Interviews & Profiles

Philly’s Deja Alvarez plans to shake things up in Harrisburg

Deja Alvarez

Deja Alvarez Patrick Hagerty

In a little over a year’s time, Philly’s Deja Alvarez could disrupt the status quo in Harrisburg in a big way.

Not only would she bring a rare public health background to Harrisburg at a time when the state is still trying to crawl its way out of a pandemic, but Alvarez would also be the first transgender Latina Pennsylvanian ever elected to the General Assembly.

If her history-making campaign for the 182nd House District proves successful, Alvarez plans to bring a fresh voice and new perspectives to a legislative body that, she says, is in desperate need of a new outlook on how to craft policy. 

Alvarez is open about her past. She came to Philadelphia in the early 1990s and had to scrap her way through personal struggles. 

“I'm someone that has experienced a lot of what people talk about in the city. I've experienced homelessness. I've experienced drug use and all the other things that come with being someone who didn't have access to resources,” Alvarez told City & State. “Back then, nobody was really hiring transgender people, so my life wasn't always easy. I think that gives me a different perspective than most politicians that we usually see, because I tell people I'm not really a politician. I'm just someone that ended up getting into politics.”

Alvarez currently works as the director of community engagement at World Healthcare Infrastructures, a Philadelphia nonprofit focused on providing food, social services and health care to those with HIV/AIDS. She is also an LGBTQ care coordinator for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, co-president of the Women’s March on Philadelphia and a trainer and educator for the city’s Transgender Training Institute.

And while Alvarez has served on several Philadelphia-based panels, including the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office’s LGBTQ Advisory Board and Mayor Jim Kenney’s Commission of LGBT Affairs, she has her sights set higher – on Harrisburg. She’s looking to replace outgoing state Rep. Brian Sims (known for his own historic election as the first openly gay man elected to the state House of Representatives) and bring her own dedication to LGBTQ issues to the state level. 

Alvarez never intended to get into politics; but realized that her advocacy work frequently overlapped with public policy. After initially thinking she didn’t fit the mold for public office, she had a change of heart. 

“I just never thought of myself of becoming one of the people to run for office because I had this idea in my head … that you had to come from a certain background, then be of a certain kind of breed and have lived a certain type of life in order to be a politician,” she said. “And then at some point, I realized that actually is the wrong train of thought and that's how we have ended up with a lot of what we [have] today, because we have too many people that are creating legislation – pushing legislation – for issues that they really don't have any experience in and so they don't understand what actually needs to be done.

“I think having a voice that understands marginalization to the degree that I do is definitely a voice that's missing,” she said. “And it's a voice that's needed.”

LGBTQ advocates in Pennsylvania say they haven’t seen the progress they have hoped for in terms of advancing LGBTQ-inclusive legislation in recent years. Advocates, as well as a bipartisan collection of lawmakers, have attempted to advance nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ residents, but the proposal has stalled in multiple legislative sessions. Efforts to ban conversion therapy and to expand hate crimes laws to protect LGBTQ individuals have struggled to gain traction. Meanwhile, some lawmakers have floated a proposal that prohibits transgender student-athletes from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity.

Sean Meloy, vice president of political programs for the LGBTQ Victory Fund, said the election of Virginia Delegate Danica Roem in 2017 – the first transgender person to be seated in a state legislature in the U.S. – has inspired more transgender candidates to run for office. Meloy said if Alvarez wins in 2022, she could have the same impact in the commonwealth. 

“It inspired many other trans candidates to step up and run, not only for state legislature, but for all offices,” Melloy said of Roem’s victory. 

“There's probably a lot of Republican legislators, and probably some Democrats, who have never met a trans person in Harrisburg,” Meloy said. “It's easy to other someone who is not in the chamber with you, or is a minority that is far, far away – 100 miles away, right? I think that [Alvarez] would definitely help change hearts and minds.”

Sims, who is running for lieutenant governor and not seeking to regain his seat in the legislature, has endorsed Alvarez to succeed him. “The history that Deja is going to make as a candidate – as a proud, trans woman running for the House of Representatives in Pennsylvania – isn't lost on any of us. It is certainly not lost on me,” Sims said at Alvarez’s campaign launch event. “There is one thing and one thing I want in my future. I want to be represented by Representative Deja Lynn Alvarez.”

Alvarez said there’s no shortage of issues she wants to address as a state representative. She pointed to a complex, interconnected web of issues – homelessness, housing insecurity, addiction, poverty and gun violence – as some of the most pressing concerns facing her community. She said the state needs to unleash federal aid dollars to support educational programs that will direct people to good-paying jobs and also cut down on gun violence. She also stressed the need to help businesses still struggling from the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.