State Rep Malcolm Kenyatta picked as PA LGBTQ+ Caucus’ one of two new leaders
Kenyatta of Philadelphia and Jessica Benham of Allegheny, are two of the caucus’ five openly out members, and the first out individuals to lead the group.
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The leader of the Pennsylvania Legislative LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus is handing the torch off to a new era of leadership more closely aligned with the group's identity. It’s the first time it’s happened since the group's founding in 2011, and its leaders are members of the LGBTQ+ community.
State Reps. Malcolm Kenyatta of Philadelphia and Jessica Benham of Allegheny County — two of five openly out members of the PA legislature — are now the co-leaders of the organization, replacing founder Rep. Dan Frankel of Allegheny County, and co-leader since 2020, Sen. Katie Muth.
“Back then, the best way I could think of to be an LGBTQ+ ally was to organize like-minded colleagues to work closely with equality-driven advocacy groups — we were drastically outnumbered, but LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians were depending on us to fight for them, to help keep them safe and free from discrimination,” Frankel said.
“Today, the best way for me to be an ally is to step aside and enthusiastically support the leadership of our LGBTQ+ lawmakers,” he added.
The Harrisburg-based group is a bipartisan caucus composed of members of the General Assembly who advocate and fight for equality for the LGBTQ+ community in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
“Pennsylvanians have steadily improved the diversity of the General Assembly, and each one of us should be advocating for a representative democracy,” Muth said. “It’s been a true honor to serve as chair, and I will never stop advocating for equality for our LGBTQ+ friends and neighbors, but nobody knows what’s best for a community than those within it.”
Founded in 2011 by Frankel, the caucus has grown in numbers and power as they fight opposition, and for the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals.
“With every election, the Democratic Caucus gets closer to truly reflecting the diversity of our state, and that representation contributes to stronger, better and more inclusive legislation for the commonwealth,” Frankel said. “I want to make sure that Pennsylvanians of every stripe know that legislators that they identify with are at the table.”
Some of Frankel’s important contributions include introducing the Fairness Act in 2000, which would provide civil rights protections to the LGBTQ+ community as a freshman legislator.
For the better part of a decade, Frankel has led many oppositions against GOP efforts to ban gay marriage, stop state universities from providing same-sex benefits, and interfere with the rights of LGBTQ+ parents.
He was instrumental in the passage of a bill in 2002 to provide hate crimes protections to LGBTQ+ people before the Commonwealth Court overturned it in 2008 because of a technicality.
Frankel and Muth have commended both Kenyatta and Benham for their rise in politics despite their short time in office, impressing enough to get the nod as the new co-leaders of the group.
“In their short time in office, they have both distinguished themselves as tough, determined and very smart – I’m excited to see those gifts on display in leadership roles,” Muth said.
Kenyatta, who has represented Philly’s 181st District since 2019, thanked Frankel and Muth as he and Benham are set to co-lead the organization, affirming their commitment to the cause, the community, and the issues hurting them.
“Representative Frankel has been invaluable in the ongoing fight to make Pennsylvania a fairer place for all, and I know that the LGBTQ+ community continues to have a fierce ally in Senator Muth in our fight for equal rights under the law,” Kenyatta said.
“To that end I’m thrilled to work with Representative Benham, a trailblazer and champion, as the next co-chairs of the Equality Caucus. This session, Harrisburg must finally deliver on long-delayed, non-discrimination protections, among other priorities — and we will work with both parties to get it done,” he added.
As for newcomer Benham, who has represented District 36 in Allegheny County since 2021, she said she hopes all the work done under Frankel and Muth will only help fuel their mission and get their legislative efforts onto the desk of Governor Josh Shapiro.
“Knowing that we will be joined by even more out members of the LGBTQ+ community in the House, I’m confident that this session will result in continued progress toward justice and look forward to fighting for much-needed change,” Benham said.