The Philadelphia Bar Association chose Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, to receive the 2019 Cheryl Ingram Award — an honor recognizing individuals who have worked to advance the issues of LGBTQ people in Philadelphia.
Landau was presented with the prize at an intimate ceremony at the Field House on April 2 among friends, family and a who’s who of local LGBTQ community leaders, including Amber Hikes, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, Judge Dan Anders and the SeniorLAW Center’s Larry Felzer.
The award is presented each year in memory of the late Ingram, a former member of the PBA who, among other initiatives, helped develop the Gay and Lesbian Lawyers of Philadelphia (GALLOP).
Previous recipients include Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates; Temple University Beasley School of Law Professor Lee Carpenter; and the late Gloria Casarez, who served as the city’s first executive director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs.
“It was a priority to highlight someone whose work had a particular impact for the Philadelphia community — rather than regionally or nationally — and whose work benefited the community in more than one way,” R. Ian Evans, attorney and co-chair of the PBA’s LGBT Rights Committee, said of Landau being chosen for the award. “We also strove for a balance in terms of selecting a candidate whose work had examples of high-visibility leadership and advocacy, as well as work which benefited members of the community on an individual basis.”
Evans added that Landau has worked to stamp out hate and advocate for the downtrodden in Philadelphia for more than 20 years — first as a scrappy street-level activist, then as a lawyer. In the mid-aughts, she worked as a senior attorney in the Housing Unit of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, where she defended the rights of tenants of public and subsidized housing.
In 2008, Landau was named executive director of the PCHR, where she said her main responsibilities have included “eradicating discrimination, resolving conflicts and bringing people from different backgrounds together” — work that impacts the LGBTQ community.
“All of the work that I do fighting discrimination and inequality in the city positively affects the LGBTQ community because our community is disproportionately underemployed and underpaid,” Landau said. “When we’re dealing with other issues, like lending discrimination or the wage-equity law, I know it also directly affects the LGBTQ community.”
In 2011, she bolstered the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, adding more antidiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people and increasing fines and penalties for those who violate it.
Landau also helped create a hate-crimes ordinance in 2014, following a brutal attack on two gay men in Center City. It protects local citizens against hate crimes on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, disability and sex in a state that fails to recognize such categories in its hate-crimes law.
“We would much rather have those categories included in the state law, because it comes with much stronger penalties, but in its absence I was very pleased that we passed the local law in Philadelphia so that we could send a warning to people throughout the city that we take it seriously to protect people in the LGBT community from hate crimes and bias incidents,” she said.
In addition to other initiatives, Landau spearheaded the first International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies conference in Philadelphia in 2015, for the sole purpose of offering assistance to human-rights commissioners throughout North America who were looking for guidance on LGBTQ-specific issues in their cities.
Thanks to her efficiency, participants heard from young people at the Attic Youth Center, attended a program called “From Selma to Stonewall” facilitated by local LGBTQ elders, and listened to a panel of faith leaders — including Jewish, Christian and Muslim — who talked about being openly gay in their faith.
But it was Landau’s work to ease rising racial tensions in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community that garnered her the most acclaim.
In 2016, she assembled a public hearing to give community members an opportunity to share their experiences about being discriminated against in the Gayborhood. Her office issued a formal report following the hearings, which, besides highlighting incidents of inner-community discrimination, offered tips to Gayborhood bars and LGBTQ-serving nonprofits on how to recognize, address and avoid it. She also began offering Discrimination 101 training to local businesses, which she continues to do.
Evans noted that, since the report, the PCHR has tracked 146 separate hate and bias incidents.
“Rue’s exceptional leadership to highlight the intersectionality of discrimination makes her an ideal recipient of the Cheryl Ingram Award,” he said. “With the current political atmosphere in the country, and with the Philadelphia LGBTQ community still dealing with those issues today, it was important to the [selection committee] to bring attention to that work — both to celebrate what Rue has done and to encourage others to follow.”
Within the past year, Landau has worked with William Way to create a unique onboarding program for LGBTQ immigrants and refugees who are settling in Philadelphia. That involves introducing them to programs and services in the city that cater to LGBTQ people, but also placing them in residences where they can feel safe to be themselves.
“A lot of times, these people are coming from countries where they’ve been persecuted for their identities and they don’t want to live where people from their country are — because they feel that they are in danger,” she said. “So they set them up in safer areas, where they’ll be less likely to face ridicule or harm for being gay, lesbian or transgender.”
The Cheryl Ingram Award isn’t the first time Landau has been recognized for her work.
GALLOP gave her the Michael M. Greenberg LGBT Community Service Award in 2009; she received the HIAS Building Bridges prize from Opening Doors in 2010; and Shepherd of Peace recognized her as a Good Shepherd in 2011, among others.
When discussing the future of her role, Landau said she hopes to see all communities start to work together more. To make that happen, she said she’ll continue to work with white people — through antidiscrimination trainings — on ways to recognize privilege and dismantle racism.
“That’s the personal mission,” she said. “We’re on the cusp of dealing with racism and discrimination in our community — a place where we should go further in our conversations, and I hope to make that happen.”