Philadelphia’s second-annual LGBTQ State of the Union drew hundreds of activists, nonprofit leaders, community members and allies to the Kimmel Center this week.
Representatives from 10 local LGBTQ organizations presented seven-minute lightning talks Monday evening on accomplishments from the last fiscal year and goals for the next.
Philadelphia is the only city in the country that holds this type of event, said Amber Hikes, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs.
Throughout the year, Hikes’ office backed two bills modifying gendered marital language in city tax codes, provided testimony mandating sexual-harassment training for city employees and supported a resolution recognizing Trans Day of Visibility.
The office soon plans to announce a new police policy on interaction with transgender individuals, Hikes said, describing it as “a complete overhaul.”
“Philadelphia will have, without a doubt, one of the most progressive police policies with trans individuals in the entire country,” she added.
The new policy is being created in the aftermath of more violence in the trans community. Last month, Tameka Michelle Washington became at least the sixth transwoman of color to be murdered in Philadelphia in as many years.
“It’s our duty together as Philadelphians, as queer folks, to forever point the way toward true inclusion to magnify the voices of those who are still the most marginalized,” Hikes said, “and to embrace tightly the power of our diversity that makes Philadelphia such an incredible place to live, to work and to love.”
William Way LGBT Community Center
Chris Bartlett, executive director of William Way, said the center has focused much of the last year on community engagement via initiatives like art programs and Out and Faithful, which explores religion in the LGBTQ community.
A trans resource center is coming to the center’s third floor, he noted, and the organization will continue “digitization days” to increase the group’s historical archives of women, trans and people-of-color experiencies. Those who want to contribute relevant materials or memorabilia can bring them to the center and have them transferred to a thumb drive or archived.
“We continue to be a voice for transgender resistance and activism, including the international Transgender Day of Visibility and the Transgender Day of Remembrance — but every day is a day of transgender acknowledgment in the center,” Barlett said.
William Way also will join forces with the LGBT Elder Initiative, tripling the center’s budget for education, advocacy and services for older generations.
Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations
The city agency, established in 1951, enforces civil-rights laws like the Fair Practices Ordinance, Philadelphia’s antidiscrimination law for housing, city services and public accommodation.
The FPO has barred sexual-orientation discrimination since 1982 and gender-identity discrimination since 2002 — both of which stand out in a state with no overarching anti-LGBTQ discrimination law.
The organization conducts skill-building workshops emphasizing bias awareness, conflict resolution and deescalation techniques.
“We are a neutral agency,” said Rue Landau, PCHR executive director. “We are trying to seek and find the truth and resolves issues whenever we can.”
PCHR has investigated about 213 cases since Jan. 1, accounting for about 18 percent of its workload, Landau noted.
In 2018, the agency recorded 69 confirmed and 12 unconfirmed hate-related incidents — those where LGBTQ folks were targeted were the second most common. The incidents occurred most frequently in South Philadelphia, said Randy Duque, PCHR deputy director.
The organization plans to advocate for statewide LGBTQ-inclusive laws; update the language in the FPO; add protections to the city’s Home Rule Charter, which defines Philadelphia’s structure and powers; and expand antiracism projects in Northeast and South Philadelphia.
The Latinx social-justice organization served more than 8,000 people last year, representing a 25-percent spike in outreach over the previous year said interim executive director Francisco Cortes.
Galaei also launched Positively Queer, an online platform for HIV-positive people to tell their stories and find resources.
The organization’s main programs, revolving around trans equity, youth and HIV testing, will expand this year, started with extending HIV testing hours into nights and weekends. Facilitators will create three cohorts of an afterschool arts program that previously only operated in December.
The organization also is adding Guerreras, a support space for queer Latinx women that will meet monthly, Cortes said.
“We wanted to make sure that we don’t forget about women and femme folks because a lot of times the work that we’re doing is centered around men,” he noted.
The group will host its 24th-annual LGBTQ prom, a cost-free event, June 21 at William Way and revive its annual David Acosta Revolutionary Leadership Awards (DARLA) gala after a two-year hiatus.
Through December, Galaei will gather community feedback on services to guide the organization’s future.
The social-services organization, serving about 20,000 people a year, was the first in the nation to provide HIV, AIDS and sexual-health services specifically to the African-American community, said executive director Gary Bell.
“I don’t feel Bebashi has always been as sensitive and inclusive as we should have been to the LGBT community and we’ve worked very, very hard to change that,” he said.
The group’s HYPE program ramps up HIV-prevention awareness among transpeople of color and MSM communities. Last year, 794 active members provided outreach and education, according to program coordinator Michael Melvin.
