As a state senator, the GOP nominee for governor has consistently supported legislation that would roll back rights for LGBTQ people in the Keystone State.
As voters head to the polls on Election Day, prominent LGBTQ Pennsylvanians are warning that a win by state Sen. Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor, would endanger their communities.
Mastriano has run a Christian nationalist campaign based in large part on conspiracy theories that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. LGBTQ people, trans people in particular, have been one of his main targets. His opponent, Democratic Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, has pushed back on Mastriano's elevation of homophobic and transphobic rhetoric.
The term-limited incumbent Democratic governor, Tom Wolf, warned earlier this year that he would oppose any legislation that discriminated against LGBTQ Pennsylvanians. Over the summer, Wolf vetoed SB 972, which would have banned trans athletes from sports teams that align with their gender. With Mastriano as governor, a new version of the bill could become law.
Shapiro's campaign told the Philadelphia Gay News in October that the Democrat is a "strong supporter of LGBT Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, unlike his opponent, who is adamantly opposed to same-sex marriage and any legal support for LGBTQ people."
Mastriano has repeated familiar right-wing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric throughout his campaign. He falsely claimed that Pennsylvania schools are "indoctrinating" and "grooming" students with sexually explicit material, accused a Philadelphia hospital that provides gender-affirming care of engaging child abuse, and promised to ban trans women, including children in middle school and high school, from playing girls and women's sports.
Mastriano has long expressed anti-LGBTQ views. In a master's thesis he wrote while attending the Air Force’s Air Command and Staff College, for example, he imagined a future "Hitlerian putsch" in the United States by a left-wing dictator that included the deliberate "insertion of homosexuality into the military" to weaken it.
Jam Hammond, the executive director of the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations, who identifies as a Black transgender man, said that the political rhetoric used in the 2022 midterms has transformed his relationship to politics. "More so than before, my motivation in voting is fear," he told the American Independent Foundation.
"When I was younger, the question was, Do you support marriage equality? Later, it was, Do you support the use of bathrooms based on a person's identity?" Hammond added. "Now it's questions like, Do you support the ability of trans people to exist?"
The only rights afforded to LBGTQ Pennsylvanians have come from court decisions or federal- and state-level executive actions, said Sue Kerr, a Pittsburgh-based activist who co-chairs the group Pittsburgh LGBTQ Charities and is a longtime blogger on LGBTQ issues. That leaves LGBTQ people highly exposed to dramatic changes in the legal rights afforded to them.
"Mastriano's campaign is a terrifying campaign because there's no artifice. It's a Christo-fascist perspective, and he doesn't hide that," Kerr said. "If he were to win, as a woman, as a queer person, as a person with disabilities, as an aunt, I'd be terrified."
Jonathan Lovitz, a public policy and external affairs adviser to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce who lives in Philadelphia and identifies as a gay man, juxtaposed what he characterized as Shapiro's inclusive agenda against Mastriano's exclusionary views. "The Republican side leads with, The boat is sinking, and we need to get rid of these people who are sinking us," he said.
"A Republican governor isn't going to stop at coming after any one of us. He's going after a woman's choice on a Monday, a gay marriage on a Tuesday, and a black vote on Wednesday. The only way to combat that is strength through solidarity," Lovitz said. "LGBTQ people realize that we have skin in the game of every fight right now."
Mastriano has consistently trailed Shapiro in polling and fundraising. Shapiro, who has raised more than 10 times as much money as his opponent, has led by an average of 10 points since the start of fall, according to FiveThirtyEight.
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, the first openly-LGBTQ person of color elected to the Pennsylvania state legislature, chairs Agenda PAC, a national group founded earlier this year that works to defeat anti-LGBTQ candidates. The PAC's first target was Mastriano.
"Doug Mastriano is a deeply unserious person who traffics in hate because he can't traffic in good ideas," Kenyatta said in an interview. "What this boils down to is that if you can't solve people's problems, or if you won't solve people's problems, then you lie and try to create a villain. And in this instance, he's trying to go after kids and the parents that love them, go after those families and the LGBTQ+ community because he believes that's an easy target for him to gin up support for his floundering campaign."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.