Adrian Shanker (Part 1), February 4, 2022

Dublin Core

Title

Adrian Shanker (Part 1), February 4, 2022

Description

Adrian Shanker recalls his life growing up in Westchester, New York, fighting for non-discrimination laws and the repeal of bans on same-sex marriage, his Jewish faith, and his activist work in the Lehigh Valley and beyond.

Date

2022-02-04

Format

video

Identifier

LGBT-29

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Mary Foltz

Interviewee

Adrian Shanker

Duration

01:22:11

OHMS Object Text

5.4 February 4, 2022 Adrian Shanker, Part 1, February 4, 2022 LGBT-29 01:22:12 LVLGBT Lehigh Valley LGBT Community Archive Collection Muhlenberg College: Trexler Library Oral History Repository Support for the collection of this interview was provided by the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS). Adrian Shanker Mary Foltz video/mp4 ShankerAdrian_20220204_video_trimmed.mp4 1:|24(14)|60(1)|73(7)|83(4)|94(15)|106(4)|118(7)|128(7)|142(11)|160(5)|172(11)|183(5)|193(17)|203(9)|219(1)|232(2)|244(5)|253(8)|266(14)|278(4)|288(4)|300(4)|313(6)|325(6)|337(10)|348(12)|359(4)|372(2)|383(1)|397(5)|408(8)|423(5)|433(5)|446(7)|461(11)|475(7)|489(5)|502(13)|516(9)|528(8)|541(6)|553(14)|566(7)|577(10)|589(10)|604(3)|618(13)|632(8)|644(11)|657(6)|669(1)|682(11)|695(4)|712(5)|725(9)|741(2)|751(10)|764(8)|777(4)|790(7)|804(2)|814(11)|825(9)|838(13)|856(3)|869(7)|882(2)|893(2)|908(9)|920(4)|933(1)|945(3)|959(11)|970(13)|982(8)|994(4)|1005(14)|1018(1)|1028(3)|1041(2)|1056(14)|1070(16) 0 https://youtu.be/ba_jW5pae2o YouTube video English 4 Interview Introductions MARY FOLTZ: My name is Mary Foltz and I’m here with Adrian Shanker to talk about his life and experiences in LGBT organizations in the Lehigh Valley, as a part of the Lehigh Valley LGBT Community Oral History Project. Our project has funding from ACLS this year and we are meeting today at Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center on February 4th, 2022. So first, Adrian, thank you for talking with me today. ADRIAN SHANKER: My pleasure. MF: And I just want to start with a few business topics. Could you please state your full name and spell it for me? AS: Adrian Shanker. He, him pronouns. A-D-R-I-A-N S-H-A-N-K-E-R. 95 Early Years of Life / Growing up in Westchester, New York MF: Okay, all right, business is out of the way. So I just want to start with a question. Would you be willing to tell me a little bit about the early years of your life? AS: I was born in Manhattan and was raised in Westchester, New York in an activist family. My grandfather was the president of the American Federation of Teachers. My other grandfather was a gender theorist, is a gender theorist and psychologist who studies masculinity. And so I grew up in a very interesting home where -- very socially aware as a kid. I remember we had a family meeting about Magic Johnson’s AIDS diagnosis. We talked about Keith Haring’s Crack Is Wack mural in New York City that we passed all the time. 497 Values / Education &amp ; Activism MF: So you have a supportive family life. Imparting a variety of different values. Kindness, respecting people, navigating the early years of an epidemic with kindness for others and a sense of urgency that we’re talking about in family spaces. What’s happening to you in your educational experience? AS: I’ll also just add for the earth as well. And other sentient beings. Today I’ve been -- I call myself an herbivore, but a vegetarian, for a long time. And I remember when I was a kid -- my mom tells me I was born to be a vegetarian, and that I remember going to a Chinese restaurant and they had a fish tank and there was also fish on the menu and I looked through the menu and I pointed to the tank and I said, “Fish.” Like people would eat those beautiful creatures, I can’t believe that. And so as a kid I ate like very little meat. Only the kind of stuff that you don’t always have control over your diet as a young kid. But in high school I became vegetarian. It’s also the same time I became an activist. And environmental justice has always been pretty important to me but at some point I made a decision to prioritize LGBTQ activism for my own career. But I definitely grew up in a community and a family where we talked about these as kind of in some ways intersecting issues, although we didn’t use that language. 920 ''Coming Out'' / Fox Lane GSA AS: [...] And remember going back to my school feeling like we can do this, we can become activists here. I also remember being surprised that I didn’t really lose any friends in high school when I came out. And I thought that I would because it was a time before mass acceptance for a lot of LGBTQ people, we’re still like early 2000s, so in terms of representation in mass media it still wasn’t there. I think Will &amp ; Grace was on. But that was probably it. MF: Do you remember what it felt like before you came out? Were you anxious about it or -- AS: Not really, because it was really a self-realization more than a coming out. It was really a this is who I am and now I’m just going to tell people. It wasn’t an internal struggle. I had a very supportive family. And I was kind of in the group of students that would be self-defined as like punk rockers. So at the time many of them identified as bisexual which was fairly common among like punk rock-identified high school students in the early 2000s. Some of them still identify as queer or bi. But some don’t. 1155 Claiming Jewish Identity AS: [...] High school by the way is also where I claimed my Jewish identity. So I grew up culturally Jewish. I would say like Jewish heritage but religiously atheist, a secular family. But after my parents got divorced when I was in second grade, shortly after that I asked my mom if I could go to Hebrew school. And my mom was a very supportive mom, but I don’t think it’s what she was going for. But she did find one. We joined a Reform synagogue in Bedford, New York called Shaaray Tefila. And my mom was actually back in school studying to become a teacher, so she ended up teaching in the religious school there while she was in her graduate program. And I really loved going to Hebrew school. And I’m not sure why. But I really did. I loved learning about something I actually wanted to learn about. 1465 Life &amp ; Activism at Muhlenberg College MF: So let’s move a little bit further. What happens after high school to you? Where are you going next? How does the activity journey, your spiritual journey continue into the next years of your life? AS: Yeah. So after high school I went to Muhlenberg College in Allentown, which is how I ended up in the Lehigh Valley as well. And I came into Muhlenberg basically expecting to eventually become a rabbi. And I was very excited about that actually. And there was a lot of reasons why I chose Muhlenberg for that reason. But I came in ready to go as an activist. And I had all the angst and all the passion and really no know-how for how to operationalize queer activism. And I remember early in college, probably my first month, there was a series that Muhlenberg has called Center for Ethics where they have a theme for the year and they bring guest speakers throughout the year, and they’re often tied to extra credit in classes if you attend and then do a write-up or things colleges do. And Kate Bornstein was one of the first speakers. And I didn’t know who she was, but I went, and it was recommended by one of my classes. And I also had the attitude that I really wanted to learn everything queer, so I was going to go. And she did kind of part talk and part performance. And I felt very inspired. And I still remember some of the things that she said in that talk my first year of college. 1847 Meeting Liz Bradbury and Trish Sullivan AS: [...] Another thing happened when I was in college, which is that I got connected with -- so the Hillel director at Muhlenberg, she’s no longer alive, but her name was Patti Mittleman. And she was a very important influence in my life. And one of the things that she did was she actually told me -- well, before that I had asked the community service office on campus if they could help me find an LGBT organization I could volunteer at. I had grown up going to the LGBT center in White Plains, New York for the youth program, and before that for a program they had for parents with gay kids. And when I moved here to go to college in Allentown I was looking around, there was no LGBT center. And I asked, “So is there an organization I can volunteer with?” And they took two weeks and came back and said, “We can’t find one.” And I remember complaining about this to Patti Mittleman, the Hillel director. And she basically said, “You have to meet these two people, Liz Bradbury and Patricia Sullivan.” And she connected me to them. We actually had one of the first events that I organized as a college student was for Liz to actually come speak on campus. And we did an exhibit of a photography series that she had created at the time about marriage equality, believe it was called Faces of Inequality. And as a student I actually in 2007 joined the board of directors for an organization that Liz and Trish had founded called Pennsylvania Diversity Network. 1940 Lobbying in Pennsylvania &amp ; Important Takeaways AS: [...] And before that in 2006 my first time lobbying in Pennsylvania was against the Pennsylvania Marriage Amendment in March 2006. And I got on a bus with some people who had become close friends and fellow activists. Reverend Goudy from Metropolitan Community Church [inaudible] Donna Cruciani from PPL Corporation, the head of their LGBT resource group before she retired, Steve Black, who had led PA-GALA, he’s unfortunately no longer alive. There was a few other people on that trip as well. And we met with legislators and as a college student it felt very empowering. It was also NRA lobby day in Harrisburg that day and I remember coming back and talking to one of my professors, Gary Jones, who taught a class I was taking called “Radicalism in American History.” And I was so upset that there was all these NRA people in the capitol. He said to me, he said, “Adrian, if you want to be effective working on gay rights in Pennsylvania you have to let them have their guns.” And he said, “What I’m telling you is pick your issue and stick with it.” So that was really when I started really thinking I have to pick my issue and stick with it and that issue is going to be LGBTQ issues. And it was a time before I was thinking about cross-movement solidarity and thinking a little bit about intersectionality. But in terms of movements like gun control and gay rights for example, seeing them as separate. 2177 Work with GenderPAC (GPAC) MF: You talked about the GenderPAC. You talked about working with PDN, Pennsylvania Diversity Network. Could you talk a little bit about GenderPAC? Was that a transformational moment for you? Did that prepare you to work with PDN? Were there specific things you learned at the GenderPAC? AS: A little bit. Yeah. My internship with GenderPAC was actually through the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. They had a summer program for college students where you could take two classes and be part of a cohort and also do an internship. And so I did that. And being at GenderPAC I was very excited to go, before I got there I read Riki Wilchins’s two books at the time, Read My Lips and Queer Theory, Gender Theory. And I went in so excited. And then I was given the responsibility of working on this gender-neutral housing campaign. One of my supervisors there was Tyrone Hanley who is now at National Center for Lesbian Rights. And he was somebody who was very engaged in queer and trans activism and probably a little bit more radical than I was at the time as a college student. And the other staff there was also very very engaged and interested. 