Deja Lynn Alvarez is running to represent PA’s 182nd district in Harrisburg.   Harrison Brink/ALDía News
Deja Lynn Alvarez is running to represent PA’s 182nd district in Harrisburg. Harrison Brink/ALDía News

Deja Lynn Alvarez is ready to fight all the way to the PA state capital

The longtime Philly activist used to laugh at people who suggested she run for office. Now she has Harrisburg in her sights.


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Deja Lynn Alvarez is running to become the first openly transgender Latina member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in the 182nd District. 

Alvarez is one busy and celebrated woman. She currently serves as the Director of Community Engagement for World Healthcare Infrastructures and the LGBTQ Care Coordinator for the Department of Public Health. 

In 2018, Alvarez was given the Community Playmaker Award from The Philadelphia Flyers and Walmart, an award that recognizes people across the Tri-State area who are making a difference in their communities. 

In 2014, she was given the Community Advocacy award by the I Am Human Campaign and in 2016, was awarded the LGBTQ Person of the Year by The Philadelphia Gay News. 

Alvarez didn’t slow down during the pandemic. Having experienced transphobia, hunger, homelessness and police harassment, she is not one to ignore the suffering of others. 

Pandemic food relief

When the pandemic hit, she created an emergency food distribution program for those experiencing food insecurity. 

Alvarez told AL DÍA that the program had humble beginnings, but organically grew into something much bigger. It began because one of her good friends is Brian Sims, the current state representative for the 182nd District, comprising all of Center City. 

Sims sent Alvarez a food box from a place called Giordano’s Produce. It contained fruit, vegetables, eggs, cheese and milk. As Alvarez was at home going through the box, the idea of distributing food to undocumented immigrants occurred to her. 

“I’m never one to just jump on the bandwagon. If I see somebody else is already doing the work, great, that’s already being done. Let’s find another area to focus on so that we can tackle more things at one time,” Alvarez said. 

“So I’m going through the box, and I was like ‘wow, I can break this box down and give it to two different families.’ So that’s what I did. I started doing that,” she continued.

“So I’m going through the box, and I was like ‘wow, I can break this box down and give it to two different families.’ So that’s what I did. I started doing that,” she continued. 

Then Alvarez got her friends involved, and they started buying boxes from the produce store too. Soon enough, she started asking for donations on social media and people started sending money, allowing Alvarez to buy the boxes in bulk. 

Every time she would post online about the progress, what she bought, and how she broke down the boxes, the need kept growing. Alvarez would receive messages from people who lost their jobs and don’t have any means to buy food or baby formula. 

Eventually, the friends she made over the years with City Council members, state representatives and senators were able to connect Alvarez with a local food distribution center, called Share.

“So next thing I know I went from going grocery shopping every day to every Tuesday, they  were bringing a truck. Well, at first we were going to pick up the stuff. And then eventually it got to the point where they would send a big truck and drop off 10 pallets of food every week,” Alvarez said. 

Alvarez led a food relief delivery service during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Courtesy Deja Lynn Alvarez
Sex work to advocacy

Alvarez looks back on her past struggles with a sense of gratitude and purpose. While she is not religious, she feels that the universe has guided her along the way. 

“And that has helped me get through so many situations that could have potentially broken me. Because I always have that in the back of my head, that as hard as this is right now, I know that I’m going to come out the other side of this and there’s going to be a reason for it,” she said. 

When Alvarez first moved to the Gayborhood and was unable to find a steady job, she became a sex worker and was often harassed by police for simply walking down the street. Late one night in the early 2000s, Alvarez and a friend were hassled by an officer after leaving a bar. 

She decided to fight back, and Philadelphia police later agreed to conduct mandatory sensitivity training for officers in the area. This was the start of her advocacy for the LGBTQ community. 

Alvarez likes to identify herself as more of an advocate rather than an activist because she chooses to work closely with government officials and the police rather than fighting against them. 

