is, but we know that in John Fetterman, we’re going to have a nominee that is heads and shoulders above whatever full-time resident of Fantasy Island they have on the other side,” Kenyatta said Tuesday night on Meet the Press: Election Night Special on NBC News Now.

“Allowing any one of these Republicans to become Pennsylvania senator will be the canary in the coal mine for democracy dying on our watch. I won’t let it happen,” he added.

He also thanked all those who supported his Senate run.

State Rep. Brian Sims, who is gay, had hoped to make history by becoming Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor. But the Democratic primary for that seat has been called for another state representative, Austin Davis. State Rep. Carrie Lewis DelRosso is leading in the Republican primary.

Sims tweeted congratulations to Davis and promised to work for him and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Josh Shapiro, who was unopposed in his primary. In the general election, the Republican nominee for governor will be Doug Mastriano, currently a Pennsylvania state senator. Mastriano is "a leading voice advancing former President Donald Trump's lies about election fraud," CNN notes. He had Trump's endorsement.

In Sims’s Pennsylvania House district, the 182nd, the four candidates in the Democratic primary included Deja Lynn Alvarez, a Latina trans woman, and Jonathan D. Lovitz, a white gay man. But the race has been called for Benjamin Waxman, a straight ally. There is one candidate in the Republican primary, Albert Robles, but the district is considered safely Democratic.

Lovitz posted a statement on Twitter.

Izzy Smith Wade-El, who is bi and nonbinary, prevailed in the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania House District 49, in Lancaster County. He’s currently president of the Lancaster City Council. He will face Republican Anne Rivers in November; incumbent Bud Cook, also a Republican, is not seeking reelection.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund noted the history-making nature of Wade-El’s victory. “By shattering this lavender ceiling, Izzy proved that voters are enthusiastic about candidates with deep advocacy roots who promote policies that work for every American,” Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker said in a press release. “During one of the darkest chapters in recent history — when LGBTQ people are being weaponized by anti-equality lawmakers — Izzy dug deep and persevered. He earned each and every vote through an incredibly strong ground game and community organizing. He has the political stamina and lived experience that will make him an extraordinary lawmaker and will undoubtedly inspire many other LGBTQ people to run for office.”

Another out Democrat is poised to hang on to a seat in the state House. Jessica Benham, who is bisexual and was the first woman from the LGBTQ+ community to be elected to the body, easily won the Democratic primary in District 36, covering part of Pittsburgh, and has no opposition in the general election.

In another Pennsylvania race, longtime activist Sean Meloy, who is gay, was running for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. House seat that Lamb is vacating in the 17th Congressional District; he would have been Pennsylvania’s first out congressman. However, Chris Deluzio, policy director at the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, has won the Democratic primary, according to the AP and other outlets. Businessman Jeremy Shaffer won the Republican primary in the district. The general election is considered a toss-up between the parties.

Meloy released this statement Wednesday: "Our campaign was started on the belief that our government should look like the people it's meant to represent, ensuring working and middle-class families like mine have a much needed voice in Congress. We need more diverse voices that authentically represent their communities across the board in fighting for progressive values. Our campaign was about standing up to right-wing extremism and fighting for all of us. While we came up short, I know that we will all continue to work together to make Pennsylvania a better place for everyone to live, work and raise a family. I'd like to thank every supporter, volunteer and voter who invested their time, energy and resources into this campaign — we put the spotlight on issues that matter most to Western Pennsylvania families.

"Today, I want to thank our dedicated volunteers and supporters, the organizations who endorsed us, the elected officials who stood with us, and the voters who cast their ballots for our campaign. And, of course, my incredible family, my team, and my partner Ethan.

"While I will take time to rest and be with family, I will never back down from the fight. We still have a lot of work to do with education, LGBTQ rights, and reproductive healthcare. I will be back to organize for our community and make sure Pennsylvania elects a Democratic Governor, Democratic Senator and a Democratic Congressional delegation. I look forward to working to help keep this seat blue."  

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