No words of writing today; no words about was edited. ‘Cause a lot went down yesterday, and it involved me doing something I’ve never attempted before–
I went and got political.
Pennsylvania had gone a long time without non-discrimination laws for LGBT people, and the one that people have tried to pass has been sitting in committee for years, being held up from going to the floor of either chamber for a vote. Now, as a state employee I have workplace protections, but away from the Capitol Complex (what we call the area where all the state business is conducted), people could discriminate against me all day and night were housing and public spaces are concerned.
When I received the notice from Equality Pennsylvania to come out and help lobby I had to take some time to figure out if I really wanted to go or not. After all, I’ve always been the sort of person who never got involved. Yes, I’ll help out where finances are concerned and such, but I’ve always been afraid to go out and get involved, mostly because I’m not good with people face-to-face.
But a lot of that has changed since I’ve changed, and the new motto is “Bitches get shit done.” And the time had come to get some stuff done.
First off, presentation. I work for the state, and I like to look professional. So I figured if I was going to meet with politicians I needed to look like I’d just come over from another office to speak with them–which, actually, I was doing. So I got out what I call my “lady armor”: nice blouse, black skirt, hose, heels. Yes, I walked around in heels most of the day inside because, yo, I’m professional.
The new phone came in extra handy yesterday because of the ability to get pictures and upload them to social media, and to stay in touch with people. After one day with a smart phone I’m totally sold.
So about 9:40 I left the office and walked over to the capitol building, which I pass twice a day walking to and from work. Ten minutes later I was ready to enter:
Believe it or not this was my first time inside the capitol, only because I had no reason to ever go here. It’s not as if I do business with these people–I’m just a lowly computer programmer. Not only was I there, but so were a lot of other people. I didn’t realize that there would be other groups there to do tours, and there were a lot of kids getting ready to do that. But I found the people I needed after about five minutes.
Right on time, we started getting into position. A speaker’s podium was set up at the bottom of those stairs, a banner was set up above the podium, and the speeches started. Governor Wolf spoke, as did Representative Brian Sims, the only openly gay politician in either house of the state congress, and the one person who’s worked to get equality measures passed for most of tenure–and, I should point out, the person who spoke at one of my trans support groups back in January, 22015, and helped convince me that I needed to really be myself.
As to where I was? High up on the steps looking down upon the festivities as best I could.
Now I should point out that we weren’t there by the thousands: it was more like a hundred hard-core who showed up for support, and about sixty who stayed behind to lobby. We were later told that a usual number to remain and lobby is about twenty-five, so we hit the jackpot–in a way.
After being inside to rotunda we headed outside, where it was a bit cooler and for sure windier, and that sort of off-set the face we were standing in direct sunlight the whole time. By this time I’ve been standing for about ninety minutes straight and I’m feeling it–and it would be about another hour and fifteen minutes before I could sit. Again we heard speeches, mostly from people who are in organization that support us, and from a few of the Pennsylvania politicians who support the bills in committee.
And where was I?
That picture makes it look as if I’m right next to the podium, but really I was about ten feet/three meters away. But you know me: I gotta stand out.
Also in that picture is someone who’s acquaintance I made. There were actually three people I hung out with most of the day: Celeste and her trans son Alex, and Lexi, who was from outside Harrisburg and had driven in for the event. After the outside speeches we headed back into the capitol building and went to the cafeteria to sit and eat. By this time I was back in my flats so I could give my feet a rest, and Lexi and I got in line to get lunch. (Celeste brought lunch for Alex and her, so they saved the table.)
After lunch came the meeting to help us understand how to lobby people who might be on the fence about helping pass the bills, or who were outright hostile to passage. First, here are the bills in question:
SB 1306–Employment Non-discrimination bill
SB 1307–Housing Non-discrimination bill
SB 1316–Public Spaces Non-discrimination bill
Rep. Sims was with us in the conference room where we met–yes, it was one of those rooms where committees meet to decide what bills to pass–and he explained how this time around the bills were split up into different areas of coverage, so that three different committees would hear them. This way, he explained, the possibility of passage was easier, as there wouldn’t be an opportunity to shut down all non-discrimination legislation at once–which has happened for years with the House bill that covers these things.
His advice was simple: don’t be confrontational; don’t be angry; don’t get into arguments. Be reasonable and understanding, and most of all be polite. Even if someone pisses you off, just smile and thank them for their time, and take out your aggression somewhere later in the day away from the Capitol Complex. Truly all great, sound advice.
Then someone from Equality Pennsylvania got up and told us one of the secrets to lobbying for this bill: tell your story and make it personal. Don’t try and rattle off facts and figures because these people have heard them all: instead, talk about how fear of being fired has kept you from coming out. Talk about how you’re afraid you won’t be able to get an apartment or buy a house and be refused service in a public place because you or your significant other or your children are LGBT. And talk about how passage of these bills will improve their lives and the lives of others.
After a short workshop we lined up to find out who we were supposed to see. We each got a senator and a representative, and, of course, I was out on my own, alone, ready to meet people. However . . . the people in my district were already supporters of the bills in question, so it wasn’t like I had to go bend their arms to get them to vote the right way. For those of us who had supportive reps, the advice was to go to their offices and tell the people there–usually the clerks manning the place–that we were happy that they were on our side, and to thank them for their support, as most of the time all they heard were negative comments. So even if we weren’t fighting to change minds, we were helping to congratulate those who were by our sides.
Now, where did I go?
The senator I needed to see was in the State Capitol East Wing, and the representative I would see had an office in the building in the upper right hand corner, the Irvis Office Building. First up was Sen. Robert Teplitz, who was not in when I visited, but was rather in committee hearing legislation. I passed along my thanks and left.
On the way over to my next meeting I was humming The Ties That Bind, because I was in a good mood, and I like a good song. So a quick musical interlude here–
And then I reached the offices of Rep. Patty Kim, who was also in a committee meeting. I gave my thanks to her clerk and left.
Then it was time to head back to the rotunda and wait for Lexi, who I discovered managed to make it into the committee hearing on SB 1307, the Housing Non-discrimination Bill. I want to point out that walking underground wasn’t a treat, as the corridor floors were these little tiles that were almost like cobblestones, and if you’ve ever tried walking on cobblestones in heels, it’s a real pain. But I didn’t let that deter me, ’cause I was in Warrior Princess Mode and wasn’t about to let something like that get me down.
So back to the rotunda to rest, but mostly to snap a few pictures.
The upshot of all was reported when Lexi showed. She was happy: SB 1307 made it out of committee even though some asshat tried, at the last minute, to add in some HB2-type bullshit, and when that didn’t work, tried to delay the committee vote for a day. That didn’t work, either, and according to a post by Rep. Sims that came after the vote, Sen. Asshat admitted he didn’t even really understand the bill. See? This is the sort of bullshit that goes one with these guys.
After all this we did a check-in with Equality Pennsylvania, waited for Celeste and Alex to show, then went together to get something to eat. After that we all went our separate ways, and it wasn’t until I was home that I realized how tired and sore I was from being on my feet most of the day, proven by the fact I was in bed by ten and slept soundly the entire night.
I don’t know if the other bills will make it out of committee, but the betting is good they will. Attitudes are changing, and politicians in this start are realizing that acting like a bunch of regressive bigots isn’t good for business, which is the logic being used to bring on Republican support for these bills. Will all these bills get passed before the end of the year? We can certainly keep our fingers crossed and hope for the best.
And if I’m asked again to come and work a few politicians, will I don my lady armor and work for the cause? You know it.