Central PA's LGBT News Source

Championing efforts for many

Changing hearts and minds

Posted

For Lehigh County Commissioner Amy Zanelli, “protection and discrimination issues” are top priorities. She was instrumental in bringing equal rights legislation and job protection for the LGBT community to Lehigh County last February when Lehigh County Executive Phil Armstrong signed two administrative notifications enhancing county-level LGBT non-discrimination protections.

The first notification clarified the county’s own employment policy. The second mandates that county contractors and grantees also comply with the non-discrimination requirement.

Originally from Northern New Jersey, Zanelli is a licensed real estate agent who took office this year. She lives with her wife Angela and their three children in West Bethlehem.

She is a Rutgers University graduate with an extensive human services background that includes working with substance abuse, mental illness, parent education, and in-home family counseling, as well as child abuse investigation and serving as a safe space liaison for LGBTQ youth. Currently, Zanelli is a mentor for troubled youth with Allentown’s Tabor Mentor Services and as a volunteer at Calypso Elementary School, Bethlehem.   

“We raise our three kids completely out in the open here in Bethlehem,” Zanelli tells The Central Voice. “We have helped change hearts and minds here at our local elementary school and that was part of what gave us the courage to run.” All five of her family were featured on her election materials and they attended all events together.

“This is my first elected office, but we made history as the first out county-level official anywhere in the Lehigh Valley, not just Lehigh County,” Zanelli explains.

She won her commissioner seat by the widest margin of all candidates elected. “We had the highest voter turnout,” she says, with several polls upwards of 30%, the highest at 34%.

Zanelli says “Aspirations may not be the best word” to describe why she ran.

“Running was something I was asked to do because the other players were seen as unfit. If the opportunity presents itself to run for higher office and I feel I am best suited to do that job, then I will consider it,” she said.

Both Zanelli and her wife Angela were ‘out’ before she ran for public office. “We were the lesbian PTA parents!” she exclaims.

“So far, I have been received very well by my elected peers from both sides of the fence,” Zanelli says. She partly attributes her acceptance to her campaign performance.

“I won 62% of the vote in a three-way primary against two very established male opponents who had held office before, and took even better numbers in the general,” Zanelli explains. She has “reached out” to her fellow commissioners and “built relationships”. “I have great respect for all members of my board, and they know that.” 

What’s life like for Zanelli behind the scenes?

“Being ‘out’ in politics has taken me out of my comfort zone,” Zanelli says, in testament to the adage that one never stops coming out. “By nature, I am an introvert.” While she was always active behind the scenes, “going from organizing a rally to speaking at it was new territory that took getting used to,” Zanelli says.

By her own description, Zanelli say “I’m the nerdy girl who would rather stay home and play board games with close friends on a Friday night.” Then she found herself “speaking at protests and hosting panel discussions.”

Why break out?

“I took that leap because I knew the face of politics needed to change not only in the Lehigh Valley, but also across the country,” Zanelli says. “I channeled the energy of some of my favorite heroines, like Clara Lemlich, The Notorious RBG, and Joan of Arc.”

Central Voice asked Zanelli What is your greatest joy?

“Knowing that I have taught my kids how to reach out and shape their world, not just to be passive observers, but to make a difference,” she concludes.