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Pride Franklin County welcomes rural LGBTQ community

Pennsylvania organization planning October celebration



When Pride Franklin County held its first Pride celebration in 2018, it sought to address a lack of LGBTQ programming in rural southern Pennsylvania. Greeted by more than 1,000 attendees at its inaugural event, Pride Franklin County’s leadership was reassured the event was something the area not only wanted, but needed. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the local organization has once again sought to address community needs — in new and broadened ways.

Pride Franklin County operates under the Franklin County Coalition for Progress, a local social justice nonprofit that formed in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. “We live in a very rural, conservative area, but that election was a turning point all across the country,” explained Noel Purdy, a founder of Pride Franklin County and founder and president of FCCP.

“People came out of the woodwork who were worried about the LGBTQ community … and other populations that had experienced different forms of oppression in our community,” Purdy explained. This interest in supporting the local LGBTQ community led to a group of LGBTQ community members and allies leading the 2018 Pride celebration.

“We just really wanted to create a space where people know that they’re accepted, no matter who they are,” said Nathan Strayer, vice president of FCCP and a founder of Pride Franklin County. “We want people to know that you fit in. There are a lot of people here that are going to love you.”

But in 2020, at the peak of the event’s popularity — Strayer noted that upwards of 3,000 people attended Pride the year prior — Pride Franklin County had to cancel its programming in light of public health concerns. 

With the “momentum” it has going, Strayer explained that the organization did not want the pandemic to limit its ability to serve the Franklin County community: “ That’s when we really decided to make the entire initiative something bigger,” he said. “We’re not just here to throw a party.”

In 2021, the organization began advocating for a local non-discrimination ordinance codifying inclusivity for all community members, regardless of their identity. The Borough of Chambersburg Council, which represents the largest borough in the county, adopted the ordinance that fall — a major win for LGBTQ activists and allies in a rural Pennsylvania county that leans conservative socially and politically.

Yet, just months after the organization celebrated its achievement, new council members were elected in the borough in January 2022, and soon thereafter a majority of the council decided to repeal the non-discrimination ordinance.

While the ordinance’s revocation greatly disappointed Pride Franklin County, it also reminded its leaders and activists how much work was left to be done.

“From the growth of Pride to the pushback we’ve gotten from some of our elected officials here locally, it’s definitely lit a fire in us to continue pushing ahead so that we can truly make Franklin County an inclusive place for everyone,” Strayer emphasized.

This year, the organization launched its Franklin County Welcoming Project, which spearheads public displays of support to the LGBTQ community. In June, the organization received a media grant to create billboard and radio advertisements throughout the county advocating for inclusivity within the Franklin County community.

The organization also reached out to local businesses, providing them with custom decals to put in their windows after signing a pledge stating that they are a “diverse, inclusive, accepting, welcoming, safe space for all,” Strayer said, adding that, despite some initial hesitation, more than 100 local businesses signed the pledge and displayed the logo in their storefronts.

Pride Franklin County has also looked to meet the local demand for LGBTQ programming throughout the year while maintaining public health precautions. More recent projects have included mental health LGBTQ programming, community picnics, drag shows and a Taste of Pride food event. Strayer added that there has been significant demand from the community for more programming centering LGBTQ youth.

Purdy added that voting rights advocacy has become a center point of current efforts from the organization, as it hopes to educate the local community on the importance of their political involvement. “Hopefully, we’re inspiring more people to learn to pay attention more to what’s going on, and trying to understand the connection between policy and voting,” Purdy explained

While the process of founding a grassroots organization has come with obstacles, Purdy and Strayer both noted that the community response has been rewarding.

 “One thing that I’ve been surprised about is how you have this cultural context of being in a conservative area, thinking that that’s going to be a barrier to doing an event that supports the LGBTQ community, and that it’s going to be super controversial,” but ultimately receiving a positive reception from many community members and resources needed to keep the organization running, Purdy explained.

