A historic election is brewing in one of Philadelphia’s most iconic, and queer, districts. Deja Lynn Alvarez, an activist and Co-Founder of Home For Hope, launched her campaign earlier this month and announced her run for State Representative for the 182nd district, which includes the iconic Philly Gayborhood. If elected, she would become the first out trans person elected to state office in Pennsylvania.
“I bring all of me into the state legislature,” Alvarez said. “I want to send this message to everybody who has ever felt that because of their life circumstance, because of where they come from … [that] they couldn’t do whatever it is that they wanted to do.”
Alvarez leads with tenacity and has received major endorsements from current State Rep. Brian Sims, former Congressman Bob Brady, and State Senator Sharif Street. She credits these endorsements to her deeply rooted mission of building bridges between people and groups that many wouldn’t expect for a person like herself. Her ultimate goal? Getting a seat at the table to demand change for the communities she’s a part of and for the people she saw struggling every day.
During the COVID-19 pandemic that approach included Alvarez launching a program to provide food and relief for undocumented immigrants in the Philadelphia area. She credits the bridges she built between herself and city leaders with getting much-needed institutional support for the program.
One of the more controversial bridges Alvarez built was between herself and law enforcement in her work as a consultant for the Philadelphia Police Department. She explains that a deeper look into her history reflects why she has taken advantage of the opportunity despite her previous history with local officers.
Alvarez experienced relentless harassment towards her and her trans friends by the Philadelphia Police in the 1990s and early 2000s. One night, she couldn’t take it anymore and stood up to a cruel police officer that frequently singled her out. The aftermath of her decision led to her getting put in the back of the cop car with the same officer who repeatedly threatened to take her life for her actions.
After that night she tried everything she could to hold that officer accountable, including trying to contact the press and eventually suing the police department and the city. Alvarez never backed down even in the face of city leaders threatening to tarnish her reputation if she didn’t drop the lawsuit.
“I just felt like our lives literally depended on it, and at some point you just have to say I am not going to take this anymore,” Alvarez shared. “Whatever happens to me happens to me, but I am going to go out fighting.”
Eventually, the city and Alvarez agreed on sensitivity training for police officers in that area. Alvarez made it clear that meaningful systemic change can not wait. In the meantime, however, she hopes that the work she does now with the police department will help LGBTQ people currently facing police abuse.
Alvarez’s platform is built on improving the quality of life for those in her district. In the midst and eventual aftermath of COVID, she centers on economic recovery for both people and small businesses as part of her main focus. This includes providing support to addicts and the homeless in her district, an issue close to home being she was once homeless herself. And finally, her platform includes being a champion for equity and equality, specifically in the form of statewide LGBTQ protections which are desperately needed.
Alvarez stated that “although there’s a map that divides up, a lot of times our issues shouldn’t divide us, our issues should bring us together. I hope that’s a message I can bring into the state legislature.”
Win or lose, Alvarez is driven to change the narratives surrounding trans people who run for office. This isn’t just a historic election for her but a declaration that people like her shouldn’t just be able to run for office but should be encouraged to do so.
“[The] life experiences of those who’ve had it the hardest, who have had to fight the hardest just to exist; Those are the voices and the experiences we need in politics,” said Alvarez.
Alvarez got serious when talking about what advice she would give to trans people running for office.
“Make sure you put your armor on, because you are going to take it from every direction,” she cautioned. “Focus on the positive and do not get caught up in the negative.”
With this hard truth, Alvarez alternatively talked about the joy that has come from inspiring unlikely supporters and writing her own story.
“Do not forget where you come from,” advised Alverez. “Don’t be ashamed of who you are. Don’t be ashamed of your experiences–what you’ve had to do to survive. Don’t be ashamed of any of that. Own that.”