Protests in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on May 30, 2020, in the aftermath of George Floyd's death. Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley is organizing and supporting voters this election cycle. (Courtesy of Todd Watkins)

Lehigh Valley groups advocate for LGBTQ and Black rights this election season

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Lehigh Valley organizations are working to ensure minority voices are heard this election. 

The Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in Allentown and Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley have been working to educate voters as well as assist them to access the polls on Election Day. 

Adrian Shanker, founder and executive director of the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, said, since September, the center has reached out to over 2,000 Lehigh Valley LGBTQ+ citizens to advocate for, bring awareness to, and educate on their voting rights and options this year. 

The Bradbury-Sullivan Community Center is a nonpartisan organization. 

“LGBTQ+ voices matter because our dream of equity requires it,” Shanker said. 

Justan Parker, founder of the Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley chapter, said the current racial inequalities within the country are an important factor influencing the 2020 election. 

To promote more voter accessibility, Black Lives Matter Lehigh Valley has partnered with Lehigh and Northampton Transportation Authority (LANTA) to give out 50 free all-day bus passes on Election Day to allow citizens who otherwise could not commute to and from the polls to do so. 

“We vote because our civil rights have historically not been guaranteed, they have been fought for,” Shanker said. “LGBTQ+ civil rights are still not settled in this country. We still have many things that hold our community back.”

Parker said the current lack of acknowledgement of systemic racism within the country by the current president is a pressing issue for all people, but specifically Black and brown citizens. 

“What is motivating a lot of (Black Lives Matter) members to vote is that this is really a life or death election,” he said.

International students in the United States is another group that feels the repercussions of American politics but cannot take part in the selection of national and local leaders. 

Giovanna Zamora, ‘21, an international student from São Paulo, Brazil, said her inability to participate civically within the U.S. is frustrating. 

Zamora said her livelihood in the United States is in the hands of American voters.

“The main repercussions for international students relate to immigration policies and xenophobia,” Zamora said. “As a non-voter, it is hard to not feel powerless, as the only thing I can really do is research facts, educate myself on topics and spread information I believe is truthful.” 

Shanker said every social issue is interconnected to affect nearly every type of person. He said marriage equality, reproductive freedom and access to health insurance are all issues that affect the majority of the American population, including all LGBTQ+ citizens. 

Parker said there has been little demographic evolution within politics, as we again are presented with two old, white men as presidential candidates. 

However, Parker said he will be voting for Biden. 

“I identify as a Black, gay male,” he said, “With regards to Trump and his stances, I don’t feel comfortable one, as a Black man in America, and two, as a gay man in America.”

Both Shanker and Parker said getting out to vote, either by mail or in-person, is a civic duty. Voting gives us the power to emphasize the issues that are important to us, allowing us to make our voices heard, they said. 

The two advocates stressed the significance of not just voting in the presidential election, but every election, both local and national. 

“This (voting) is not the only tool to make change, this is one tool in our toolbox of change,” Shanker said. 

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