Person of the Year 2016: Deja Lynn Alvarez

Person of the Year 2016: Deja Lynn Alvarez

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Whether it’s providing support for homeless LGBT people, connecting those in need with services or speaking out against injustice, Deja Lynn Alvarez has made a mark on the LGBT community this year.

“Deja Lynn Alvarez is a tireless advocate for LGBTQ people throughout Philadelphia,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement to PGN. “Her dedication to the most vulnerable and marginalized among us reflects her passion and commitment to the service of Philadelphians. Philadelphia is a better city for having incredible people like Deja here and dedicated to working with and for us all.”

Home for Hope 

Alvarez’s primary work in the LGBT community is as the director of the LGBTQ Home For Hope. The home, which changed its name from The Divine Light LGBTQ Wellness Center earlier this year, is the first shelter in Pennsylvania to specifically serve LGBT individuals. Home for Hope celebrated its first anniversary in September. 

Sakina Dean, the owner of Home for Hope, had the vision of opening a shelter for LGBT people last year and shared the vision with Alvarez. 

“We went through the building and [Alvarez] was just amazed,” Dean said. “And she said, ‘Listen, I’m on board however I can assist you with this. I want to be a part of this.’” 

Alvarez came on board as the director in November 2015. Among her responsibilities, she oversees residents and the facility, provides formal and informal counseling and leads fundraising. The organization is supported by donations but Alvarez often buys food and other supplies out of her own pocket.

“I needed someone who wanted to do this from the heart and work with me when we were able to get on our feet and she did that,” Dean said. “She has been dedicated. She’s been advocating. She’s been a fighter for the people. I feel confident that I can sleep at night knowing that somebody loves just as much as I do.”

Dean mentioned that Alvarez’s willingness to sacrifice her own finances says “so much about a person’s character.” She called Alvarez a “hero” and “a beautiful woman.”

“All of our ladies, especially from our trans community, look up to her because she is a vision of hope,” Dean said. “She came from right where they are coming from now and look at the accomplishments that she has done. She’s a gift. She’s my gift and I’m just gracious and very grateful to have her.” 

Alvarez’s work was recognized by DVLF, which named her the Individual HERO at the organization’s 10th-annual HERO Awards in April. Additionally, Home for Hope received the Urban Initiative Award in July from Philly Urban Fashion Weekend for its approach to combating LGBT homelessness.

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ALVAREZ GIVING MEMBERS OF U.S. SEN. BOB CASEY'S STAFF A TOUR OF HOME FOR HOPE

Helping others in the city 

Dean said “there’s so much more to come” in regard to Home for Hope but, until then, Alvarez has also kept busy working in other areas of the LGBT community.

“She’s everywhere,” said Anthony Cubbage, Alvarez’s and Dean’s assistant at Home for Hope. “If there’s a need for somebody that’s hurting or in any kind of pain, she’s there. She doesn’t turn people away. If one door is closed, she’s going to go through another door.”

One of the doors Alvarez went through this year was at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, where she began working as one of eight assistant-prevention navigators in May. In this position, Alvarez meets with LGBT people remotely and in her office at the Municipal Services Building to explore their barriers to receiving care prior to helping them access medical services and appointments.

“The idea is about preventative services and remodeling what prevention looks like,” Alvarez told PGN in April. “Prevention is not just about giving out condoms anymore. It’s someone’s whole well-being.”

Alvarez said her first priority with new residents at Home for Hope is evaluating their health needs. She described her city position as what she was “already doing but just in an official capacity.”

Prior to the city title, Alvarez told PGN she previously relied on contacts within city departments. The new role allowed her to more efficiently help community members navigate the system, she said.

“It’s going to allow me to connect more people to resources,” Alvarez told PGN. “

Speaking out against injustices

Alvarez has also been involved with speaking out against racism, homophobia and transphobia in the community. 

“You never have to wonder what Deja’s thinking because she will tell you,” said Nellie Fitzpatrick, director of LGBT Affairs. 

In July, Alvarez helped organize a counter-protest outside of the Mazzoni Center against anti-LGBT group Westboro Baptist Church. 

“This shows the community,” Alvarez told PGN. “This represents the community in all its different facets. There’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning, non-binary — a little bit of everybody is here. And it shows the community is finally coming together when it comes to trans issues.”

Alvarez also spoke at a Pennsylvania Youth Congress gathering at the Capitol Building in Harrisburg in June. She was one of several advocates who voiced support for comprehensive LGBT-nondiscrimination legislation. She was clear that she would not support legislation that excludes public-accommodations protections for transgender people.

“The public accommodations would impact the trans community more so than any other,” she told PGN. “[Without them], we’re basically handing a license to any establishment in Pennsylvania to openly discriminate against us.”

Additionally, Alvarez helped organize an October meeting at the African American Museum addressing racism.

“The best path towards unity is going to be an open line of communication so everyone feels as though their voices are heard,” she told PGN. “That’s part of the problem: People feel as though their voices are not being heard through all this.”

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ALVAREZ WITH HOME FOR HOPE FOUNDER SAKINA DEAN OUTSIDE THE FACILITY

What’s next? 

Alvarez continues to raise funds for a new furnace at Home for Hope through a GoFundMe page (https://www.gofundme.com/lgbtqhomeforhope). As of presstime, the page has raised more than $44,000, which is beyond the $42,500 goal.

Cubbage said it is an honor to know Alvarez and is encouraged by what he believes she will continue to accomplish.

“In the future, I believe she’s going to do some great work,” Cubbage said. “I believe that she’s going to help LGBTQ people outside of Philadelphia. [Her work] is the beginning of something that she is going to take across the United States and to other countries. I see this blowing up big and I see her spearheading it.”


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