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Will Henry Sias Be the U.S.'s First Trans Man Elected to the Bench?


The Philadelphia civil rights attorney wants to be a role model for LGBTQ youth.

Everyone's eyes are on 2020, but there is no shortage of elections happening this year. One of the LGBTQ people running for office is Henry Sias, who, if elected in May, would become the first trans man elected as a judge.

Sias, a 42-year-old criminal defense and civil rights attorney, cofounded a "nonprofit that has provided thousands of free expungements for low-income Philadelphians," according to the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which has endorsed him for the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. In his career, which includes clerking for two members of the state Supreme Court, Sias has focused on fighting discrimination in employment and housing. We caught up with Sias as he works to convince his fellow Philadelphians that he should be the first trans man elected to the bench.

The Advocate: Hi, Henry. What exactly is the Court of Common Pleas?
Henry Sias: It's a meat-and-potatoes court. They handle small civil cases and minor criminal cases and preliminary matters.

On your website, you put your transgender identity front and center. Did you have trepidation about that?
Well, I've run once before and the day that I talked to my wife about running, the Pulse shooting happened. We definitely had a moment thinking, Is this as safe as we think it is? But I transitioned in my mid-30s, I was mid-career in Philadelphia, so I could definitely get away with playing it down if I wanted to, but it's definitely out there for any intrepid reporter to put the pieces together.

Since the first time I ran the stakes have gotten higher for the community and I know that little guys like me, masculine-identified trans youth, have an increased rate of suicide. There's no one for them to look up to. We have Chaz Bono, but most of us can't be Cher's kid.

I'm just a regular guy without the support of my family. So [youth] can definitely be like me; to see me, like in the video we did [see below], in the kitchen with my wife, speaking with my neighbors and members of the community and to just know there is life out there. You can find a community in which your contributions will be recognized.

Your family doesn't accept you?
They weren't thrilled that I [previously] identified as lesbian but they were still around. Now they won't acknowledge me.

Have you received transphobic blowback in the race?
It's mostly been a positive experience. I've had "Make America Great Again" screamed at me. Some people have definitely turned cool upon finding out I'm trans. But it never caused me to feel unsafe.

How do you feel about judges being elected?
I think there are strong arguments on both sides. I've enjoyed getting to know people and having the opportunity to try to connect with people over the subject of the court system. I think that is an experience that people on the bench should have if they can get it. We're so inside the system that we can't see from an outsider's point of view anymore, especially by the time you're eligible to be a credible judicial candidate. If you've doing this over a decade the norms are so second nature to you it's like breathing. So reminding ourselves that it seems like a very scary, unwieldy process to people outside of the system is a good thing.

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