Getting Pride Franklin County up and running has “definitely been very emotional,” Strayer noted. When Strayer decided to come out in 1999, he turned to leaders in his school — a guidance counselor and principal — for advice, but he recalled them “both sitting down and looking at (him) like, ‘We don’t really know what to do,’” making him feel alone in a particularly important part of his life. But with Pride Franklin County, Strayer is “seeing how things are growing and changing.”

“There’s help out there for youth that are struggling with the same things I was struggling with,” Strayer said. “When I look back at when I was coming out, I thought, ‘This is never going to happen here.’ Seeing now that it is happening here, it’s just such an amazing feeling and it just gives me so much pride in my community.”

Pride Franklin County will host its Pride Festival 2022 on Oct. 9 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information can be found on the organization’s website at



Pennsylvania House passes LGBTQ rights bill

Measure faces uphill fight in State Senate



Pennsylvania Capitol building (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives on May 2 voted 102 to 98 to approve a bill calling for protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, marking the first time such legislation has passed in either the state House or Senate in the 47 years since similar bills have been introduced.

Supporters have said the outcome of the bill, called the Fairness Act, is uncertain in the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Senate, where the legislation is now headed.

“Today is a historic day, as we take a critical step to make Pennsylvania fairer,” a joint statement released by the six Democratic House members who were the bill’s lead sponsors.

“The Fairness Act is as simple as it is substantive,” the statement says. “H.B 300 would protect LGBTQ+ Pennsylvanians from facing discrimination and allow all individuals in the commonwealth to file complaints with the PA Human Relations Commission,” it says.

“Now, we call on the Senate to quickly consider and pass this legislation and send it to Governor Shapiro’s desk,” the statement concludes.

Only two Republicans joined 100 Democrats in voting for the bill, according to the Philadelphia Gay News. The PGN reports that GOP opponents, among other things, brought up arguments that the legislation would require women’s sports teams to allow transgender women to play on those teams.

The gay newspaper noted that Pennsylvania is the only state in the northeast that doesn’t have a statewide LGBTQ nondiscrimination law. It reports that on the local level, about 73 municipalities in the state have passed LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws, but almost 2,500 municipalities that make up about 65 percent of the state’s population do not have such laws.

At least 22 states and the District of Columbia have enacted LGBTQ rights laws. Although LGBTQ rights advocates have called on the other states, including Pennsylvania, to pass such laws, activists have also pointed out the landmark 2020 U.S. Supreme Court decision known as Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., ruled that LGBTQ people are protected under the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964.

That law bans discrimination in employment and other areas based on a person’s sex or gender as well as other factors such as race, religion, and ethnicity. In an action that surprised many legal observers, the Supreme Court ruling said LGBTQ people were protected under the sex or gender provision in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

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Suspect in Philadelphia transgender activist’s murder arrested in Nev.

Charles Mitchell accused of murdering Mar’Quis ‘MJ’ Jackson in December



Mar’Quis “MJ” Jackson (Family photo)

Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner announced Monday that U.S. Marshals had arrested the fugitive suspect in the murder of 33-year-old Mar’Quis “MJ” Jackson last December in North Philadelphia.

The District Attorney’s office said that Charles Mitchell, 40, was arrested over the weekend by a U.S. Marshals fugitive task force in suburban Las Vegas in Henderson, Nev.

Jackson, a Black activist and advocate in Philadelphia’s transgender community, was found deceased Dec. 14, 2022, when police responded to the 1800 block of Brunner Street where officers found his body facedown in the backyard of a home.

Jackson, according to the medical examiner’s office, had suffered blunt force trauma to his head along with scrapes, cuts and bruises to his hands and legs. The medical examiner ruled his death a homicide.

Philadelphia police detectives later identified Mitchell as a suspect in Jackson’s death. Mitchell has been charged with murder, abuse of corpse and tampering with evidence.

