U.S. Senate candidate Malcolm Kenyatta makes final push for historic election

Days ahead of Pennsylvania's primary vote, theGrio interviewed Kenyatta, who is vying to become the nation's first openly gay Black senator.

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At only 31, U.S. Senate candidate Malcolm Kenyatta has had an impressive political career, thus far.

At 28, Kenyatta became one of the youngest lawmakers elected to Pennsylvania’s State House of Representatives after unseating a long-serving Democratic incumbent. He also became the legislative body’s first openly gay member of color.

Since assuming the role of state representative, Kenyatta has become a fierce advocate for the poor and the marginalized, delivering several fiery floor speeches on issues like voting rights, LGBTQ+ discrimination, raising the minimum wage, and workplace protections for frontline workers.

Pennsylvania State House Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (above) is running for U.S. Senate. He told theGrio he believes he’s already lost both parents because “they didn’t have the type of health care everybody deserves.” (Photo: Pennsylvania House)

Kenyatta served as a U.S. delegate for Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020 and was one of the first openly gay speakers to give a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.

Now, Kenyatta has his sights set on higher office as he seeks to be elected as the next U.S. senator for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. If victorious, he would become the state’s first African American and the nation’s first openly gay man to serve in the U.S. Senate.

As Kenyatta noted in a recent sit-down interview with theGrio, his candidacy has already broken barriers in politics: He is the first openly gay man in American history to be on a ballot for the Senate and only the second African American to seek the Democratic nomination in Pennsylvania. 

On Tuesday, May 17, Kenyatta will face lieutenant governor John Fetterman, who is seen as the front-runner in the race, and the establishment-backed U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb in the Democratic primary election.

The Senate candidate told theGrio that he wants to break “misconceptions about who is a viable candidate [and] what an electable candidate looks like.”

“If we’re ever going to have … any hope of fulfilling the fullness of the American promise, then you have to have the fullness of the American experience represented in rooms where big decisions are being made, particularly in the U.S. Senate,” said Kenyatta. 

Capitol building, Washington, DC. (Photo: Getty Images)

Kenyatta grew up in North Philadelphia, where he and his family navigated life in a community marred by the trappings of gun violence, poverty, plus a lack of quality schools and affordable housing. He told theGrio he believes he’s already lost both of his parents because “they didn’t have the type of health care everybody deserves.” 

Kenyatta recalled vocalizing to his mother, Kelly Kenyatta, his frustrations with the community as a child: “My mom said to me, ‘You know, boy, if you care so damn much, why don’t you go do something about it?'”

His lived experience and the words of his mother are what spurred him to get involved in his community as a youngster, becoming an activist and eventually a political consultant. Kenyatta said that same drive lives with him today as a state representative working to improve the lives of his constituents.

“This entire campaign has been about making what I call America’s basic bargain real for every family,” he told theGrio. But in order to fulfill his mission on a larger scale, Kenyatta believes he has to break through the doors of Congress. 

“The Senate is broken. On so many things that matter, it gets to the Senate and just dies,” he maintained, referring to major voting rights and police reform legislation that has been stalled in the Senate.

“I think Black folks are better, and we’re worth more than just a vote for the least worst white male millionaire. We can actually be in those positions ourselves,” Kenyatta told theGrio.

The young politician said his fight in the state legislature and now, his quest for the Senate, is personal: “I’m not just fighting for them. I’m fighting for myself and for the people that I love.”

Malcolm Kenyatta
U.S. Senate candidate, Pennsylvania State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta and his husband, Dr. Matthew Jordan Miller Kenyatta. (Photo: Malcolm Kenyatta for Senate)

Love was front and center for Kenyatta this year as he and his now-husband, Dr. Matthew Jordan Miller Kenyatta, tied the knot in an intimate wedding ceremony that was covered in The New York Times’ coveted Vows weddings section. The couple even received written personal congratulations from President Biden and former Secretary of State Clinton. 

Kenyatta said it was a “really special moment,” not just for him, but for queer children in need of seeing same-gender love be celebrated. Referencing the wave of laws being passed across the country targeting trans children in sports and outright banning discussions about sexuality and gender identity in classrooms, Kenyatta said LGBTQ+ youth are “under assault.”

“Being yourself in a world that’s telling you to be everything but that, it is a powerful thing to do,” he added. “There are folks who are watching who might have been on the fence about whether or not they could be open, about who they are, who now feel more comfortable doing so.”

Kenyatta expressed his concern for the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans, particularly after a leaked opinion draft revealed that the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn abortion rights nearly 50 years after the court ruled in Roe v. Wade that women and pregnant people have the fundamental right to privacy and the choice whether or not to terminate a pregnancy.

Kenyatta recalled getting the news alert about the leaked opinion while with his husband, to whom he turned and asked, “You know what’s coming next?”

The possibility of the Supreme Court overturning other precedents like marriage equality is “not just hyperbole,” said Kenyatta, who remembered U.S. Senator John Cornyn describing the landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide, as “overriding the will of the states and the people.”

Protesters hold pro-gay rights flags outside the U.S. Supreme Court on April 28, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Olivier Douliery/Getty Images)

Kenyatta said those comments and other decisions by conservatives and the Republican Party demonstrate that they want to “chip away at the basic freedoms and protections that all Americans should have.”

It’s why he believes now is the time for a change in the Senate in order to enact transformative legislation to protect the rights of “the most vulnerable and marginalized people.” 

Kenyatta told TheGrio he hopes Pennsylvanians will elect him to the Senate to “fight like hell for them every day.”

“This is a critical moment where so many things that sounded inconceivable, maybe even a year ago, are becoming reality,” he added. “And in this moment, we need to send our best fighters.”

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