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In rebuke to Brian Sims, Pa. LGBTQ leaders back his straight opponent

Critics say lieutenant guv candidate has alienated colleagues

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Critics of Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims say he has failed to pass legislation after 10 years in office. (Blade file photo by Wyatt Reid Westlund)

More than 40 LGBTQ leaders from across the state of Pennsylvania announced at a press conference on March 3 that they are endorsing one of two opponents of gay Pennsylvania State Rep. Brian Sims for lieutenant governor in the state’s May 17 Democratic primary.

The LGBTQ leaders, who held their press conference at Philadelphia’s William Way LGBT Community Center, said they were backing State Rep. Austin Davis in the lieutenant governor’s race on grounds that he is a strong and committed supporter of LGBTQ rights and has the best chance of winning in the general election in November. The move is a stunning rebuke to Sims, who has previously been endorsed by national LGBTQ groups, including the Human Rights Campaign and the LGBTQ Victory Fund.

Davis is a first-term legislator from Western Pennsylvania and, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, is relatively unknown outside of his part of the state. If elected, he would become the state’s first African-American lieutenant governor.

The LGBTQ leaders also announced their endorsement of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in his race for Pennsylvania governor in the Democratic primary. Shapiro announced earlier this year that he has endorsed Davis for lieutenant governor and considers Davis as his running mate in the May primary.

Both Davis and Shapiro, who is running unopposed for governor in the Democratic primary, attended the March 3 press conference. The two pledged to aggressively push for passage of a state LGBTQ rights bill and other LGBTQ supportive legislation in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

“I am humbled and grateful to have the support of so many leaders from LGBTQ+ communities from all across our commonwealth – and I am ready to continue fighting for them as Pennsylvania’s next lieutenant governor,” Davis said at the press conference. “Every Pennsylvanian’s rights should be protected under the law, and in Harrisburg, I have worked to protect LGBTQ+ rights and advance equality,” he said.

Among the LGBTQ leaders who either spoke at the press conference or indicated their support of Davis for lieutenant governor and Shapiro for governor were Abington Township Commissioner Lori Schreiber; former Philadelphia Human Relations Commission Executive Director Rue Landau; and Schuylkill County Stonewall Democrats founder Maria Sanelli. Milford Borough Mayor Sean Strub, who did not attend the press conference, is among the LGBTQ leaders who have endorsed the Shapiro-Davis ticket. Transgender activist and former Erie County School Board President Tyler Titus spoke and endorsed Shapiro. Titus, in a later email to the Blade, clarified that they endorsed Sims for lieutenant governor.

The decision by the LGBTQ leaders to back Davis over Sims — who became the second openly LGBTQ person to serve in the Pennsylvania General Assembly — will likely come as a surprise to LGBTQ activists outside of Pennsylvania, many of whom have supported Sims for re-election to his state House of Representatives seat representing Center City Philadelphia.

None of the LGBTQ leaders who spoke at the press conference in support of Davis said anything about why they thought Sims would not also be a strong supporter of LGBTQ rights as lieutenant governor.

The Philadelphia Gay News, whose publisher, Mark Segal, expressed strong support for Davis at the March 3 press conference, has published reports and opinion columns by local activists claiming Sims has an abrasive personality that has alienated fellow lawmakers and some in the LGBTQ community.

One commentator in the Philadelphia Gay News said Sims is known for traveling across the country as a public speaker and reportedly has fallen short in constituent services work in his district. The same commentator wrote that none of Sims’s legislative proposals have passed in the General Assembly during his decade in office.

Sims and his supporters have disputed these claims, saying they often come from those who disagree with him on specific issues before the legislature.

The LGBTQ Victory Fund, a national organization that raises money to help elect LGBTQ candidates across the country, has endorsed Sims in the lieutenant governor’s race.

“The LGBTQ community is not a monolith,” said Victory Fund spokesperson Elliot Imse. “We have varied priorities, interests and political beliefs, so it is unsurprising a handful of LGBTQ community leaders would support other candidates,” Imse told the Blade.

“Yet the majority of LGBTQ voters and community leaders are excited to elect Brian Sims as the next Lieutenant Governor of the Keystone State, and his fundraising numbers are all the evidence you need,” Imse said. “Pennsylvanians’ enthusiasm behind Brian’s historic candidacy is resounding.”

In response to a request for comment, Sims sent the Blade a statement responding to the LGBTQ leaders’ decision to endorse Davis rather than him in the lieutenant governor’s race.

“Fighting for LGBTQ+ equality has been the work of my life,” Sims said in his statement. “You don’t have to look further than the legislation I’ve introduced and sponsored over the last decade or my career prior to office to see that,” he said.

“Our community – like many other communities – is tired of being approached by allies for our votes only around election time when it’s most convenient,” he said. “We’re more than a set of photo opportunities and press conferences, and we deserve representation that will actually fight for our causes. We need elected officials who’ve stood with the community before the campaign season, and will still be here after election day,” he said. “That’s why I’m running for Lieutenant Governor.”

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Pennsylvania

Arrest made in connection with gay journalist Josh Kruger’s murder

Robert Davis is being held without bail

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Robert Davis, 19, was arrested and is being held without bail in the murder of gay journalist Josh Kruger in Philadelphia. (Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Police Department)

The suspect in the murder of openly gay journalist Josh Kruger, 39, was taken into custody Wednesday evening, a Philadelphia Police Department spokesperson confirmed.

Robert Davis, 19, of the city’s Point Breeze neighborhood, was arrested and is being held without bail.