During a press conference in March, the District Attorney’s Office asked the public for help in finding Jackson’s killer and also raised awareness on violence towards other members of the city’s LGBTQ community, NBC affiliate WCAU 10 reported.

The Human Rights Campaign blog noted that Jackson’s death was at least the 37th violent killing of a trans or gender non-conforming person in 2022

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Zachary Kirchner was bullied and died: Mom sues Pa. school district

Gay teenager died by suicide after he was bullied



Zachary Kirchner (Photo courtesy of Kirchner's family)

On April 20, 2021, 15-year-old Zachary Joseph Kirchner decided he had enough of being bullied, teased, and being the object of ridicule at Red Lion Senior High School in southeastern York County, Pa. The action he took next has left a raw and deep never-healing wound in his family, and among his friends, as he died as the result of suicide.

In a lovingly crafted obituary by his grieving parents, the openly gay freshman high school student was described as “having an amazing smile and “he loved to make everyone laugh, even if you were having a bad day.” 

The entry went on to note that the teenager was high functioning on the autism spectrum and had dreams of attending UCLA because of their gymnastics program. “He was an amazing gymnast and loved skiing in the winter and riding roller coasters in the summer. His love for his family was deep and his kindness went beyond words.”

His family also pointed out Kirchner was a supporter of LGBTQ rights and believed that “everyone should be treated equally, no matter what your race, religion, or sexual orientation, may be. His life was cut tragically short when the bullying that he was being subjected to, became more than he could bear. His family wants everyone to know what a wonderful person this world has lost.”

Now nearly two years later his mother has filed a lawsuit, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg against the Red Lion Area School District, its staff and faculty, specifically school guidance counselor Jason Hoffman and the school’s resource police officer Marc Greenly, who has since retired from law enforcement, alleging they did not do anything to prevent the torment that led to her son’s suicide. 

In a court filing the York Daily Record reported, the boy’s mother, Hope Amspacher, alleges that that six students — identified only by their initials because they are minors — participated in bullying and abusing her son.

In graphic detail the court documents filing spells out that the 15-year-old hanged himself in the basement of his mother’s home last April, additionally the boy had also sliced his arm open.

It was his older brother, Matthew Kirchner, who found him.

Amspacher alleges alleges that the Red Lion School District staff responded to the teen’s abuse “with deliberate indifference.” The lawsuit also maintains that the six students named, “relentlessly harassed, belittled and broke down (Kirchner) by telling him to ‘kill yourself’ and/or for (Kirchner) to do a ‘charity’ for the (students) by committing suicide.” 

The freshman student at Red Lion High School had been diagnosed with being on the autism spectrum, high functioning and also suffered from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, oppositional defiance disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and an unspecified mood disorder. 

The York Daily Record also noted Kirchner came out as gay in eighth grade, leading to the six students named in the lawsuit publicly humiliating Kirchner and calling him a homophobic slur. Four of the students sent the teen text messages and messages over social media telling him to kill himself.

“What happened to Zach is obviously a tragedy,” Amspacher’s lawyer, Renee Franchi, told the paper. “It’s becoming far too common for this kind of atrocity to occur in our schools. We have to hold our institutions accountable to prevent this from happening to other children.” 

The Red Lion Area School District did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A study released this past summer by the Trevor Project showed that experiences of discrimination or physical threat or harm based on one’s sexual orientation and/or gender
identity created LGBTQ youth trauma-related symptoms leading to a more than three times greater odds of those youth attempting suicide.

“Experiences of discrimination, harassment and violence against LGBTQ youth can contribute to trauma symptoms, which can include feeling scared, anxious, or unsafe in the world, often. The data demonstrates that LGBTQ youth who reported high levels of trauma symptoms had more than three times greater odds of attempting suicide,” said Dr. Myeshia Price, senior research scientist at the Trevor Project.


If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, contact The Trevor Project’s TrevorLifeline 24/7/365 at 1-866-488-7386.

LGBTQ adults, as well as young people, can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or online at

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