To contrast Republicans, unity becomes major theme as DNC begins

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey makes a surprise appearance at the Pennsylvania delegation breakfast July 25, the first day of the Demicratic National Convention. Next to him are Marcel Groen, chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania. Photo: Paige Cooperstein, Philadelphia Gay News

Wearing a rainbow White House shirt underneath his blazer, Ed O’Brien came to Monday’s breakfast for the Pennsylvania delegation looking forward to participating in his second Democratic National Convention.

O’Brien, a gay delegate from Northampton County, remembered traveling to Charlotte, N.C., for the 2012 convention.

“2012 was a convention of validation and affirmation,” he said, recalling the year President Barack Obama accepted the nomination to run for his second term. “This is one that stresses unity and coming together.”

O’Brien is backing Hillary Clinton, who is expected to accept the Democratic nomination Thursday.

Ed O’Brien, a gay delegate from Northampton County, attended the Pennsylvania delegation breakfast July 25. Photo: Paige Cooperstein, Philadelphia Gay News

“She has the experience in a time of global crisis and global insecurity,” he said. “She has three decades of policy exposure. To withdraw from that and say we don’t want that doesn’t make sense.”

After a heated primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders endorsed Clinton this month. He’s scheduled to speak tonight at the convention at the Wells Fargo Center.

O’Brien hoped Sanders’ supporters would feel comfortable voting for Clinton in November, especially as the Republican Party has Mike Pence on the ticket for vice president. O’Brien said Pence should be an “inhibitor” for LGBT voters because, as governor of Indiana, he signed into law a religious freedom bill that many saw as a license to discriminate against gay and transgender people.

Unity emerged as a major theme among the speakers at the Pennsylvania delegation breakfast, including a surprise appearance by the charismatic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. Gov. Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey also addressed the crowd of about 100.

The morning kicked off with Sanders supporters being asked to stand. About two dozen stood and pumped their fists in the air. The rest of the delegates broke out into a thunderous applause.

Dwayne J. Heisler, far right, an LGBT delegate from Columbia County, stands with other delegates pledged to Bernie Sanders at the Pennsylvania delegation breakfast July 25. Photo: Paige Cooperstein, Philadelphia Gay News

“We need to come together so we can speak with one voice,” said Marcel Groen, chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. “It’s got to be all of our voices.”

Adrian Shanker, chair of the LGBT Caucus for the state’s Democrats, serves as a Sanders delegate. He said he plans to vote for Clinton in the fall, but credits Sanders for staying so long in the primary race.

“Bernie ran on a campaign of progressivism,” he said. “That’s what we’re getting now: a progressive platform.”

The Democratic platform includes a plank on LGBT rights for the first time. Shanker noted the plank specifically calls out violence against transgender Americans, which he called a “landmark.”

“In contrast to what happened last week in Cleveland, where the [Republican] platform was reactionary to the LGBT community, we’re about to pass a visionary platform that’s proactive for the LGBT community.”

In a nod to Clinton’s campaign mantra, Sen. Booker emphasized the idea that the Democratic Party is “stronger together.”

“We are the party of Civil Rights, of workers’ rights, of women’s rights of gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights,” he said as attendees broke into applause.

Last year, Booker introduced the Equality Act, which would add LGBT protections from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations.

He referenced the idea from Martin Luther King Jr. that the challenge is not the violence of the bad people, but the “appalling silence and inaction of the good people.”

“I listened to the negativity, to the bile, to the vitriol, to the hate that was spewed in the Republican convention,” Booker said. “It did a disservice to the Republican Party.”

He said 22 Republican senators did not attend the Republican National Convention last week in Cleveland because they didn’t want to be tied to the demeaning statements being made by the party’s nominee, Donald Trump.

“But it’s never about what they say,” Booker said. “It’s about what we do. We are a party that has always said we stand for something…The Democratic Party is a party of we and not the party of me. It is the party of inclusion and not the party of exclusion. We are the party who wants to build this nation up, not tear some people down.”

Gov. Wolf closed the morning by drawing parallels between Clinton’s constitution and that of Pennsylvanians. He referenced his administration’s work to reduce the number of uninsured Pennsylvanians, create a fair funding formula for public schools, legalize medical marijuana and raise the minimum wage.

“Hillary Clinton is about fairness,” Wolf said. “Hillary Clinton is about equity…Those are the things we believe in as Pennsylvanians. Those are the things we believe in as Democrats.”


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