State Representative Candidate Fights Back Against Claims She Is Anti-LGBTQ
WILKES-BARRE — A conservative candidate for state representative maintains she supports the LGBTQ community despite her past public statements against gay marriage.
Sue Henry, who is running as a Republican for state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski’s seat in the 121st Legislative District, recently identified Wilkes-Barre Council Chairman Tony Brooks as her campaign chairman in a post on her campaign’s Facebook page.
A reader questioned how Brooks, who is openly gay and married, could support Henry, whom the reader alleged has spoken out against gay marriage on her former talk radio show on WILK.
Henry and Brooks agreed to meet with The Citizens’ Voice to discuss gay marriage, other LGBTQ issues and their decision to work together to get Henry elected this November.
Asked about her past and current views, Henry confirmed she did speak against gay marriage several years ago.
“I was on the radio for 16 years. Of course I said a lot of things in public and, because of my Catholic upbringing, I followed the leadership of the church, as did other people in public life,” Henry said, pointing to several elected officials who at one time opposed same-sex marriage but no longer do.
Henry specifically named former presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, the latter of whom she noted signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996; Obama’s vice president, Joe Biden; former U.S. Sen. and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; and Dick Cheney, vice president under George W. Bush.
“When the Supreme Court made their decision in 2015 (declaring same-sex marriage a constitutional right), that became the law of the land, and I am not about to go against the law of the land,” Henry said.
“I respect the opinion of the Catholic Church, of course, and I will do nothing to interfere with what they have to say, and I will do nothing to interfere with what the Supreme Court had to say,” she continued.
Asked if she agrees with the opinions of the Catholic Church on gay marriage, Henry replied: “It would be something that someone who is a practicing Catholic, they obviously should follow the teachings of the church — in the Catholic Church — for Catholics. Outside the Catholic Church, I’m fine.”
Henry said she has attended marriage celebrations of same-sex individuals, “so it’s not like I’ve avoided them. I missed Tony’s wedding, sadly, because I had another commitment,” she said.
“This to me looks like it was somebody who was pretty selective in what they said,” Henry said of the reader who suggested Brooks was being hypocritical in supporting her.
Henry added she’s “fully supportive” of the gay community.
“I have attended many events in Northeast Pennsylvania that the Rainbow Alliance sponsors. And the picnic in Kirby Park, I was there last year. In fact, I saw Tony there with his dog,” Henry said.
Henry also weighed in on pending legislation that would affect the LGBTQ community, including the Pennsylvania Fairness Act, which would ban discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodation against anyone based on their sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.
Henry said she’s aware several Pennsylvania cities — including Wilkes-Barre and Scranton — have passed local versions of the act, and the act has bipartisan support in the Legislature, “including support from Scott Wagner, who is the Republican candidate for governor.”
“I did look at it and there’s nothing in it that would seem to preclude it from passing. I know there are some people who are obviously holding it up, but I did take a look at it and it seems reasonable,” she said.
Opponents of the bill have complained it would allow transgender people to use bathrooms or locker rooms for people of the opposite sex.
“Wherever it’s been passed — Wilkes-Barre, Scranton — I haven’t seen a news story where that’s been an issue,” Henry said. “So it seems to me, it doesn’t seem to bring that kind of heat with it.”
She said she would co-sponsor the bill if asked.
Henry said she would “absolutely” support House Bill 505, which would add LGBTQ people as a protected class under the Pennsylvania Hate Crimes statute.
Henry said she doesn’t know enough about House Bill 1177 to speak on it at this time. The bill would ban the use of so-called “conversion therapy” on minors to try to change their sexual orientation.
“It seems ridiculous on its face that you wouldn’t have protections like that, but the devil is always in the details. I would have to know more about the legislation and the way it’s written,” Henry said.
Pashinski said his position on all LGBTQ issues can be summed up as “live and let live.”
Pashinski is a co-sponsor of the Pennsylvania Fairness Act, and he indicated he would support legislation that protected the rights of LGBTQ individuals.
From W-B to Harrisburg
Henry said she came to know Brooks through his work with historic preservation and promotion of the importance of the history of the Wyoming Valley.
“Then, I did follow his political aspirations very closely because Republicans in this area don’t usually have much to cheer about during the election season. Though when Tony announced he would like to try to become a city councilman, he pulled off something that hadn’t been pulled off in 32 years,” Henry said, noting that city council had a solid Democrat contingency for decades.
After Brooks was elected to council in 2015, Henry said he asked her to help get the word out about forming neighborhood organizations in Wilkes-Barre.
“So I have been following his career for a long time, and I respect and admire what he’s done for the city,” Henry said. “It’s sometimes thankless work that he does, but he does it while remaining positive about the city and it’s refreshing and it’s something I would actually like to emulate in this campaign — to try to focus on things that are positive.”
Henry noted Wilkes-Barre is facing financially distressed status.
“What has been done by state officials who are in office about that? What’s been done? We don’t know.
“So I think working closely with the president of Wilkes-Barre city council is a wonderful opportunity for somebody who aspires to state office and might be able to be a voice in Harrisburg for Wilkes-Barre, which desperately needs a voice in Harrisburg. It needs somebody to champion it and to work on the structural deficit that the city has,” she said.
Brooks said he and Henry “forged a friendship over a common cause of historic preservation over the last 10 years.”
He said Henry asked him to be her campaign chairman because her top three issues as a state representative are the same as his top three issues as a councilman — property taxes, the opioid epidemic and neighborhood quality-of-life issues.
As for supporting a conservative for the state Legislature?
“The gene that makes you gay is not the same gene that makes you a tax-and-spend liberal Democrat,” Brooks said.
He added he was not familiar with Henry’s statements on gay issues when she had her show because he wasn’t a regular listener, and those views are in the past.
“It’s who I know now,” said Brooks.
“Why do you let an ideology think for you? People should think for themselves on how they come to their view of an issue. And to let an ideology think for you, to let a church think for you, to let the government think for you is abhorrent to the critical thinking skills that we learned in college,” Brooks said.
“I think for myself, and I know by far the majority — 60 percent or more of Americans — think for themselves.”
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