Equality Fest to welcome special transgender guest


A woman who recently made Pennsylvania history will share her story next month at a York County celebration of civil rights and the LGBT community.

The organizers of York's second annual Equality Fest, scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 2, have booked Pennsylvania Physician General Rachel Levine, a transgender woman who's achieved the highest rank in state history for transgender people in government roles.

State Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City, confirmed Monday that Levine has accepted the Equality Fest invitation.

Schreiber said Levine's story about being a transgender woman is relevant to the next phase of fighting for equal rights.

A new focus: Equality Fest got its start last year as a celebration of Pennsylvania's recognition of same-sex marriage. Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court has legalized gay marriage across the country.

"I think this is an issue of civil rights at its core," Schreiber said. "We have come a very significant step forward in the last year. But we still have significant hurdles to yet surmount, like anti-discrimination legislation."

In Pennsylvania, it is legal to fire someone or deny them housing because of their sexual orientation, Schreiber said.

The past year has given the LGBT community much to celebrate, but the fight for equality is not over, said Carla Christopher, an Equality Fest organizer.

"Marriage equality is amazing and we absolutely have to celebrate it, but it's so important right now to remember that we have so much work to do," she said.

Achieving equality for transgender people is "the next frontier," Christopher said.

A well-oiled machine: While news stories about transgender issues have largely focused on celebrities, there are transgendered men and women "who live around the corner from you," Christopher said.

Their numbers are a fraction of the overall population, but the LGBT movement that finally achieved marriage equality last month has the energy and the skills to do more for the transgender community, Christopher said.

"If you look now at social justice and social activism, all the other groups ... are doing what the gays have been doing for 20 years," she said. "I think that we have, by necessity, built a machine that is based on having fractional numbers in comparison to the general population."

She pointed to gay-straight alliance groups in schools and successful social-media campaigns as evidence.

Homophobia is still out there, Christopher said. There are still gay kids being disowned by their families and LGBT people being ex-communicated from their churches, she said.

"I think that we have a firm enough alliance and we have people that are passionate enough about equality-rights, period. And we have a well-oiled machine that is still excited ... we're going to keep going," Christopher said. "There's still so much work to do in terms of changing people's minds."

The event: This year's event will be a "giant equality pep rally," Christopher said.

At least five couples — gay and straight — will get married or renew their vows at the event. That part of Equality Fest will take place from noon to 1:15 p.m. inside The Bond, 134 E. King St.

Following the ceremony, The Bond will transform into a gay-friendly wedding expo, Christopher said.

The event's outside activities will also start at noon in York City's Royal Square neighborhood. Those include a main stage for entertainment, food court, artist demonstrations, health screenings, vendors and a children's area.

The event will wrap at 6 p.m.

"This is for York. This is about creating a real community in York that's inclusive," Christopher said. "And it's a place where everybody has a seat at the table."

— Reach Erin James at