2496 Changing Municipal Policy with Pennsylvania Diversity Network (PDN) / Work in Local Politics AS: [...] When I was at college though, towards the end of my time at Muhlenberg, I started working through PDN, Pennsylvania Diversity Network, on municipal policy change. I had been involved in local politics here as a college student. I led the College Democrats at Muhlenberg as a student. During the Obama campaign I led the College Democrats through that with registrations, 80 percent of students showing up to vote in Allentown. We hosted events with Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, all during that election. And I was the organizer of all of those. So I was very visible and engaged in the Democratic Party efforts as a college student. I volunteered on Sam Bennett’s congressional campaign in 2008. A very involved volunteer. I became really active with the Lehigh County Democratic Party as a college student as well. So I was engaged politically, and had helped to elect a number of city council people, and had good relationships with a number of people on city council in Allentown. And after getting them elected I really wanted to do something about LGBTQ rights in Allentown. And so I talked with Liz and Trish and Liz encouraged that the thing that was needed was domestic partner benefits. And at the time it didn’t feel like the most compelling issue to me. But she made a good case. And I definitely felt passionate about it. And we ended up working with -- he’s now a judge but then he was a city council person and council president, Dr. Michael D’Amore. And we asked if he would introduce legislation which we were going to provide. 2954 Other Work in the Lehigh Valley / Equality Pennsylvania MF: As you’re sharing the story, that whole project starts in college, starts with work with PDN, but then continues into 2011. AS: I graduated college in 2009 and I stayed in Allentown. I stayed in Allentown actually because -- two reasons. One, I didn’t get the job that I wanted elsewhere. And two was I thought I could actually make a difference here. So I ended up working professionally in Civic Theatre of Allentown where I was on their fundraising team. I was the only person doing fundraising there. And I ended up leaving that at some point to go work for SEIU Local 32BJ, where I organized in support of food service workers for a company called Sodexo that paid the workers very very poorly. And so I was working on a campaign to unionize these employees and I was their faith organizer, so I worked with Lutheran and Jewish clergy to help them take action in support of food service workers. Around that time I also joined the board of Equality Pennsylvania, which had just been restructured by one of their funders. Basically they had a complete restructuring. The entire board and staff except for one board member and one staff member that stayed. And it was a rebuild. And so I was brought on to the board and was very excited. And the person who recruited me for the board was Brian Sims, who is now a state representative, but then he was a policy attorney for Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia, called GALLOP. And so a whole new board was being built. And there was early conversations at Equality Pennsylvania about where do we go from here. 3402 Invitation to the 50th Anniversary of the National March on Washington / Exit from Equality PA AS: [...] In 2013 it was the fiftieth anniversary of the national March on Washington, which was called the National Action to Realize the Dream. And I was actually invited to speak at it as one of six out queer speakers. It was actually very important for me because my grandfather was very close friends with Bayard Rustin, who organized the original 1963 “I Have a Dream” March on Washington. And Bayard was not allowed to speak at the march because he was gay. And there were six LGBTQ people invited to speak at this one at the fiftieth anniversary. I was so thrilled to be one of them and really the only state-based leader. All the others were national leaders. Randi Weingarten, the current president of American Federation of Teachers. Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU. There was leaders from Human Rights Campaign. And there were other LGBTQ people. But I was the only one from a state equality organization. 3486 Getting Married &amp ; Legally Validating Relationship AS: [...] . Before I go into starting the center, I want to talk about what it was like to get married during that time. So my ex-husband and I, his name is Brandon, we decided to get married right in between Windsor and Obergefell. So this was a time when Pennsylvania Diversity Network used to have annual freedom to marry rallies at usually the Lehigh Courthouse. One time we did it at the Northampton County Courthouse. But annual rallies. And people would go in and they would actually request a marriage license. I think it’s important just to remember what it was like in that moment first. So it was a moment where there was a lot of excitement and energy for marriage equality and still an enormous amount of lack of public support, including from Democratic politicians. Barack Obama when he ran for president originally didn’t support marriage equality. So it was this time period where there was a lot of energy and still lack in public support. After the Windsor decision which granted basically full faith and credit to marriages for the benefit of federal benefits, so if you were a resident of Pennsylvania but lived in Connecticut and you got married in Connecticut you could get federal benefits, even if you didn’t get state benefits in Pennsylvania. So not full faith and credit, but actually just federal recognition. 3882 Important Issues Targeted by Equality PA / Candidate Endorsements MF: [...] Were there other issues that were really important for you either at PDN or moving into the Pennsylvania Equality? AS: Equality Pennsylvania. MF: Equality Pennsylvania organization. AS: Yeah. So I designed the candidate questionnaire for Equality Pennsylvania and really led the endorsement process for candidates that were seeking our endorsement. And in that questionnaire we asked about do you believe people who are incarcerated should be housed based on their gender identity or their sex assigned at birth. We asked questions. We were really trying to make sure that we were finding people who really understood our community and the way that we define ourselves. We asked about bullying in schools. We asked about nondiscrimination. We asked about marriage or other forms of relationship recognition. We probably asked about hate crimes legislation. And we asked about stuff that wasn’t legislative as well. We asked about people’s connection to the LGBT community in the area where they lived in Pennsylvania. We asked about their volunteer work with LGBTQ issues. 4120 Moving from Volunteer Work / Creating a LGBT Community Center MF: After you move from Equality Pennsylvania so you’re looking for a full-time position in this line of work, how do you make it from Equality Pennsylvania into a full-time position? AS: So at the time I had been here for a while in the Lehigh Valley. But my LGBTQ activism was really statewide. And later during that time with Equality Pennsylvania one of the races that I got involved in was the Bethlehem mayor’s race. And Equality Pennsylvania played a pretty significant role in supporting Willie Reynolds when he ran for mayor of Bethlehem the first time. He had been our champion for nondiscrimination. And he was running against Bob Donchez, who was elected mayor, who was really not our champion. He ended up being supportive, I would say like lukewarm supportive, but was certainly not a champion when it came to LGBTQ people. And I worked with Willie on a number of his statements, and one of them was a mail piece he put out where we had a whole bunch of LGBTQ leaders standing behind him. And it said, “As mayor I pledge to not marry anyone until I can marry everyone.” He would only officiate at weddings for any residents once Pennsylvania gave him the legal authority to officiate gay weddings. And that was a really big statement for somebody in the Lehigh Valley. This wasn’t Philadelphia. This wasn’t Pittsburgh. It’s the Lehigh Valley. And before Pennsylvania had marriage. 4352 Reflection on Early Activism MF: Well, we’re just about at the end of our time. And we’re going to do a follow-up interview where Adrian will tell the origin story of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. But since we’re nearing the end, and we’ve talked about your early years of activism, perhaps we could conclude with a question like looking back on all of that early work what mattered to you the most, is there anything you wish you would have focused on more during that time period. How do you reflect on those early years of activism in your life? AS: Yeah. I’m really grateful for my time at Muhlenberg because it really kind of let me learn how to be an activist. It let me test out my activism in different ways and try different things. Learn also what didn’t work. It gave me an opportunity to become a better activist. And in many ways with my time in Equality Pennsylvania as well I was really young when I became the board president. I was 24. And there was a lot that I thought I knew that I didn’t. There certainly are things I would do differently now that I have had experience leading organization on the staff side. But I will say that that moment in time felt so important and so urgent. It felt like such a strong sense of urgency. And I’m really glad that I had the opportunity to be an activist then. 4621 Journey in Faith and Activism MF: Can I ask one follow-up question? I know we’re moving to the end. We had started this discussion of activism, especially at the college level, as being very much connected to your faith. Very much linked to your burgeoning, developing, or evolving understanding of yourself and Judaism in your life as being connected to politics and activism. It felt like hand in hand at the college. How did your faith journey move along with your journey into activism? AS: So in college I really changed how I identified as Jewish. Again. I changed in high school and I changed again in college. In college I was working at the Reform synagogue in Allentown, Congregation Keneseth Israel. And I was teaching in the religious school. And that experience was really important for me because I met a couple people there. One, her name is Janet Hogan. And she was a religious school director. A straight woman, but a mother of an adult gay son who was married to a rabbi named Victor Appell. And she kind of invited me to her family events, like some family dinners. And I really had a really important -- she was my boss but became a mentor in many ways. 4909 Closing Remarks MF: Well, at the end I just want to thank you and give you the opportunity. Is there anything that you think we missed in this first oral history that you want to return to or something you want to say at the end of the interview today? AS: No. MovingImage Adrian Shanker recalls his life growing up in Westchester, New York, fighting for non-discrimination laws and the repeal of bans on same-sex marriage, his Jewish faith, and his activist work in the Lehigh Valley and beyond. INTERVIEW WITH ADRIAN SHANKER FEBRUARY 4, 2022 MARY FOLTZ: My name is Mary Foltz and I&#039 ; m here with Adrian Shanker to talk about his life and experiences in LGBT organizations in the Lehigh