Black & Brown Workers Cooperative
As racial justice has continued to rise to the forefront of national conversations, it also factored heavily into local dialogue, largely thanks to the Black & Brown Workers Cooperative.
In the last two years, the direct-action social-justice organization, formerly known as the Black & Brown Workers Collective, led the call for increased attention on racial tensions in the LGBT community, as well as for concrete action. The BBWC organized a series of protests to call out racism at Gayborhood bars and organizations, and repeatedly and very publicly called for the resignation of high-profile figures they said enabled racist institutions; BBWC member Abdul-Aliy Muhammad even declined their HIV medications until Mazzoni Center CEO Nurit Shein’s ousting came to fruition.
Though those demands weren’t universally supported throughout the LGBT community, it is without question that the BBWC’s work significantly raised the bar for diversity and inclusion at LGBT institutions. A black queer woman now leads the Office of LGBT Affairs, with a queer woman of color as her deputy director, and the city’s rainbow flag now bears black and brown strips. Mazzoni Center revamped its board policies and makeup, named a woman of color as its medical director and is in the process of a national search for a new CEO. Bars in the Gayborhood, as well as Mazzoni and Philadelphia FIGHT, have all undergone training on diversity and implicit bias, though many agree there is room for more education, as well as a need to expand the effort outside the Gayborhood and to other nonprofits.
There were a lot of tough discussions to be had in the community in the past year and, even when people were resistant to such introspection, BBWC kept the spotlight on the issues — and, in turn, brought about real change.
Councilman Derek S. Green
The city this year strengthened its anti-bias law, in light of ongoing allegations of racist policies and practices in the LGBT community.
Weeks after a fall 2016 city hearing on racism in the community, Councilman Derek Green introduced a bill to beef up the Fair Practices Ordinance. The legislation added a new penalty for businesses found to have violated the LGBT-inclusive anti-bias measure: the revocation of an entity’s commercial-activity license.
A City Council committee held a hearing on the legislation in April, prompting testimony by city officials and community members about personal instances of discrimination, as well as systemic issues. The occasion helped elevate and formalize the conversation about a topic many in the LGBT community have addressed informally for decades.
Council voted unanimously to adopt the legislation, and Mayor Jim Kenney signed it into law in June.
In a conversation with PGN, Green tipped his hat to local community activists who called for action on the issue.
“Sometimes we need an additional push to keep these issues on the forefront and they have done that,” Green said.
Councilwoman Helen Gym
Among her legislative accomplishments this year, Philadelphia City Councilwoman Helen Gym spearheaded the first-ever resolution to mark Transgender Day of Visibility.
The March 30 measure, which passed unanimously, paid tribute to the trans community’s accomplishments and pioneers, while also looking to the future.
She was also the prime sponsor of a bill that seeks to expand health coverage for city employees to include in-vitro fertilization, egg-freezing and related infertility treatments, a bill with particular interest to LGBT parents-to-be.
“I am incredibly proud to be part of a city that is setting a standard of care that should be the model for the nation — particularly for our LGB and trans communities,” Gym told PGN.
She also cosponsored Councilman Derek Green’s bill, along with Councilman Mark Squilla, to add increased penalties in the LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law.
Outside of City Hall, Gym was very active on a number of social-justice fronts. She took part in several demonstrations against federal-level issues, such as a 24-hour vigil in the summer outside the office of Sen. Pat Toomey to fight against the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
“When they go low, we go local,” Gym led the demonstrators in a chant.
She was also a key figure in the effort to remove or relocate the statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo, whom critics say embraced racist and homophobic positions.
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