Newly appointed Director of LGBT Affairs Amber Hikes spoke at a press conference prior to the first Commission on LGBT Affairs public meeting. Mayor Jim Kenney and Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds-Brown introduced Hikes to the public in the Mayor’s Reception Room Thursday.
Kenney welcomed Hikes’ to her former home of Philadelphia from Southern California, where she was the director of the Upward Bound program. The mayor also outlined the goals of the new commission, which had 21 of its members in attendance during the press conference.
“This body represents the diversity of our city as well as the many voices and experiences in the LGBT community,” Kenney said. “I am confident this group will work with Amber in her office and provide our administration with ways to increase LGBT community access. They will also assist Amber with bringing vital LGBT community needs to the attention of city agencies and helping those agencies develop ways to address those specific needs.”
Reynolds-Brown said Hikes is “well-equipped to lead this office” and is not afraid to speak directly with communities.
“We can’t do our job by sitting behind our desk,” Blondell-Reynolds said. “That’s not where the real work happens. We have to be willing to go to the front lines of this community and talk eyeball to eyeball to those who are most negatively impacted and mistreated.”
Hikes thanked Kenney, Reynolds-Brown and the people in the audience for their attendance.
“I just need to take a breath now because this is a moment I’d never thought I’d experience,” Hikes said, drawing applause from the audience.
“I’m humbled especially to be standing on the shoulders of giants who served this position before me: Michael Hinson, Nellie Fitzpatrick and, of course, Gloria Casarez — the great Gloria Casarez,” Hikes continued.
Hikes noted this is her first time working in government and said she is excited to work with people who “get it.” She said the task before her and the commission is a “tremendous one” and referenced a quote from writer Audre Lorde: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept and celebrate those differences.”
“Our differences as a community, we know, are many and I think there’s plenty of people who think that is a hindrance for us but in truth, I find that to be our greatest strength,” Hikes said. “In my opinion, our diversity is our power.”
Hikes referenced emotions some LGBT community members might have felt in regards to the relationship between the community and city government — including anger, sadness, confusion and frustration — feelings that she said are “incredibly valid” and “real.”
“For those of you who have not felt like you’ve been heard, I hear you,” Hikes said. “For those of you who haven’t been seen, I see you. For those of you who haven’t had a seat at the table, I say pull up a chair. Because in truth, we need all of the voices in this conversation. We need all of us.”
The new director pointed out the diverse backgrounds of each commission member and called each of their names to be recognized by the public.
“The time has come to unite,” Hikes said. “We are unstoppable together. When I look around at this beautiful gathering of individuals, I know a few things to be true: We owe it to our city to fight injustice and oppression whenever we see it. We owe it to our elders to pick up the torch and to carry it forward in the right direction. We owe it to our youth to set an example and to lead the way. And we owe it to ourselves to come together and to fight for a better tomorrow for all LGBTQ Philadelphians. So let’s get to work.”
The commission members got to work immediately after the press conference for their first public meeting, where 21 of the members introduced themselves in a roundtable format. Hikes outlined rules and procedures for the members — noting that once a member misses two consecutive meetings, the individual will be removed from the commission. Each member signed up for committees they were interested in. The members chose from one or more of nine committees:
- City relations
- Community outreach
- Economic empowerment
- Health and wellness
- Immigration, civil rights and faith
- Race relations
- Transgender equality
- Youth, families and education
Additionally, Hikes said the commission will vote on a chair, secretary and treasurer amongst its members. Elections and meeting frequency are to be determined.
Following the meeting, Hikes shared with PGN her thoughts on the first commission gathering. She noted this was her first time being able to sit with the commission in the same room.
“Before [the meeting], I knew them on paper,” Hikes said. “I saw their applications after I accepted the position and I was able to get to know them from reading but they are completely different people than they are on paper. They also have a vast number of priorities that they hadn’t talked about before so it was really great to hear them be able to speak on their own terms about their passions and see the heads shaking around the table with everyone getting on one accord. I am very enthusiastic about where the commission is going.”