Over 600 LGBT delegates expected at DNC, many focused on nondiscrimination

State Rep. Brian Sims, Pennsylvania’s first elected openly gay state lawmaker, talks with another attendee of the LGBT DNC Happy Hour. Photo: Paige Cooperstein, Philadelphia Gay News.

A Bernie supporter and a Hillary supporter walked into a gay bar in Philadelphia the night before the kickoff of the Democratic National Convention.

The two members of the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee went to Woody’s at 13th and Walnut streets for the LGBT DNC Happy Hour, organized by the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, Equality Pennsylvania and Liberty PA. Several hundred delegates, politicians and supporters attended. There are over 600 LGBT delegates, including over 20 transgender delegates, said Alex Reber, a delegate for Hillary Clinton from Dauphin County.

“I was at a rules committee meeting earlier and I witnessed firsthand how the Hillary supporters treated the Bernie supporters with the utmost respect,” said Dwayne J. Heisler, a Columbia County delegate who’s pledged to Sen. Bernie Sanders. After a heated primary contest, Sanders suspended his campaign and earlier this month endorsed Clinton.

“We can show America how we’re going to win and work together,” Heisler said.

He said he most looked forward to talking with politicians about the need for the Equality Act, which would add LGBT nondiscrimination protections in housing, employment and public accommodations to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Reber said he’s interested in hearing Sarah McBride speak Thursday night. A Delaware native, McBride is a transgender woman who helped lead the successful effort to add gender identity and expression to her state’s nondiscrimination and hate-crimes laws in 2013. She has also worked on LGBT issues with the Center for American Progress.

“She’s the first trans speaker ever at a convention,” Reber said. “It’s great to see her highlighted the same night as Hillary will accept her nomination. For speakers, the later in the week you are, the more important.”

Other delegates from across the country rubbed elbows at the LGBT DNC Happy Hour. They came from places like New York, Texas and Hawaii.

Eileen McKee, a Clinton delegate from Maui, called the event “political heaven.”

“For me to be here with all the people who care about moving the cause forward is great,” she said.

As an activist with GetEQUAL a few years ago, McKee was instrumental in fighting for marriage equality in Hawaii, which became legal in 2013. This is her first time at a convention. She’d like to talk with other Democrats about how best to defeat religious freedom laws that do not protect the LGBT community from discrimination. She is one of two LGBT delegates from Hawaii.

McKee brought her wife, Deborah Cohn, with her to Philadelphia. McKee called Cohn “the woman behind the woman” for all her support. The couple has been together 24 years.

A New York City delegate shared with two others he met at the LGBT DNC Happy Hour that he just married his husband this year, something he didn’t think he’d be able to do when he was growing up.

“We’ve had a sea change in American politics,” said David Parish, who’s pledged to Clinton.

He thought it was an important step for the Democratic platform to include a plank on LGBT rights for the first time this year. Going forward, Parish also said he wants to see movement on the Equality Act.

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