When it was announced that Amber Hikes, a black queer woman, would take the reins of the Office of LGBTQ Affairs in December, 2017, a collective cheer went up in Philadelphia’s LGBT community. It wasn’t just because Hikes was young, witty, ambitious and forceful when it came to dealing with racism within the gay community, or that she came with the sort of connections and experience that made her ideal for the job.
It was also because of her fundraising for The Attic Youth Center, serving as a board member at the William Way LGBT Community Center and managing and directing the Philadelphia Dyke March. Beyond that, Hikes really liked to talk and create dialogue, which is how the Office of LGBTQ Affairs’ “Community Conversations,” emerged as well as the “LGBTQ State of the Union,” debuting May 29 at the Kimmel Center.
The LGBTQ State of the Union is a super-sized “Community Conversation” in which Hikes and nine local LGBTQ executive directors and board presidents will interact directly with the community. Along with one huge free-for-all, each of the nine local LGBTQ organizations will present TED-talk–style presentations on their current achievements and upcoming goals. At the finale of the two-hour event, all participants will engage in a community Q&A.
“In my present position, I am able to meet regularly with these directors and presidents and ask directly about initiatives they have or ideas that I might wish to share — what they might need help on or volunteers for or fundraising with — but that is rarely conveyed to a larger public,” said Hikes. “I have that access. Everyone should, though.”
The idea behind the LGBTQ SOTU is to bring LGBTQ service organizations directly to the communities they serve, individually and collectively.
“From an organizational standpoint, this access is crucial where transparency is concerned. The community gets to voice its concerns and the heads of these organizations get to discuss the work they have done and are doing; to outline priorities,” Hikes said.
The nine LGBTQ service organizations participating in her Kimmel Center forum are William Way LGBT Community Center, The Attic, Mazzoni Center, GALEI (a queer Latinx social-justice organization), Philly Pride, Philly Black Pride, The Colours Organization, Independent Business Alliance and Delaware Valley Legacy Fund.
The SOTU is about action, said Hikes. “In the course of my day, I see and hear and get discussions and debates that come across my desk. Often those concerns almost feel like screaming into the ether. Nothing is resolved. There are no opportunities to get these questions answered, or even to raise their interests to the parties that can do something. Plus there are so many great initiatives and programs that go unnoticed where people are moving forward. We need to have a regular event that warehouses all of this.”
The LGBTQ State of the Union is Tuesday May 29 at 6 p.m. at Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.