Valley, as a part of the Lehigh Valley LGBT Community Oral History Project. Our project has funding from ACLS this year and we are meeting today at Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center on February 4th, 2022. So first, Adrian, thank you for talking with me today. ADRIAN SHANKER: My pleasure. MF: And I just want to start with a few business topics. Could you please state your full name and spell it for me? AS: Adrian Shanker. He, him pronouns. A-D-R-I-A-N S-H-A-N-K-E-R. MF: Thank you, and will you please share your birth date? AS: April 4th, 1987. MF: And then a few questions about consent. I know you just signed a consent form with me before the interview began. But just to orally have that consent, do you consent to this interview today? AS: I do. MF: Do you consent to having this interview transcribed? AS: I do. MF: Digitized and made publicly available online? AS: Yes. MF: Do you consent to the LGBT Archive using your interview for educational purposes in other formats? AS: Yes. MF: Okay. And do you understand you&#039 ; ll have 30 days to review the transcript of the interview? AS: Yes. MF: Fabulous. And you can identify parts that you want to delete or you could even withdraw the full interview if you wanted. AS: Yeah. MF: Okay, all right, business is out of the way. So I just want to start with a question. Would you be willing to tell me a little bit about the early years of your life? AS: I was born in Manhattan and was raised in Westchester, New York in an activist family. My grandfather was the president of the American Federation of Teachers. My other grandfather was a gender theorist, is a gender theorist and psychologist who studies masculinity. And so I grew up in a very interesting home where -- very socially aware as a kid. I remember we had a family meeting about Magic Johnson&#039 ; s AIDS diagnosis. We talked about Keith Haring&#039 ; s Crack Is Wack mural in New York City that we passed all the time. I just remember growing up in a family that was just very socially aware. I remember my dad telling me stories about getting arrested protesting nuclear power or things along those lines. At one point my mom took me to a museum in New York City that had a worm exhibit. I was scared of worms at the time I guess. And I got the pleasure of holding them. I wasn&#039 ; t scared of worms after that. But it was very much about like -- we celebrated Earth Day as a holiday in my family. Grew up going to the Clearwater Music Festival, an environmental justice festival and music festival in Westchester, New York. And so my childhood was very much grounded around social awareness. I wouldn&#039 ; t say activism as much as social awareness in making individual decisions that keep the earth and the community around us in mind. I was definitely taught as a kid about kindness to other people and creating a kind world. And I grew up in a secular Jewish home. Would say culturally Jewish but atheist or nonreligious. And the values that I was taught were very much just about being a community citizen, being somebody -- I remember in 1992 the presidential election. My mom took me to vote with her. And so just some lessons I was taught really early. My parents got divorced when I was seven. Which was in 1994. And my mom came out to me and my brother, who was five years younger. So he was two and I was seven. And my brother and I moved in with my mom and her then partner. And so from a young age I was really aware of social differences in terms of LGBTQ people, although we didn&#039 ; t have that exact acronym yet. My dad was able to get remarried, within a year, legally remarried. And my mom couldn&#039 ; t. And I was very aware of the distinction and the difference. I also grew up with a lot of cultural context around what it meant to be an LGBTQ person because of my mom and some of her friends. Grew up going to Cape Cod in the summers for example. And we&#039 ; d be camping in Wellfleet and going to Provincetown and so my childhood was definitely in a place where I was aware of -- at the time the word I would have used was gay and lesbian people. And that was just as a kid. MF: So you talk a lot about the kind of values of your family. And then how your mom&#039 ; s relationship and your dad&#039 ; s experience post-divorce introduced you to discrimination and structural homophobia frankly. How did you and your mom or you and your dad talk about LGBTQ people in a more personal way? Or was it really more about context? AS: It was more about context. I remember for example -- I don&#039 ; t remember how old I was. But I was young. I went to the Katonah Museum of Art with my dad. I come from a family that has always really appreciated and loved art. And the exhibit was by Pavel Tchelitchew and there was this painting that was like of the rear end of some animal. And I remember my dad saying something about like how Tchelitchew was a gay artist. A gay Russian artist. And he used some symbolism to let people know of his identity but he couldn&#039 ; t be as public and out when he was painting. So just contextual comments like that. Or comments like when we discussed Magic Johnson for example. And that was fairly early in my life. And relatively early in the AIDS epidemic. So it was more contextual conversations, more than personal ones. MF: How did you discuss Magic Johnson? What was that conversation like in your family? AS: I don&#039 ; t remember the details of it as much as I remember that it happened. But I remember that the conversation included a sense of like respect for people with AIDS at a time when that was not always discussed. And I&#039 ; m pretty sure that this was before 1994. Because I think it was before my parents&#039 ; divorce. But I don&#039 ; t remember 100 percent. And so as someone who was younger than seven years old, just the conversation about what it meant to respect people with whatever was happening in their life at a time when a lot was unknown. Certainly looking back a lot was unknown right at that time. But it wasn&#039 ; t like a family where we can&#039 ; t talk about things that are maybe hard in the world. My family has always been a family that talked about what was happening in the world. MF: So you have a supportive family life. Imparting a variety of different values. Kindness, respecting people, navigating the early years of an epidemic with kindness for others and a sense of urgency that we&#039 ; re talking about in family spaces. What&#039 ; s happening to you in your educational experience? AS: I&#039 ; ll also just add for the earth as well. And other sentient beings. Today I&#039 ; ve been -- I call myself an herbivore, but a vegetarian, for a long time. And I remember when I was a kid -- my mom tells me I was born to be a vegetarian, and that I remember going to a Chinese restaurant and they had a fish tank and there was also fish on the menu and I looked through the menu and I pointed to the tank and I said, &quot ; Fish.&quot ; Like people would eat those beautiful creatures, I can&#039 ; t believe that. And so as a kid I ate like very little meat. Only the kind of stuff that you don&#039 ; t always have control over your diet as a young kid. But in high school I became vegetarian. It&#039 ; s also the same time I became an activist. And environmental justice has always been pretty important to me but at some point I made a decision to prioritize LGBTQ activism for my own career. But I definitely grew up in a community and a family where we talked about these as kind of in some ways intersecting issues, although we didn&#039 ; t use that language. MF: You&#039 ; re moving in a way that -- this is where my question was going. What was your educational life like? AS: Oh, sorry. MF: No, no need to apologize. And I think that&#039 ; s an interesting segue because you&#039 ; re thinking about activism maybe in high school. So could you reflect a little bit upon your educational experiences? AS: I was an okay student in high school. I struggled a lot as a student actually in high school and earlier. I got bullied a lot in middle school including for having gay moms and so for me as someone who struggled a lot in those ways I also -- when I became an activist in high school, it was very much about claiming my own identity but also claiming my place in the school as an activist. And I found ways to be involved. So I really had a lot of negative feelings about going to gym class for example. Which felt very traumatic. And so sometime in high school I found a way I could volunteer on a high school committee that happened to meet at the same time as gym. And I never had to go. But it let me also become an activist. And I had a lot of support. So in high school I co-started a gay-straight alliance. And I graduated from Fox Lane High School in Bedford, New York in 2004. I think 2004. And I started with some other people a gay-straight alliance that was the first time that high school had one. And I remember actually when I was in middle school we had a meeting with a guidance counselor in high school to transition each family. And I remember my mom asking the guidance counselor, &quot ; Is there a gay-straight alliance here?&quot ; And I remember being like, &quot ; Mom.&quot ; And the answer was no, there isn&#039 ; t one. And I had heard about this other student who was gay and kind of picked on and ended up going to an alternative school. And I was a little concerned about &quot ; am I going to a place that&#039 ; s not welcoming&quot ; . But in high school coming out and becoming an activist were very intertwined. And it was also 2003 so it was the time when -- so I might have graduated in 2005. We&#039 ; ll verify. But 2003 was the start of the Iraq War or the invasion of Iraq. And March 19th, 2003 I led a student walkout of class to a sit-in in the front of the school, 150 students. And a couple teachers joined us. I don&#039 ; t think the school was thrilled about that. And nobody got disciplined. But for me becoming an activist was very much am I an activist for animal rights, am I an activist for ending the death penalty, am I an activist for stopping -- we knew we were going to stop that war, Bush&#039 ; s war. And then I was very passionate about LGBTQ rights. At the time President Bush used an hour of his State of the Union in 2004 to condemn families like mine and prioritizing a Federal Marriage Amendment, a full hour. And it was right after the Massachusetts decision on marriage, Goodridge decision, where John Kerry and every other major national Democrat except for Barney Frank condemned the decision. And so I was coming into my activism at the same exact time. And feeling very angry. Feeling very -- it&#039 ; s like teen angst mixed with like animosity towards Bush. And really found my activist voice. But like most people that age I really didn&#039 ; t know what to do with that. Me and a couple other students, we were invited to a staff meeting for the teachers where we got to talk about some issues for gay students. We had our meetings. We did ask the school to change one of their policies. I don&#039 ; t remember if they did. Their nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation. And I actually started going to -- my mom had always gone to this conference in White Plains, New York. It used to be called the Healing the Hurt conference. But it was run by GLSEN the Gay, Lesbian &amp ; Straight Education Network&#039 ; s Hudson Valley chapter. My mom is a teacher. So she always went as professional development because teachers could get continuing ed credits. But they also allowed students to come as well, and when I was in high school I actually went with my mom one