Two Philadelphia women were honored this week for their longstanding leadership in and dedication to the local lesbian community.
Women’s eNews selected the Hon. Ann Butchart and Carrie Jacobs, executive director of The Attic Youth Center, as recipients of its inaugural Philadelphia Leadership Awards, which were presented at a gala Tuesday at Bryn Mawr College.
Women’s eNews founder and editor-in-chief Rita Henley Jensen said the online news service launched a national awards program, 21 Leaders for the 21st Century, in 2002, but this year decided to also focus on local-level female leaders.
“We decided that one of the ways we could meet our mission is to recognize those people throughout the nation who are committed to working to improve women’s lives,” Jensen said. “But our new chair, Betsy Chandler, said, ‘Wait, what about local leaders who are doing incredible things for women and girls?’ and she was right.”
Jensen said the organization selected Philadelphia as the site for its first local awards program partly because Chandler hails from the area and had insight into some of the most pioneering local women, and also because Jensen herself spent time in the city as a reporter and was able to see the impact that women had on the progress of the city.
“I was so impressed by the incredible vision and strength of the women’s leadership in the Philadelphia area that I was thrilled when Betsy recommended it,” she said, noting that Chandler thoroughly researched potential candidates before presenting the list to the board of directors for a vote.
Selection criteria was two-fold: Recipients had to have demonstrated a strong dedication to improving the lives of women and girls, as well as be “iconic” in the communities with which they work.
Joining Butchart and Jacobs were awardees Siobhan Bennett, president and CEO of Women’s Campaign Forum; Pat Reeser, women’s safety advocate; Ray Shanahan, executive director of social-service agency Orion Communities Inc.; Elizabeth Wallace Ellers, philanthropist and founder of The globalislocal Fund; Dorothy Johnson Speight, cofounder of anti-violence coalition Mothers in Charge Inc.; Carol Tracy, executive director of the Women’s Law Project of Philadelphia; Mary Patterson McPherson, executive director of the American Philosophical Society; former state Sen. Connie Williams; Margarita Mirkil, executive director of La Communidad Hispana, which provides immigration assistance to Latino families; Wendy Wolf, reproductive-rights activist; Dr. Ana Negron, founder of Greens on a Budget, which offers nutrition workshops; and Lynn Yeakel, director of Drexel University College of Medicine’s Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership.
“We have an extremely diverse list and that was deliberate. This is representative of what’s going in the Philadelphia area, with individuals with widely diverse interests and backgrounds working to make a difference,” Jensen said.
She added Butchart and Jacobs were natural choices for the recognition.
Butchart, who sits on the Court of Common Pleas, is the first openly LGBT elected official in Philadelphia and has a long history of LGBT activism, having served as the interim executive director of the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force, president of Dignity Philadelphia and on numerous area boards of directors for such groups as Liberty City Democratic Club and the William Way LGBT Community Center.
“Judge Butchart has been active in the LGBT movement since the ’80s and has been out in the community and committed and that’s fantastic,” Jensen said. “She ran for office as an openly gay woman and that’s incredible. That takes a special kind of bravery that you don’t see every day.”
Butchart called the award “very exciting, humbling and flattering.”
“Looking at the other recipients, they’ve all been such a huge force in terms of the significant changes that have come about from their work in all facets of our culture,” she said. “I initially felt like I just haven’t accomplished anything on this measure, but then I took a step back and said, ‘When you look at the state of women within our elected body of leaders, we’re here because of the small steps we’ve taken.’ It’s in those small steps that is where we see progress, and that gave me a sense of perspective.”
Jacobs said that while she was grateful for the recognition, she was impressed that she was considered alongside Butchart.
“I felt very honored to be acknowledged and recognized by this progressive women’s organization,” Jacobs said. “But I was really honored because I admire Ann Butchart so much. When I saw she was on there, I was really excited and so grateful to be included in an award that she was also getting. I was very touched.”
Jensen said Women’s eNews selected Jacobs, who launched The Attic 15 years ago, because of her unwillingness to sit idle while LBGT youth needed support.
“With her background, she could have picked thousands of careers and just stayed under the radar, but she didn’t. She has a commitment to focus her work on [LGBT] youth, and how important is that? It’s so moving to me that people like Carrie are willing to take the risk and to not just slide below the radar or live quiet lives, but to put themselves on the line every day for people who really need them.”