Women of Impact: Barbara Darkes

President, LGBT Center of Central PA

by M. Diane McCormick, Photography by Kelly Ann Shuler

Barbara Darkes


President, LGBT Center of Central PA

Barbara Darkes has had “the conversation” with some family members, the one where they say they’re worried about her safety and well-being since she and her wife came out. Don’t worry, she would say. Nothing has changed.

“We want to be able to say we’re both coming to Christmas dinner,” she says. “We just want to live our lives peacefully, and we do. We’re very lucky.”

Darkes is an attorney with McNees Wallace & Nurick LLC, Harrisburg, specializing in automotive and liquor-license issues. With “100-percent certainty,” Darkes knows that she won’t lose her job or miss opportunities due to her sexual orientation. That assurance instilled in her “an obligation to my peers to come out and to be an advocate in the community,” and it has brought her to the presidency of the LGBT Center of Central PA.

Darkes and her wife live in a home that their two grandchildren call “Grammyville.” They came out in 2012, finally lifting the burden of suppressing an open secret.

“We weren’t out with friends and co-workers, but we realized there were a lot of presumptions made, and it became clear to us that we were being accepted,” she says. “Once we were accepted, it made it easier to just freely live and express who we are.”

In seeking that expression for others, she believes that “half of the battle is understanding.” Increasingly, LGBT Center Executive Director Louie Marven responds to requests for training and education in workplaces and schools. Working with the board, Darkes is striving to strengthen the center’s network that already supports programs for youth, the aging, women and other LGBT residents in eight counties.

The center, which moved to its Midtown Harrisburg home in 2012, is meant as a safe and welcoming space, free from threats. Teens, especially, need that haven because “we all know those years can be pretty tough, and when there’s some part of you that knows you’re a little different, those years can be even tougher,” says Darkes.

Darkes has also served on the Dress for Success board and with legal establishment groups. As a board member and grants committee chair for the Foundation for Enhancing Communities, she encounters “a lot of folks who are doing a lot of great things.”

“This community afforded me the opportunity to have a profession and make a good living, and I feel a commitment to give back,” she says.

In the legal status of LGBT citizens, Pennsylvania is “farther along than a lot of folks would have thought,” she says. However, the misperception lingers that LGBT people have legal recourse against discrimination. In reality, freedom from discrimination for LGBT citizens “is not a protectable right in Pennsylvania. There is no court that can hear your case.”

“That’s all that is being sought,” Darkes says. “Fairness. This is the same battle that other minority groups have fought for decades. We want inclusion, basically to be treated fairly. It all leads to people being productive members of society. If you can’t work, it’s hard to be a productive member of society.”

As much as she loves the LGBT Center, she dreams of the day when “we will get to a place in this world that we don’t need places like this, when we don’t need a safe space for LBGT people because the whole world is safe. That is the ultimate goal, that we can all live as productive citizens and respect one another.”

This article appears in the July 2016 issue of Harrisburg Magazine