year. And I brought some teachers from my high school, I convinced them to go. And that was really transformative for me because I ended up meeting the leader of GLSEN Hudson Valley, her name is Mary Jane Karger. Actually she&#039 ; s from the Lehigh Valley originally, which is cool, she&#039 ; s from Hellertown. And went to Muhlenberg College as well. One of the first generations of women there I believe. And so she became a really important activist for me. She was a straight woman, a parent of a gay kid, and she was really the first major LGBTQ activist I knew. And I was very inspired by her and by the other activists that I met at this conference. And remember going back to my school feeling like we can do this, we can become activists here. I also remember being surprised that I didn&#039 ; t really lose any friends in high school when I came out. And I thought that I would because it was a time before mass acceptance for a lot of LGBTQ people, we&#039 ; re still like early 2000s, so in terms of representation in mass media it still wasn&#039 ; t there. I think Will &amp ; Grace was on. But that was probably it. MF: Do you remember what it felt like before you came out? Were you anxious about it or -- AS: Not really, because it was really a self-realization more than a coming out. It was really a this is who I am and now I&#039 ; m just going to tell people. It wasn&#039 ; t an internal struggle. I had a very supportive family. And I was kind of in the group of students that would be self-defined as like punk rockers. So at the time many of them identified as bisexual which was fairly common among like punk rock-identified high school students in the early 2000s. Some of them still identify as queer or bi. But some don&#039 ; t. But my friend group was kind of alternative. Which was perhaps helpful for also my own self-realization. And I will say that like while I&#039 ; m too young to have been there during punk, right? Punk rock was my first understanding of queerness and I was really into some of the music and photographs. And I actually don&#039 ; t enjoy that music at all now. But then I did because it was kind of public queerness. And it felt very affirming as a high school student. Pictures of Billy Idol. Or listening to words of Iggy Pop. Or like folks like that. Lou Reed, who were just so queer and so public about it. Felt very affirming. MF: With the GSA you described working on a nondiscrimination ordinance or promoting that at school, did you have any other specific things that the GSA was doing? Was it more social? Was it -- AS: It was a mix. It was a mix of social and also a little bit political. And it was about political but with a small p. It was like political for the school, it was like trying to make our school inclusive. So it was thinking about well, how come health class doesn&#039 ; t include us, or how come gym classes feel very unsafe, or things along those lines. So we would try to bring guest speakers into the school. Or we would do things to try to make those kinds of changes. It wasn&#039 ; t thinking broader. I do remember though I was invited as an out student to speak. My first public speaking thing was actually with Planned Parenthood in Westchester County where they invited me to speak as a student voice about comprehensive sex education. They were doing a panel at the public library. And so that was very empowering for me because I was asked to share my own experience about why the lack of comprehensive sex education was so challenging and so problematic. High school by the way is also where I claimed my Jewish identity. So I grew up culturally Jewish. I would say like Jewish heritage but religiously atheist, a secular family. But after my parents got divorced when I was in second grade, shortly after that I asked my mom if I could go to Hebrew school. And my mom was a very supportive mom, but I don&#039 ; t think it&#039 ; s what she was going for. But she did find one. We joined a Reform synagogue in Bedford, New York called Shaaray Tefila. And my mom was actually back in school studying to become a teacher, so she ended up teaching in the religious school there while she was in her graduate program. And I really loved going to Hebrew school. And I&#039 ; m not sure why. But I really did. I loved learning about something I actually wanted to learn about. And in high school I got very involved in youth group kind of programs that really helped me solidify my identity as both Jewish and as a queer Jew. Although I wouldn&#039 ; t have used the word queer in high school. I went to Jewish summer camp and met other LGBTQ Jewish students and got very engaged in activism from a Jewish lens. Progressive activism. And actually I remember in high school I went on a weekend trip or a small trip with my synagogue&#039 ; s youth group to Washington, DC where we were meeting with members of Congress on a variety of issues. And it was through the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. And the issue that I was able to talk about was the hate crimes bill that hadn&#039 ; t been passed yet. And actually it was in a meeting with Congresswoman Nita Lowey, she&#039 ; s now retired. But I came out during that, while I was speaking to the congresswoman, it was the first time that my rabbi learned that I was gay. The rabbi I grew up with. And I just had never told him because he didn&#039 ; t have -- he had never said anything from what Jews would call the bimah but Christians would call a pulpit that made me feel like he was super embracing. We were the only gay family I knew in my synagogue. It was a very large synagogue. He had never talked about gay rights or marriage equality or anything along those lines. I couldn&#039 ; t remember a single instance of that happening. And so I didn&#039 ; t really know. And he was somebody who was seen as very powerful, very tone-setting, for what people would think or believe in. And I used that opportunity to speak directly to my congresswoman about an issue that was important to me as a gay high school kid and I didn&#039 ; t care that my rabbi was there hearing it. And afterwards he said something to me. He said, like, &quot ; I didn&#039 ; t know you were gay.&quot ; And I said, &quot ; Well, you didn&#039 ; t ask.&quot ; But it just came out naturally. It wasn&#039 ; t an internal struggle as much as it was self-realization and becoming an activist. MF: What happened after that with your rabbi? Did he start speaking about inclusivity? Did that change your relationship? AS: It changed our relationship a little bit. But mostly -- in a positive way. I also worked at the synagogue as a Hebrew tutor when I was in high school. And I was very very involved there. It&#039 ; s also around the time I started wearing a yarmulke all the time in the middle of high school as well. It was after Daniel Pearl was murdered. There was a book of essays that was published called I Am Jewish. People were writing about the importance of being visible as who you are. And so for me it was connected also to being visible as a gay person. As a high school person I had like rainbow belts and there was like pins and stickers and buttons everywhere. And also before that I had liberty spikes and then a very poorly kept Mohawk that turned into a mullethawk and then that was kind of replaced with a yarmulke at some point. And it was about being visible. And it&#039 ; s probably when I started to identify more spiritually or religiously as Jewish as well. MF: So let&#039 ; s move a little bit further. What happens after high school to you? Where are you going next? How does the activity journey, your spiritual journey continue into the next years of your life? AS: Yeah. So after high school I went to Muhlenberg College in Allentown, which is how I ended up in the Lehigh Valley as well. And I came into Muhlenberg basically expecting to eventually become a rabbi. And I was very excited about that actually. And there was a lot of reasons why I chose Muhlenberg for that reason. But I came in ready to go as an activist. And I had all the angst and all the passion and really no know-how for how to operationalize queer activism. And I remember early in college, probably my first month, there was a series that Muhlenberg has called Center for Ethics where they have a theme for the year and they bring guest speakers throughout the year, and they&#039 ; re often tied to extra credit in classes if you attend and then do a write-up or things colleges do. And Kate Bornstein was one of the first speakers. And I didn&#039 ; t know who she was, but I went, and it was recommended by one of my classes. And I also had the attitude that I really wanted to learn everything queer, so I was going to go. And she did kind of part talk and part performance. And I felt very inspired. And I still remember some of the things that she said in that talk my first year of college. And I went to hear other people speak as well. And some of them also queer in different ways. And I joined the college&#039 ; s gay-straight alliance, which I didn&#039 ; t create, It existed before me, right away. And I remember the first meeting they were like making stickers and doing like erotic writing group and things like that. But it didn&#039 ; t feel activist-y to me and I kind of spoke up and I said, like, &quot ; Can we do some activism?&quot ; And people were like, &quot ; Yeah, sure, go do it.&quot ; So I ended up doing that, and a lot of other folks&#039 ; interest was about like let&#039 ; s get a group together to go dance at the Stonewall on Thursday nights. Stonewall in Allentown. Or things that were more social. And my interest was more political. Six weeks into starting as a student I was in the president of the college&#039 ; s office demanding that the nondiscrimination policy be updated to include gender identity and I e-mailed him and I was like, &quot ; I noticed in the code of conduct that it does not currently include this and I would like this to be changed.&quot ; And I got this e-mail back saying, like, &quot ; Why don&#039 ; t we sit down and talk about it?&quot ; And we did. And about six weeks later I got an e-mail from his assistant or from him saying that it was going to be changed and that the board had approved it. And I think they thought like okay, he&#039 ; s good now. And I turned around and within like a couple weeks or maybe a couple months with the gay-straight alliance we were petitioning the college to create gender-neutral housing. It would have been the first college in the Lehigh Valley to do so. And that summer I took an internship at the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition, GenderPAC, founded and led by Riki Wilchins, no longer in existence. And my work there was focused on gender-neutral housing actually as a national -- this was before it was very common. This was in summer of 2006. And so therefore I started college in fall 2005 and graduated high school in fall 2004 by the way -- spring 2005. So yeah. Interning at GenderPAC. Coming back to Muhlenberg. And really fighting for gender-neutral housing. And it became a fight that outlasted my time at Muhlenberg. We won small victories. This dorm building can be gender-neutral. Or as long as it&#039 ; s not for first year students. Or case-by-case basis. So yeah, the fight for gender-neutral housing in Muhlenberg College was a really critical part of my activist journey. It&#039 ; s kind of how I learned how to be an activist in a more effective way. I learned how to pick my battles better. I learned how to pick targets better when it comes to activism, who can actually make the changes we want. It also taught me how to build strong coalitions and bring in the right voices. There was other parts of that activism on campus as a student whether it was about policy changes like housing policy or about other types of things to ensure that LGBTQ students had the kind of college that we all really deserved. And again it was a time that&#039 ; s a little different than now where that&#039 ; s common. At the time I actually remember the president of the college who was someone who I now consider a friend, but at the time one of the first things he said was, &quot ; Well, do we have any transgender students?