“The system affects different marginalized communities, no matter how hard we’re fighting from the outside. Who is on the inside making sure that the ones who are currently dealing with these systems while we’re trying to fight them from the outside...who’s in there making sure that they’re okay?” Alvarez said. 

She feels that there’s enough people doing all the “screaming and yelling” and activism from the outside, and feels blessed to have the “gift of gab” and emotional intelligence that allows her to amplify community voices in a way that gets heard in spaces where important decisions are being made. 

Alvarez embodied the quote from famous Persian poet Rumi, “raise your words, not voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder.” 

Alvarez ran in a crowded field for Philadelphia City Council in the 2019 Democratic primaries.  Harrison Brink/ALDía News
A bridge builder

There are a lot of people in the LGBTQ community that look down upon Alvarez or talk badly about her because of her close relationships with the police department. 

“Those relationships are so that at three o’clock in the morning, when an undocumented person is robbed and they’re too afraid to call the police; they can call me or come here and then I can contact the police. Then there’s an open line of communication, trying to get it figured out,” Alvarez said. 

“There’s a change being made from the inside, while there’s also a push from the outside to make change. So everybody has their place. I feel like that’s what the universe decided I was supposed to do, and I take a beating for it. But I can sleep better at night knowing that I’m helping,” she continued. 

Alvarez never saw herself running for office, but she was a natural at developing rapport and strong relationships with city officials. When people would suggest the idea, Alvarez would find it humorous. She didn’t think that someone like her, who has done sex work, battled with substance use issues could ever fit the mold. 

But she started telling herself a new story, one where her past did not define her future, and one where her possibilities were endless. Any space that required an authentic leader with lived experiences of issues facing Philadelphia residents was a space that she belonged in. 

A successful first race

In 2019, she ran for City Council At-Large, and even though she didn’t win, she placed in the top 10 out of almost 50 candidates.

“And no one expected that. No, but that’s OK. Not only did I place in the top 10, but I did it with no money,” she said. 

“And no one expected that. No, but that’s OK. Not only did I place in the top 10, but I did it with no money,” she said. 

Even now, in the race for State Representative, Alvarez is still working two jobs, and raising funds is not easy. But she holds a lot of confidence in her campaign team full of powerful, dedicated women of different races, religions, and sexual orientations. 

“[There’s an] incredible dynamic among us because we’re all fighters. We’re not gonna be afraid in any room. We’re not afraid to come up against any person. While at the same time, we have to be careful where we step. Because we want to build relationships; we want to build bridges, not burn them,” Alvarez said. 

If Alvarez were to be elected as the first openly transgender and Latina woman to represent the 182nd District of Philadelphia, she would feel “beyond amazing.”

She said that she wants to win, but even if she doesn’t, it would still be worth it, because of the impact she made. 

The morning after Alvarez announced her race for City Council, which led to a giant party and media coverage, she received a call from a young, Black single mother, who told Alvarez that seeing her campaign announcement increased her self-worth and made her rethink what is possible to achieve in her life. 

“And I’m just crying on the phone with her because that meant everything to me. And this was not a trans woman. This was not someone from the community. This was someone from a different community, but also very marginalized for many different reasons. And so they saw something, you know? Well, if she can do it, I can do it,” Alvarez said. 

Alvarez has made a career of building bridges between Philly’s marginalized communities and its institutions of power.  Courtesy Deja Lynn Alvarez
Keep inspiring

Alvarez wants to continue to inspire people to do their best with what they have, especially since she had a very important mentor when she was in a bad place mentally. 

Alvarez went through a suicide attempt and while receiving treatment at the Rockford Center, she was guided by a woman who was teaching English at the center. 

“There was a teacher in there that could see what everybody else could see: that I’m different. But she was compassionate and loving about it. There was something about the way that she spoke to me, dealt with me, and comforted me that made me change my mind about not wanting to live. So when I came out of there, I never attempted suicide again, and now she happens to be the First Lady of the United States,” Alvarez said. 

It’s as if Alvarez really was destined to be a political leader. 


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