He said he hopes to add monthly job-training workshops, a biweekly social-media talkshow and quarterly opportunities for community input.
Meanwhile, Bebashi’s prevention-navigation program helped 57 transpeople with its new Trans Necessities closet, which provides clothing, prosthetics and wigs, in addition to health and other services.
The staff hopes to enroll 100 new clients in the navigation program and increase PrEP distribution by 25 percent.
In its 40th-anniversary year, Mazzoni’s interim administration acknowledged the organization’s challenging few years with leadership, diversity and inclusion issues.
“As an LGBTQ-focused organization, we have continued to foster and create an equitable and inclusive environment, but also recognize and resolve issues and allegations of inequity and exclusion within our recent past,” said Nu’Rodney Prad, president of Mazzoni’s board of directors.
Since fiscal year 2016, the organization’s budget has grown 40 percent, from $12.8 million to $17.9 million, while staff size has increased 35 percent, from 126 to 170.
Mazzoni’s HIV-suppression rate is one of the highest in Philadelphia, clocking in at 90 percent in the face of the 51 percent city average, said Nancy Brisbon, chief medical officer and interim leadership member.
The stand-in management structure has agreed to a six-month extension as the organization seeks to fill the position of director of diversity and inclusion and to diversify its board, Prad said.
Philadelphia Family Pride
The city’s tiniest LGBTQ nonprofit, with just one part-time staff member and a 16-member board of directors, reflected on a mighty year of activism.
The group connected with about 200 families, held more than 30 events from potlucks to hikes and cosponsored the Best Practices for LGBTQ Youth in Foster Care speaker series, said Stephanie Haynes, the sole employee.
The next event takes place June 20 at University of the Sciences.
PFP defended LGBTQ-friendly foster care, partnering last spring with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania to successfully challenge a lawsuit that allowed discrimination against same-sex foster couples.
Philadelphia Black Pride
At this organization’s 20th-anniversary celebration in April, members recognized “insufficiencies of visibilty” for LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming people of color, said president Le Thomas.
Community members submitted personal accounts to inform event inclusivity. PBP now intends to increase its partnerships.
“As we’re celebrating Pride month, we’re celebrating the whole 30 days, but there are 335 [more] days that we’re proud all day long,” Thomas said. “So we need to make sure the resources are available to all people in the community.”
Attic Youth Center
As investigations into alleged employee discrimination and sexual assault continue at the LGBTQ youth nonprofit, acting executive director Shawnese Givens said she wanted “to speak explicitly about the ways in which [staff] are now examining how white supremacy, transphobia and adultism manifest in [the] organization.”
“The majority of youth that we serve are of color and to live up to the full potential and expression of our mission, we must approach our work through an intersectional lens that begins at the highest level of the organization,” added Givens. “That means examining everything — policies and procedures, pay structure, how power is distributed and how we talk about power and privilege within the organization.”
Over the last year, The Attic hosted about 300 youth with up to 60 yper day utilizing services with a $1.5-million budget. The Attic’s 25th-anniversary gala raised record funds.
Givens said the nonprofit’s biggest goal is to further its commitment to social justice by addressing intersectional oppression.
To that end, The Attic will partner with University of Pennsylvania graduate Brendan Taliaferro, who received a $100,000 grant to fund his project for LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness.
Delaware Valley Legacy Fund
Founded in 1993, DVLF allocates grants to local LGBTQ organizations every year.
For 2018-19, the organization funded nine grantees, including Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus, William Way and Galaei.
The selections were informed by a new community-participation grant-making process that included more people of color and trans individuals, said executive director Juan Franco.
The group will hold a townhall in July to further inform the community of its efforts, he added.
“Our trans siblings still face the highest rates of discrimination and violence,” Franco said. “They face alarmingly high rates of poverty, homelessness, struggle with considerable health disparities and continue to confront systemic marginalization. This is why we believe philanthropy can and must do better to improve the wellbeing of the trans community.”
Kate Gormley, senior program manager of Project H.O.M.E.’s young-adult program, said the initiative has grown from offering eight young-adult residences when it began in 2014 to 70 today.
In April, Project HOME opened the Gloria Casarez Residence, the first LGBTQ young-adult housing complex in Pennsylvania. Its 30 units are filled but more than 300 people applied.
“This just speaks to the need,” Gormley said. “We are seeing a lot of younger folks coming through homeless systems and we need to respond to that.”
The organization aims to offer 1,000 affordable-housing units in Philadelphia in the next few years, she added.
Photo: Amber Hikes
Photo Credit: Kelly Burkhardt