&quot ; And my response to him was, &quot ; Where do you think people would want to sleep? You haven&#039 ; t created a space that people would feel comfortable being out as trans.&quot ; And I don&#039 ; t actually remember any out trans students then at the time in 2006. There were obviously trans students. Today there&#039 ; s many. It&#039 ; s a college with a trans student activist club. But that I think happens in part with a college that came to embrace the policies that needed to happen to make people feel included. Another thing happened when I was in college, which is that I got connected with -- so the Hillel director at Muhlenberg, she&#039 ; s no longer alive, but her name was Patti Mittleman. And she was a very important influence in my life. And one of the things that she did was she actually told me -- well, before that I had asked the community service office on campus if they could help me find an LGBT organization I could volunteer at. I had grown up going to the LGBT center in White Plains, New York for the youth program, and before that for a program they had for parents with gay kids. And when I moved here to go to college in Allentown I was looking around, there was no LGBT center. And I asked, &quot ; So is there an organization I can volunteer with?&quot ; And they took two weeks and came back and said, &quot ; We can&#039 ; t find one.&quot ; And I remember complaining about this to Patti Mittleman, the Hillel director. And she basically said, &quot ; You have to meet these two people, Liz Bradbury and Patricia Sullivan.&quot ; And she connected me to them. We actually had one of the first events that I organized as a college student was for Liz to actually come speak on campus. And we did an exhibit of a photography series that she had created at the time about marriage equality, believe it was called Faces of Inequality. And as a student I actually in 2007 joined the board of directors for an organization that Liz and Trish had founded called Pennsylvania Diversity Network. And before that in 2006 my first time lobbying in Pennsylvania was against the Pennsylvania Marriage Amendment in March 2006. And I got on a bus with some people who had become close friends and fellow activists. Reverend Goudy from Metropolitan Community Church [inaudible] Donna Cruciani from PPL Corporation, the head of their LGBT resource group before she retired, Steve Black, who had led PA-GALA, he&#039 ; s unfortunately no longer alive. There was a few other people on that trip as well. And we met with legislators and as a college student it felt very empowering. It was also NRA lobby day in Harrisburg that day and I remember coming back and talking to one of my professors, Gary Jones, who taught a class I was taking called &quot ; Radicalism in American History.&quot ; And I was so upset that there was all these NRA people in the capitol. He said to me, he said, &quot ; Adrian, if you want to be effective working on gay rights in Pennsylvania you have to let them have their guns.&quot ; And he said, &quot ; What I&#039 ; m telling you is pick your issue and stick with it.&quot ; So that was really when I started really thinking I have to pick my issue and stick with it and that issue is going to be LGBTQ issues. And it was a time before I was thinking about cross-movement solidarity and thinking a little bit about intersectionality. But in terms of movements like gun control and gay rights for example, seeing them as separate. MF: You used this interesting phrase earlier, which is related to what you just shared. You said something like, &quot ; I learned how to pick my targets and think about effective ways or effective strategies.&quot ; I&#039 ; m just curious if you could maybe expand on that. During your college activism years what did that mean for you? Learning effective targets, effective strategies. What did that look like during that time period? What were some of the most important lessons that you were taking from that time period? AS: Looking back I can remember getting responses from people around our gender-neutral housing campaign that might not have been positive, and reacting to them, without really thinking through how important is it to win over that specific person. They&#039 ; re not the decision maker. So learning how to figure out who actually needs the time and energy devoted to winning them over, who has to be won over to be part of a strong coalition, who has to be brought in as a clear advocate. So for example the college didn&#039 ; t have any kind of LGBTQ resource center, director, or anything like that. And we had petitioned the college to appoint someone as an LGBT liaison. And they did and her name was Anita Kelly. And we ended up going to Anita and saying, &quot ; You have the administrators&#039 ; ears. We need you as a staff person to really be our advocate here.&quot ; And we went to the housing folks, Jan Schumacher and Aaron Bova, and asked them, &quot ; You&#039 ; re the people they&#039 ; re going to ask about how this will be operationalized. How can we help you understand this? Here&#039 ; s the other colleges that have it. Can you call your counterparts there and see how it works for them?&quot ; So learning how to win over the right people instead of what in the political world we would call a blank canvas. Trying to go and just get anyone we can, but those may not be the most influential people or most necessary people to win on the issue we need to win on. MF: You talked about the GenderPAC. You talked about working with PDN, Pennsylvania Diversity Network. Could you talk a little bit about GenderPAC? Was that a transformational moment for you? Did that prepare you to work with PDN? Were there specific things you learned at the GenderPAC? AS: A little bit. Yeah. My internship with GenderPAC was actually through the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. They had a summer program for college students where you could take two classes and be part of a cohort and also do an internship. And so I did that. And being at GenderPAC I was very excited to go, before I got there I read Riki Wilchins&#039 ; s two books at the time, Read My Lips and Queer Theory, Gender Theory. And I went in so excited. And then I was given the responsibility of working on this gender-neutral housing campaign. One of my supervisors there was Tyrone Hanley who is now at National Center for Lesbian Rights. And he was somebody who was very engaged in queer and trans activism and probably a little bit more radical than I was at the time as a college student. And the other staff there was also very very engaged and interested. One thing I learned from being at GenderPAC though was that there was kind of a dismissiveness of the so-called like mainstream LGBTQ activism. And I wasn&#039 ; t really sure that I agreed with that. But I also wasn&#039 ; t sure I disagreed. And I felt like I didn&#039 ; t know enough. When I was at GenderPAC though they let me go to -- one of the requirements of the program at the Religious Action Center was to go do a day on the Hill, a legislative day. And so GenderPAC let me go and meet with Pennsylvania legislators. And Rick Santorum was one of them. And so I got a meeting with Rick Santorum&#039 ; s staff person, and what GenderPAC sent me in to do with each of the meetings was to ask if they would sign a pledge saying that they wouldn&#039 ; t discriminate against LGBT people in their offices. So just their office staff. And Santorum signed it. And he signed it right in front of me. And then I got a picture with him. And so I came back to the office next morning and they were like floored. And this was the guy who -- I don&#039 ; t need to explain who Rick Santorum was. MF: But you can still explain for other people. AS: There&#039 ; s enough people can google. But he was a very conservative, very very conservative senator, later became a presidential candidate. He was awful, he really hated LGBTQ people. And he signed this thing. His chief of staff was gay by the way. A gay Black man actually. But Rick Santorum was very homophobic. And he signed this pledge. And so the next day GenderPAC puts out this press release. And a couple days later I get a call from a reporter at Agape Press, a genuinely Christian press, and the reporter says, &quot ; Are you the homosexual from Pennsylvania who got Rick Santorum to cave on the family?&quot ; And I was like, &quot ; Who are you?&quot ; But it made national news, Rick Santorum signing this pledge. He then rescinded his signature. And actually tried to say he didn&#039 ; t sign it. But we produced the photograph of him with me and it kind of was hard for him to say he didn&#039 ; t sign it. He then said he didn&#039 ; t understand it. So it was a formative time in terms of becoming an activist. I also think that I still didn&#039 ; t really know what I didn&#039 ; t know. But being in DC, I spent that summer and the next summer in DC. The next summer I was at Faith in Public Life, which was a program at the time of Center for American Progress, a Clinton alumni think tank. So a slightly left of center think tank. And as this was 2007 I was working with faith leaders to help them take action on progressive social justice issues. And basically to get them to stop talking about abortion and gay marriage and talk about instead hunger and homelessness and ending torture. And one of the issues at the time was the farm bill, which includes SNAP funding, nutrition funding. And so Jim Wallis, Pastor Wallis, famously said that here at a protest at the Capitol when I was doing that work, said, &quot ; The budget is a moral document.