Wolf LGBTQ commission 'gives community hope' during Equality Fest, founder says

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

It's proving to be a good week for the York County LGBTQ community, as Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced a new LGBTQ commission in the midst of the weeklong  Equality Fest celebration.

On Monday, Aug. 6, Wolf signed an executive order forming a Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, which the governor's office touts as the nation's first of its kind. 

“The creation of the commission on LGBTQ Affairs is one step of many we have taken to ensure obstacles are removed for anyone who is facing an unfair disadvantage based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression,” Wolf said.

Currently on the campaign trail with hopes of re-election in November, Wolf added that the measure "won't be the end of our efforts to create a Pennsylvania that espouses inclusion and diversity in all that we do.”

Gov. Tom Wolf and newly elected Lt. Gov. running mate John Fetterman (not pictured) speak to the media at Manchester Cafe in Manchester Township, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

The executive director of the 40-member commission is Todd Snovel, who most recently worked as the assistant dean for engagement and inclusion at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Lebanon County.

The functions of the commission include advising the governor on LGBTQ-related policies, serving as a resource for community groups and publishing annual reports covering issues affecting LGBTQ communities statewide.

The announcement just happened to come into the spotlight as York County celebrates its LGBTQ community during Equality Fest, a weeklong celebration of diversity in the county.

The idea of the festival arose when Wolf won the May 2014 primary elections, the same day that a federal court judge ruled that the state's 1996 statutory ban on recognizing same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, said Equality Fest founder Carla Christopher.

What started as a daylong event founded by the local LGBTQ activist in 2014 is now a weeklong celebration, and Christopher said she is embracing the week that's proving to be full of sunshine for the community, even with recent downpours.

4th Annual Equality Fest at Penn Park in York, 2017.  John A. Pavoncello photo

More:PHOTOS: 4th Annual Equality Fest

"One of the things that has come up in this last year over and over again is how many of us (in the LGBTQ community) are doing community-based organizing or issue-based organization in silos," she said. "We are under-resourced and understaffed. However, the more cooperation we have, the more we can learn and combine resources to have a better chance of success."

The commission could help aid in the expansion of these efforts, Christopher added, and it "gives people hope" in the local LGBTQ community.

"Time will tell, but there is hope, celebration and excitement," she said. "People have been spreading the news of the commission during Equality Fest, and the idea that we can get together and have a direct line into the government's office makes me thrilled."

Christopher acknowledged that to some, the creation of the commission just three months before the gubernatorial elections could be just a political move for attention.

"People have said this is about getting attention before the election, but I personally know a lot of people who were chosen for the board," she said. "These are people who York has a relationship with and who have participated in Equality Fest."

In the end, Christopher said, voices from the LGBTQ community could now hold a heavier influence in the state Legislature, as "community organizing isn't about us if it's without us."

Upcoming Equality Fest events this week include:

  • Pride Week Open Mic Night from 7-9 p.m Friday, Aug. 10, at Union Lutheran Church, 408 W. Market St.
  • Guerrilla Gay Bar Dance Party from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m Saturday, Aug. 11, at a location to be announced. Visit www.facebook.com/GGBYorkPA for details after 3 p.m. Saturday.