Monday, March 17, 2008

Penn. official seeks to become state's first openly gay lawmaker

The upcoming April 22 primary in Pennsylvania has begun to galvanize local LGBT activists and politicos across the Commonwealth. The race between Illinois Sen. Barack Obama and New York Sen. Hillary Clinton continues to garner a bulk of national (and even local) news coverage, but Lansdowne Borough Councilmember Kevin Lee hopes to become the first openly gay lawmaker in Harrisburg this fall.

He launched his campaign against long-time incumbent state Rep. Nicholas Micozzie [R-Upper Darby] last July as indicated in this article posted on EDGE Philadelphia last week. A lot remains at stake in the capital with this crucial local, statewide and national election, and Lee may very well make history himself if elected.

With the Pennsylvania primary less than six weeks away, one Delaware County legislator hopes to become first openly gay lawmaker in the state Legislature.

Lansdowne Borough Councilmember Kevin Lee announced his candidacy last July to challenge 15-term incumbent Rep. Nicholas Micozzie [R-Upper Darby] in House District 163. Lee, a registered nurse who is the first openly gay elected official in Delaware County, criticized his opponent for voting against a bill that would have expanded health care to women based on what he described was his opposition to abortion. And he further blasted Micozzie for supporting a proposed Constitutional amendment to ban marriage for same-sex couples in the Commonwealth.

"He has been detrimental to the community - and the LGBT community in particular," Lee said in a recent interview. "He has no clue about the real issues for the people in Pennsylvania."

Lee said he feels it is important LGBT people have an ally in Harrisburg, but he added expanding LGBT rights is one piece of a broader platform he hopes to advance if elected.

"The kind of things people - including LGBT people - want to see are health care and [lower] taxes," Lee said.

First appointed to the Lansdowne Borough Council in 2004, voters elected Lee the following year. He was instrumental in the implementation of domestic partner benefits to borough employees and the addition of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to Lansdowne’s non-discrimination statute, but Lee has faced criticism during his political career.

He told EDGE Philadelphia he faced a small amount of criticism after he was the grand marshal of the Philadelphia Pride Parade in 2005. Lee faced sustained verbal harassment and even death threats after Repent America director Michael Marcavage published his phone number on his Web site. Lee said his home was broken into twice and someone took his trash away after he placed it outside.

"It was just very nasty stuff," he said. "It all came after he put us on their Web site."

The Victory Fund, the Delaware County Democratic Party, Congressman Joe Sestak, state Rep. Bryan Lentz [D-Swarthmore], Planned Parenthood of Southeast Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals (PASNAP) are among the groups and elected officials that have endorsed Lee. He described himself as a political outsider while expressing optimism going into the April 22 primary.

Lee further concluded voters are ready for a change.

"We’re going to pull out all the stops," Lee said. "The time has come we make changes in Harrisburg."

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