&quot ; And that&#039 ; s something I&#039 ; ve always thought about for my activism going forward. The budget is a moral document. And so that summer was equally formative because I started to really think about the intersection between faith and queer rights. Even though my work there did not include LGBTQ issues, it was about how do we utilize people of faith to help tell a story that&#039 ; s compelling for the broader public. And that&#039 ; s something that I really have continued to use in my activism. When I was at college though, towards the end of my time at Muhlenberg, I started working through PDN, Pennsylvania Diversity Network, on municipal policy change. I had been involved in local politics here as a college student. I led the College Democrats at Muhlenberg as a student. During the Obama campaign I led the College Democrats through that with registrations, 80 percent of students showing up to vote in Allentown. We hosted events with Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, all during that election. And I was the organizer of all of those. So I was very visible and engaged in the Democratic Party efforts as a college student. I volunteered on Sam Bennett&#039 ; s congressional campaign in 2008. A very involved volunteer. I became really active with the Lehigh County Democratic Party as a college student as well. So I was engaged politically, and had helped to elect a number of city council people, and had good relationships with a number of people on city council in Allentown. And after getting them elected I really wanted to do something about LGBTQ rights in Allentown. And so I talked with Liz and Trish and Liz encouraged that the thing that was needed was domestic partner benefits. And at the time it didn&#039 ; t feel like the most compelling issue to me. But she made a good case. And I definitely felt passionate about it. And we ended up working with -- he&#039 ; s now a judge but then he was a city council person and council president, Dr. Michael D&#039 ; Amore. And we asked if he would introduce legislation which we were going to provide. Liz was able to work with Suzanne Goldberg at the Columbia University gender and sexuality program, who was able to get us a draft of legislation. And then I brought in some local Democratic Party-affiliated lawyers, especially Tim Brennan, who really understood the municipal law process in Allentown. And we were able to get this passed through with unanimous support in Allentown. And I think it passed after I graduated. It passed I think in January, either 2010 or 2011. And from then I was really set on working on municipal policy for a while. I started to actually work on the same issue with the city of Easton. So we were able to get domestic partner benefits for city workers in Allentown and Easton. What&#039 ; s important to remember as a lookback is that before marriage equality if you worked for an employer that provided spousal health care, if you were a gay couple you could not put your spouse on health care unless they had domestic partner benefits policies. Even if you could get that you had to pay federal tax on the value of the benefits. But the ability to actually access health care was such a big challenge. It was before the Affordable Care Act as well. So the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010. But it wasn&#039 ; t fully implemented for a little bit after that. So it was a very propulsive movement. We were in the movement for marriage equality and it felt also that winning partner benefits was kind of a vote in support of marriage equality. And that actually came up during these council meetings saying, like, &quot ; We wish we didn&#039 ; t have to do this, Pennsylvania should have marriage equality.&quot ; So after winning in Allentown we started, or around that same time we also introduced identical legislation in Easton. And with each of these we did something that wasn&#039 ; t common in the Lehigh Valley, where we did public signing ceremonies. We had public events for the mayors to sign these laws, and to generate a lot of press on this issue. Press was really important because we were trying to win hearts and minds on marriage. So I worked on the Allentown ordinance very closely with Liz. I kind of led the effort on the Easton ordinance. And also on passing nondiscrimination in Bethlehem, which passed in 2011. Bethlehem at the time was the largest city in Pennsylvania that did not have a nondiscrimination law. And it was an entirely Democratic city council with a Democratic mayor. And the mayor, John Callahan, supported the legislation but wasn&#039 ; t moving on it. He said he supported it and he had this big press conference and then nothing was happening with it. And so of the entire city council only two were supportive. Karen Dolan and Willie Reynolds. And the two of them became our only two very strong champions. The rest of council was lukewarm at best or at the beginning even a little bit negative. And we were able to bring them all around but it was a very challenging time that actually included really really really having to work against -- the Catholic diocese sent a lobbyist to try to change the legislation. They knew we would pass the legislation, so they put all these poison pill amendments in, a sunset clause that would end the ordinance automatically after three years. An amendment that would gut all the powers of the human relations commission. So the ordinance would exist but nobody could be held accountable by it. Amendment after amendment after amendment. The city solicitor in Bethlehem also made major procedural errors and we had to redo an entire city council meeting. Each meeting was over four hours long. Hundreds of people testified. And it was mixed between pro and con. The people who testified against us were using some horrible anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and language. Suggesting that all gay people are child molesters or things like that. It was really really beyond the pale, especially for 2011. And to be honest we did not expect it to pass unanimously. The council president at the time, Bob Donchez, who then became mayor, ended up voting for it. But he was the last person in Bethlehem to decide how he felt about this issue and many other issues. And Dave DiGiacinto, who was on council, he&#039 ; s no longer alive, he was not sure if he was supportive. And then we had two council members who were, one of them had Parkinson&#039 ; s, Gordon Mowrer, the former mayor, and the other one had other health issues that really made it difficult to determine how aware she was of the issues that she was voting on, Jean Belinski. There was really no way we could communicate with her directly and it was a really big challenge actually. So what we ended up with was a unanimous nondiscrimination law that really set the table for starting to pass these again. At the time Pennsylvania had I believe 17 municipalities that had nondiscrimination laws. Today in 2022 it&#039 ; s more than 60, might even be 70. But at the time we were talking about less than 20. And that kind of helped to transition into some future activism as well. MF: As you&#039 ; re sharing the story, that whole project starts in college, starts with work with PDN, but then continues into 2011. AS: I graduated college in 2009 and I stayed in Allentown. I stayed in Allentown actually because -- two reasons. One, I didn&#039 ; t get the job that I wanted elsewhere. And two was I thought I could actually make a difference here. So I ended up working professionally in Civic Theatre of Allentown where I was on their fundraising team. I was the only person doing fundraising there. And I ended up leaving that at some point to go work for SEIU Local 32BJ, where I organized in support of food service workers for a company called Sodexo that paid the workers very very poorly. And so I was working on a campaign to unionize these employees and I was their faith organizer, so I worked with Lutheran and Jewish clergy to help them take action in support of food service workers. Around that time I also joined the board of Equality Pennsylvania, which had just been restructured by one of their funders. Basically they had a complete restructuring. The entire board and staff except for one board member and one staff member that stayed. And it was a rebuild. And so I was brought on to the board and was very excited. And the person who recruited me for the board was Brian Sims, who is now a state representative, but then he was a policy attorney for Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia, called GALLOP. And so a whole new board was being built. And there was early conversations at Equality Pennsylvania about where do we go from here. There was a lot against us. It was a conservative legislature, Republican governor, Governor Corbett. And a real propulsive need to ensure that we could demonstrate impact to funders. So I said, &quot ; Let&#039 ; s win municipal policies. We&#039 ; re not going to win at the state level.&quot ; And so we did. So that was the push for Bethlehem, it was actually through my role with Equality PA. And then Equality Pennsylvania ended up getting some grants to work on municipal policy change around the state, passing nondiscrimination protections around Pennsylvania, and building public support for nondiscrimination through that process. About a year into my time on the board at Equality Pennsylvania I was on my way to a board meeting in Erie, and I got a call from Brian, who said, &quot ; I&#039 ; m going to be stepping down from the board because I&#039 ; m running for the state house against Babette Josephs,&quot ; who was one of our champions on the issues, champions in the state house. And he was going to run against her because she was becoming less and less effective at winning the change. She was very vocal and very effective at getting media and public support, but not always as good at actually working with the other side to get results that we needed. So Brian said he was going to run against her. And I let him know that I would be running for the president of Equality Pennsylvania&#039 ; s board. I was unanimously elected and I was 24 years old. And the organization, we were also creating a PAC. And a 501(c)(4) entity. So (c)(3) entity is charitable, tax-deductible. Equality Pennsylvania Educational Fund, that&#039 ; s technically what I was president of. And then the (c)(4) is a political organization, can endorse in elections, etc. And then the PAC can actually give money to candidates. So three separate legal entities. And I was the president of the educational fund side but also on the board of the others. And so we were kind of building our political arm up. We were starting to make a real impact and build power for LGBTQ Pennsylvanians. We talked with candidates. I remember Det Ansinn was running for Bucks County commissioner. And at one point he said, &quot ; What are you looking for in candidates?&quot ; And we said that we wanted candidates who would talk to -- we wanted front porch Democrats, not back porch Democrats. We wanted Democrats that would talk to us, talk about our issues, when they&#039 ; re sitting on their front porch, not only in a private party in the back of their house where their neighbors can&#039 ; t see them. We wanted them to talk about LGBTQ issues everywhere they talked, not just when they were talking to us. We wanted them to be public about their stances, not private about it. It wasn&#039 ; t going to be like a little pinkie swear, I promise I won&#039 ; t vote against your rights. It was going to be on your website as part of your platform. And we started working with a lot of candidates across the state. One of them, for example, Erin Molchany, was running for the state house in Pittsburgh, and we were her first endorsement, or one of her first endorsements. And she became one of our strong champions. Eugene DePasquale was running for auditor-general in 2012 and we were very heavily involved in his race. I ended up on his transition team, where I drafted rewrites to the personnel manual around LGBTQ inclusion for auditor-general staff. And that was the role that Equality Pennsylvania was playing, was victories where we could find them. Some of them were behind the scenes. Not an issue I worked on, but the former executive director of Equality Pennsylvania, Ted Martin, worked with Governor Corbett&#039 ; s team to actually get a change in the driver&#039 ; s license policy to change a person&#039 ; s gender on the driver&#039 ; s license in a more simplified way. And part of the agreement was that there wouldn&#039 ; t be a press release, it would just happen. So it was changes where we could make the changes happen. Sometimes behind the scenes, sometimes very public. That was really the goal. My time at Equality Pennsylvania overlapped with the fight for marriage in Pennsylvania. Because I was on the board from 2010 to 2013. I served as president 2011 to 2013. And it was a very propulsive time for LGBTQ rights. Literally every day we were seeing different things happen in the national news around LGBTQ rights. On marriage and on other issues. Around &quot ; Don&#039 ; t Ask, Don&#039 ; t Tell.