On Thursday morning, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office said that they plan to charge Davis with murder, possession of instrument of crime, tampering with evidence and related offenses.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Davis sneaked through the window of his family’s South Philadelphia home Wednesday night after more than two weeks on the run and asked his brothers for help.

Davis’ older brother, Jaylin Reason, told the Inquirer his brother appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol and was acting erratically. While trying to calm Davis down, Reason said, they got into a fight. He realized, he said, that the best assistance he could offer his brother was helping him surrender to police.

“I didn’t want him to keep living outside and going around and doing something to put himself in a deeper hole,” he added.

Reason told the paper that he calmed Davis down, and then asked his other brother to call the police. Together, they went outside, sat on the steps, and waited for 17th District officers to arrive. Davis surrendered and was taken into custody.

In a series of interviews in early October with the Inquirer, Davis’ family told the paper that a years-long sexual relationship involving drugs factored into the murder. Davis’ mother, Damica Davis, and older brother are alleging Kruger commenced a sexual and drug relationship with the teenager four years ago when Davis was 15.

Damica Davis told the Inquirer that her son had been deceptive about the relationship with the journalist instead claiming that he was seeing an older white woman he had met online who worked for the government and the messages on his mobile from “Josh” he claimed were because “Josh” was the woman’s gay brother.

Reporting on the arrest, the paper noted that Reason said Davis had said he wanted to tell police everything, including the troubling details that he and Kruger had been in a sex and drug-fueled relationship since Davis was just 15. But Reason told his brother not to say anything to law enforcement officials until the family got him a lawyer.

Davis was arraigned on the charges Thursday afternoon. A preliminary hearing has been tentatively scheduled for Nov. 13.

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Pennsylvania

Philadelphia police issue arrest warrant for suspect in gay journalist’s murder

Josh Kruger killed inside home on Oct. 2

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An arrest warrant has been issued for 19-year-old South Philadelphia resident Robert Davis in the shooting death of journalist Josh Kruger. (YouTube screenshot from NBC News)

Lieutenant Hamilton Marshmond of the Philadelphia Police Department’s Homicide Unit told reporters on Oct. 6 that an arrest warrant has been issued for a 19-year-old man he said detectives believe was responsible for the shooting death of a gay journalist earlier in the week.

Marshmond stated that police are searching for South Philadelphia resident Robert Davis, who was acquaintance of 39-year-old Josh Kruger, who was found lying in the street outside his Point Breeze home on Oct. 2 suffering from seven gunshot wounds. Responding officers rushed Kruger to a nearby hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

Marshmond told reporters Kruger had been trying to help Davis, who was facing various troubles including homelessness.

“He was just trying to help him get through life,” Marshmond said.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Marshmond told reporters the motive for the killing remains under investigation, and it’s unclear how Davis got into Kruger’s home, which showed no signs of forced entry. He said video of Davis near the area at the time of the shooting, and tips from Kruger’s friends and family about their earlier interactions led investigators to him.

Davis’ last known address was on the 1600 block of South Ringgold Street, police said, just a few blocks from Kruger’s home on the 2300 block of Watkins Street.

Marshmond said Davis was known to police and had been arrested before, but declined to elaborate on officers’ earlier interactions with him. Court records show that Davis was arrested in August and charged with criminal trespassing and mischief, but the District Attorney’s Office withdrew the charges at a preliminary hearing the following month.

He warned that Davis “is considered armed and dangerous,” and that anyone who sees him should not approach him but instead call 911. Those who have information that could lead police to him are asked to call (215) 686-TIPS (8477). 

There is a $20,000 reward for information that results in his apprehension and arrest.

A celebration of life and tribute to Kruger has been scheduled for the afternoon of Oct. 29 at William Way LGBT Community Center.

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Pennsylvania

Person of interest in murder of gay Philadelphia journalist identified

Josh Kruger killed inside home on Monday

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Josh Kruger with his cat Mason (Facebook photo)

The Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that investigators have said that they have a person of interest in the murder of a gay journalist earlier this week but declined to release a name.

According to the Inquirer Philadelphia homicide investigators have identified a person of interest in the death of Josh Kruger, a journalist and advocate who was shot inside his home Monday.

Police are searching for a man — whom they declined to identify — who they believe may have information on what happened to Kruger, said Deputy Police Commissioner Frank Vanore. An arrest warrant has not been issued, he said, but detectives want to bring the man into custody and ask him some questions.

Vanore said investigators have not identified a motive for the killing, but they believe the shooter was someone Kruger knew.

“We don’t want to close any doors,” he told the Inquirer. “We’re working hard to try and fortify that person of interest.”

According to Officer Shawn Ritchie, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Police Department, 39-year-old Kruger was shot in his Point Breeze neighborhood home in the 2300 block of Watkins Street in South Philadelphia early Monday morning at about 1:30 a.m. He collapsed in the street after seeking help and was transported to Penn Presbyterian Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 2:13 a.m.

The Inquirer also reported that multiple law enforcement sources indicated that preliminary evidence and interviews indicate the killing may have been domestic in nature, or drug-related. The sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said the man police are searching for had previously broken into Kruger’s home and was struggling with drug addiction.

WHYY reported Kruger had written extensively with bylines in multiple publications, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia Magazine, the Philadelphia Citizen, WHYY and Billy Penn.

CBS News reported that Kruger overcame homelessness and addiction to work for five years in city government, handling Mayor Jim Kenney’s social media and serving as the communications director for the city’s Office of Homeless Services.

He left city government in 2021 to return to journalism, according to his website.

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