&quot ; Whole bunch of issues were changing. We were watching history as we were making it. It felt so energizing. But I was doing that work as a volunteer. And I was driving across the state as a volunteer. Not receiving reimbursements for mileage or covering my costs of this travel. And I was also just a couple years out of college, I didn&#039 ; t have a lot of money. But this was what was so important to me. And it definitely felt like a second full-time job. And I wanted to do this work full-time at some point. A couple other things happened during my time with Equality Pennsylvania that were pretty formative. In 2013 it was the fiftieth anniversary of the national March on Washington, which was called the National Action to Realize the Dream. And I was actually invited to speak at it as one of six out queer speakers. It was actually very important for me because my grandfather was very close friends with Bayard Rustin, who organized the original 1963 &quot ; I Have a Dream&quot ; March on Washington. And Bayard was not allowed to speak at the march because he was gay. And there were six LGBTQ people invited to speak at this one at the fiftieth anniversary. I was so thrilled to be one of them and really the only state-based leader. All the others were national leaders. Randi Weingarten, the current president of American Federation of Teachers. Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU. There was leaders from Human Rights Campaign. And there were other LGBTQ people. But I was the only one from a state equality organization. And that was just a very powerful opportunity in my activist career. Yeah. The decision to leave Equality Pennsylvania was in large part because I really wanted to do this work full-time. And yeah, I really wanted to do this work full-time. Before I go into starting the center, I want to talk about what it was like to get married during that time. So my ex-husband and I, his name is Brandon, we decided to get married right in between Windsor and Obergefell. So this was a time when Pennsylvania Diversity Network used to have annual freedom to marry rallies at usually the Lehigh Courthouse. One time we did it at the Northampton County Courthouse. But annual rallies. And people would go in and they would actually request a marriage license. I think it&#039 ; s important just to remember what it was like in that moment first. So it was a moment where there was a lot of excitement and energy for marriage equality and still an enormous amount of lack of public support, including from Democratic politicians. Barack Obama when he ran for president originally didn&#039 ; t support marriage equality. So it was this time period where there was a lot of energy and still lack in public support. After the Windsor decision which granted basically full faith and credit to marriages for the benefit of federal benefits, so if you were a resident of Pennsylvania but lived in Connecticut and you got married in Connecticut you could get federal benefits, even if you didn&#039 ; t get state benefits in Pennsylvania. So not full faith and credit, but actually just federal recognition. And it was also a time when the federal government was interpreting every single marriage benefit that they could as either state of celebration or state of residence. So for every guideline you could imagine, Social Security Administration says they&#039 ; ll recognize marriages based on state of celebration, where you got married. Federal Election Commission says state of celebration for if you can count as a spouse for higher ability to donate to campaigns. Every single agency, every single rule was making an interpretation after Windsor. And it was a time when there was just a lot of energy. My ex-husband Brandon and I decided to get married during that time. Then we had two weddings. The first one was a legal wedding where we started at the Lehigh County Courthouse and we were joined by our parents. Actually our parents didn&#039 ; t. I think Brandon&#039 ; s parents were here. My parents lived in New York, but I think they met us up there. But we were also joined by a reporter from Morning Call, Colby Itkowitz, who&#039 ; s now at Washington Post. And Jen Colletta, who was then the editor of Philadelphia Gay News. So they started with us, recorded us not being able to get a marriage license. It was not a shocker. We knew what the law was. But we paid the fee. We got a marriage rejection certificate which I still have, stamped. It says rejected or denied and it says the reason why we were denied, because two people of same gender. We got in the car, drove to Darien, Connecticut. Went into the town hall. Darien was the closest place to Lehigh Valley where you could get married in one day without a waiting period. And many people from Lehigh Valley got married in Darien for that reason. Got our marriage license there. My mom and her partner and I believe my dad joined us there as well. And then we went to a beach, Pear Tree Point Beach, right in Darien. Got married on the beach, very quick ceremony, officiated by Reverend Debra Haffner, one of the most vocal faith leaders nationally for sexual freedom and LGBTQ rights. And then as we were driving back, as the reporter Colby Itkowitz described it, when we crossed from New York to New Jersey, our relationship was given -- it was demoted to civil union. And when we crossed the free bridge into Easton we were sitting in a car together as complete strangers. And so that was the experience of getting married then. We then had a Jewish wedding ceremony as well, but the experience of getting legally married at that time was also really formative to my activism because it was such a hurdle. I remember that we got estate plans drawn up that we had to have 14 documents between the two of us, 14 documents. Because of being able to protect each other. HIPAA release forms. Things that are automatic for people who are legally married, but that we knew since our marriage wasn&#039 ; t going to be recognized in Pennsylvania, we had to have all these additional documents drawn up by lawyers. And that&#039 ; s just something that&#039 ; s important to remember now. Sometimes it&#039 ; s easy to criticize movements in the past for not going far enough. And frankly there were valid criticisms of the marriage movement. But one thing that we shouldn&#039 ; t forget was that for people who wanted to get married there was real serious reasons why they needed to. And it wasn&#039 ; t only about stigma, and it wasn&#039 ; t only about feeling equal in the eyes of the law. It was also about being able to take care of your partner with legal rights. And so I had criticism of the marriage equality movement. And also I was part of it. Because both were possible at the same time. We could simultaneously believe that health care shouldn&#039 ; t be tied to whether you&#039 ; re married or not or immigration shouldn&#039 ; t be tied to whether you&#039 ; re married or not, and we could also believe that people should be able to have the legal relationships that allow them to take care of their families. And so that was a very galvanizing moment in time. MF: In your description of that, both in terms of your college activism and then into your postcollegiate activism, you talked about housing issues on college campus. Then you talked about nondiscrimination legislation at the civic level. And then the fight for marriage equality. Were there other issues that were really important for you either at PDN or moving into the Pennsylvania Equality? AS: Equality Pennsylvania. MF: Equality Pennsylvania organization. AS: Yeah. So I designed the candidate questionnaire for Equality Pennsylvania and really led the endorsement process for candidates that were seeking our endorsement. And in that questionnaire we asked about do you believe people who are incarcerated should be housed based on their gender identity or their sex assigned at birth. We asked questions. We were really trying to make sure that we were finding people who really understood our community and the way that we define ourselves. We asked about bullying in schools. We asked about nondiscrimination. We asked about marriage or other forms of relationship recognition. We probably asked about hate crimes legislation. And we asked about stuff that wasn&#039 ; t legislative as well. We asked about people&#039 ; s connection to the LGBT community in the area where they lived in Pennsylvania. We asked about their volunteer work with LGBTQ issues. I remember one person who&#039 ; s now on the state supreme court, David Wecht, judges have to be careful about how they answer questionnaires. But we asked him to describe his judicial philosophy when it comes to historically excluded populations. And we asked about his past connection to LGBTQ communities in Pittsburgh where he lived. And he told us that he volunteered at an AIDS organization I believe in the &#039 ; 90s. Well, that was very telling for us because it was a time when not every lawyer wanted to volunteer with an AIDS organization. So we were looking for hints from people&#039 ; s past involvement, how they might be once they were elected. I remember there were some really interesting races that we were involved in. One of them was the attorney general&#039 ; s race between Kathleen Kane and Patrick Murphy. And Patrick Murphy when he was in Congress led the effort in the House to pass &quot ; Don&#039 ; t Ask, Don&#039 ; t Tell&#039 ; s&quot ; repeal. And we ended up endorsing him. And I remember one of Kathleen Kane&#039 ; s staff members calling me and saying, &quot ; I can&#039 ; t believe you&#039 ; re endorsing Patrick Murphy.&quot ; And we said, &quot ; He kind of repealed &#039 ; Don&#039 ; t Ask, Don&#039 ; t Tell.&#039 ; &quot ; And they were like, &quot ; Oh yeah, that thing.&quot ; We were like, &quot ; That thing? That was like a very significant thing.&quot ; What it also is, is it&#039 ; s proof of his commitment for somebody who&#039 ; s never held public office before where we don&#039 ; t have any proof. There&#039 ; s no proof we could get. And so sometimes we were endorsing against people that both said they were good on the issues but one had record and one didn&#039 ; t. And so we were always looking for that. Also with Equality Pennsylvania we were trying to be very aware that Pennsylvania was very key nationally. And during the Obama administration, those eight years, I was invited to numerous briefings at the White House or other types of ways to engage with national leaders. And I remember the Obama administration&#039 ; s LGBTQ liaison, Gautam Raghavan, who&#039 ; s now the director of the Office of Presidential Personnel in the Biden-Harris White House. We would ask and we would say, &quot ; What LGBTQ Pennsylvanians really want to see is the president come out for marriage.&quot ; And he would always say, &quot ; I&#039 ; m not here to make news today. Here&#039 ; s what I can tell you.&quot ; And they were always very clear about what the White House was willing to support. And we were always saying, &quot ; There&#039 ; s one thing that&#039 ; s missing. And our voters, our people, are very aware of that.&quot ; MF: After you move from Equality Pennsylvania so you&#039 ; re looking for a full-time position in this line of work, how do you make it from Equality Pennsylvania into a full-time position? AS: So at the time I had been here for a while in the Lehigh Valley. But my LGBTQ activism was really statewide. And later during that time with Equality Pennsylvania one of the races that I got involved in was the Bethlehem mayor&#039 ; s race. And Equality Pennsylvania played a pretty significant role in supporting Willie Reynolds when he ran for mayor of Bethlehem the first time. He had been our champion for nondiscrimination. And he was running against Bob Donchez, who was elected mayor, who was really not our champion. He ended up being supportive, I would say like lukewarm supportive, but was certainly not a champion when it came to LGBTQ people. And I worked with Willie on a number of his statements, and one of them was a mail piece he put out where we had a whole bunch of LGBTQ leaders standing behind him. And it said, &quot ; As mayor I pledge to not marry anyone until I can marry everyone.&quot ; He would only officiate at weddings for any residents once Pennsylvania gave him the legal authority to officiate gay weddings. And that was a really big statement for somebody in the Lehigh Valley. This wasn&#039 ; t Philadelphia. This wasn&#039 ; t Pittsburgh. It&#039 ; s the Lehigh Valley. And before Pennsylvania had marriage. And so that campaign, which he didn&#039 ; t win, but he lost by only a very small amount of votes, it kind of let me know that I really liked doing work here in the Lehigh Valley. And I had also been involved with some other campaigns in this area. Including Matt Cartwright when he ran for Congress around that same time actually. And Congressman Cartwright, he wasn&#039 ; t a congressman yet, he called me to ask for LGBTQ community support. And I told him that we were concerned that he didn&#039 ; t support marriage equality. And he said something like, &quot ; Well, I&#039 ; m just not sure that the area is ready for it.&quot ; And I told him that he should go talk to his son and then call me back. And he called me back a little bit later and he said, &quot ; I talked to my son and he says that his entire generation thinks of this as a nonissue and that I should get with the times and support marriage. And so I&#039 ; m going to.&quot ; And I really started feeling like this is an area, and at the time his district included Easton. It now doesn&#039 ; t. He lived in Scranton. He&#039 ; s become a very strong champion for LGBTQ rights in Washington. But I felt like I liked being involved locally. And I also felt like I didn&#039 ; t have to keep doing elections and campaigns. I wanted to just find community. And so when I decided to leave Equality Pennsylvania it was to start Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. MF: Well, we&#039 ; re just about at the end of our time. And we&#039 ; re going to do a follow-up interview where Adrian will tell the origin story of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. But since we&#039 ; re nearing the end, and we&#039 ; ve talked about your early years of activism, perhaps we could conclude with a question like looking back on all of that early work what mattered to you the most, is there anything you wish you would have focused on more during that time period. How do you reflect on those early years of activism in your life? AS: Yeah. I&#039 ; m really grateful for my time at Muhlenberg because it really kind of let me learn how to be an activist. It let me test out my activism in different ways and try different things. Learn also what didn&#039 ; t work. It gave me an opportunity to become a better activist. And in many ways with my time in Equality Pennsylvania as well I was really young when I became the board president. I was 24. And there was a lot that I thought I knew that I didn&#039 ; t. There certainly are things I would do differently now that I have had experience leading organization on the staff side. But I will say that that moment in time felt so important and so urgent. It felt like such a strong sense of urgency. And I&#039 ; m really glad that I had the opportunity to be an activist then. I also think that in terms of the issues that we prioritized we weren&#039 ; t necessarily setting the agenda. The agenda was being set by national actors and national media around okay, :Don&#039 ; t Ask, Don&#039 ; t Tell.&quot ; Okay, marriage equality. These things were happening. And state equality organizations don&#039 ; t exist in a vacuum. Because the state doesn&#039 ; t exist in a vacuum. So Pennsylvania is part of the US. And what&#039 ; s happening in the US affects Pennsylvania. So we weren&#039 ; t necessarily setting the agenda the way we may have wanted to or not. We were responding and leading in our state. And we can always look back on time periods and say, &quot ; Well, we should have done more on this.&quot ; Or we could look back now and say, &quot ; Equality Pennsylvania should have done more on trans inclusion. Or more on racial justice. Or more on cross-movement issues.&quot ; And we did some. For example Equality Pennsylvania got behind UFCW&#039 ; s campaign, United Food and Commercial Workers&#039 ; campaign, to prevent the privatization of state liquor stores. Because as state employees liquor store employees are protected by a state executive order for nondiscrimination. We don&#039 ; t have state legislation that would protect private sector workers. We got behind an effort against school vouchers because it would provide tax dollars to schools who don&#039 ; t have antibullying rules in place. And they don&#039 ; t have nondiscrimination protections for students or teachers. So there were some cross-movement issues. But we always had to make that very clear LGBTQ case for it. And I think that looking back now we can look back to that time period and say we should have just been better at solidarity in general. But in that moment LGBTQ issues were considered deeply controversial. And front and center in the media. And most of us were doing it as a volunteer, with limited capacity. And doing the best and making the best decisions we could at the time. I do think that we helped to change Pennsylvania, although winning marriage in Pennsylvania came through the court. It came through the Whitewood decision. The ACLU of Pennsylvania represented a bunch of couples. And a Bush-appointed judge, Judge Jones, who also ruled in the case related to evolution in schools, the Dover case, he gave his ruling that Governor Corbett didn&#039 ; t appeal that granted marriage in Pennsylvania in 2014. And to get to the point where a Republican governor didn&#039 ; t appeal a ruling on marriage was in large part because of trying to make this issue propulsive in our state and really broadening public support for it. So I do think that our work at Equality Pennsylvania made a tangible difference. MF: Can I ask one follow-up question? I know we&#039 ; re moving to the end. We had started this discussion of activism, especially at the college level, as being very much connected to your faith. Very much linked to your burgeoning, developing, or evolving understanding of yourself and Judaism in your life as being connected to politics and activism. It felt like hand in hand at the college. How did your faith journey move along with your journey into activism? AS: So in college I really changed how I identified as Jewish. Again. I changed in high school and I changed again in college. In college I was working at the Reform synagogue in Allentown, Congregation Keneseth Israel. And I was teaching in the religious school. And that experience was really important for me because I met a couple people there. One, her name is Janet Hogan. And she was a religious school director. A straight woman, but a mother of an adult gay son who was married to a rabbi named Victor Appell. And she kind of invited me to her family events, like some family dinners. And I really had a really important -- she was my boss but became a mentor in many ways. And Ellen Sussman, who was the cantor at this congregation, who was also very supportive. And I really loved that job but I realized that it wasn&#039 ; t where I felt any kind of spiritual connection. And so I joined a Reconstructionist congregation in the Lehigh Valley called Am Haskalah that had a lesbian rabbi and many LGBTQ congregants. It was small and very grassroots. But that community was really important for me as well, especially in college and afterwards. I was still wearing my yarmulke all the time at that time period. And both in college and then throughout my time with Equality Pennsylvania. And I do think that how people read other people based on religiosity has always been really interesting when it comes to the queer movement. Some people have tried to paint -- some people meaning of a different ideology than mine -- have tried to paint it as God versus gay. And I think that when the leader of a state equality organization is wearing visibly religious symbols that are personally meaningful to them and that are not performative it does change that conversation a bit. When I would speak at rallies and people would see a visibly religious guy speaking about marriage equality, it made an enormous -- or when I would testify in front of local governments from Philadelphia City Hall to Bethlehem to small towns, Cheltenham Borough, Springfield Township, I would go to these small towns and testify for nondiscrimination, or for in the case of Philadelphia passing a couple other bills that weren&#039 ; t related to nondiscrimination. It did change the conversation a little bit. It undercut the opposition. Remember in Bethlehem, some people tried to suggest that religious people were against nondiscrimination. And it was like are you kidding. I do remember at one of the meetings, Bethlehem city council would always have a religious leader give an invocation at the beginning of the meeting. Which was an issue we actually -- we were going to pick our battles on. But that wasn&#039 ; t going to be our battle. I did feel very uncomfortable. And we were always concerned about who was going to give the invocation on the nights our issue was being voted on. Were they going to invoke council members, to pray for them to make a decision against equality? And there was a pastor who we didn&#039 ; t know. I looked him up and it was like an evangelical church. It was like uh-oh. And he got up and he spoke and gave his invocation. He said, &quot ; I didn&#039 ; t know what was going to be on the agenda tonight. But I&#039 ; m so,&quot ; these aren&#039 ; t his exact words. But he said something along the lines of, &quot ; I&#039 ; m so pleased to see that the city council is poised to take action to support the equal rights of all residents. That&#039 ; s what my faith teaches. And it&#039 ; s what most faiths teach.&quot ; And we were like sigh of relief. So for me it was a little bit symbolic and also very much personal religious decision to continue to be visibly Jewish through that time period. MF: Well, at the end I just want to thank you and give you the opportunity. Is there anything that you think we missed in this first oral history that you want to return to or something you want to say at the end of the interview today? AS: No. MF: No? Adrian, this is such a pleasure, I&#039 ; m so grateful that you took the time today. Thank you so much. AS: Thank you. Copyright for this oral history recording is held by the interview subject. video This oral history is made available with a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0). The public can access and share the interview for educational, research, and other noncommercial purposes as long as they identify the original source. 0

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“Adrian Shanker (Part 1), February 4, 2022,” Lehigh Valley LGBT Community Archive Oral History Repository, accessed April 19, 2024, https://trexlerworks.muhlenberg.edu/lgbt_oralhistory/items/show/52.