Amber Hikes, executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, is taking her vision for advancing diversity, equity and inclusion national in a newly-accepted position at the American Civil Liberties Union, she announced Tuesday.
Hikes will start as ACLU’s chief diversity officer at the organization’s national headquarters in New York City on Sept. 3. The gig is the first permanent, full-time position at the institution of its kind, Hikes said. She’ll be tasked with taking ACLU’s diversity and inclusion initiative to the next level by setting its strategic vision around equity nationwide.
“I truly believe that there is no organization that is doing work at the level or with the significance that the ACLU is, so it’s truly a dream come true,” Hikes said.
She added she’s received several job offers over the years in sectors from nonprofit to corporate work. But on top of feeling her work at the Office of LGBT Affairs wasn’t yet finished, she wanted to ensure her next step would “bring this message of inclusivity and intersectionality and equity that we're doing here in Philadelphia … to a larger platform.”
Mayor Jim Kenney appointed Hikes to oversee the Office of LGBT Affairs in March 2017. Since then, Hikes has accomplished many feats for LGBTQ equality, including establishing an annual LGBTQ State of the Union address, introducing Philly’s “More Color, More Pride” flag and collaborating with the city’s law enforcement officials to debut one of the most progressive trans and nonbinary police policies in the country.
Hikes also advocated for gender-neutral language updates to the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter and created the LGBTQ Community Leadership Pipeline, an initiative meant to diversify the leadership of the city’s queer nonprofits.
Hikes will serve as executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs through the end of July. Leaders in the LGBTQ community commended Hikes for her work over the years to PGN.
Nu’Rodney Prad, board president and treasurer at the Mazzoni Center, told PGN that Hikes has been a “champion for promoting inclusivity throughout the Philadelphia LGBTQ community.”
“Amber has been a true advocate in promoting and acknowledging intersectionality throughout the community,” Prad said. “We look forward to seeing the continued advocate base work from Amber in her new role”
Chris Bartlett, executive director of William Way LGBT Community Center, said Hikes has served as a powerful leader in Philadelphia for almost a decade. Hikes formerly sat on the organization’s board.
“In her new position at the ACLU, she'll do what she does best: offer her wisdom and knowledge to support leaders in building inclusive and inspiring communities and movements,” Bartlett added. “I know her investment in Philadelphia remains, and we'll continue to see the impact of her legacy."
While her current position centers on creating better allies for the LGBTQ community, Hikes said, the work at the ACLU will emphasize “how we can recruit and be better accomplices” to marginalized communities throughout the nation. She aims to push the ACLU beyond a “culture of diversity and inclusion and into a culture of belonging.”
“I want the folks who are affiliated with the ACLU to truly feel connected to their work beyond this ‘guardians of liberty’ concept,” Hikes told PGN. “Beyond the fact that they are the defenders of American freedom … and really have a connection to uplifting the voices of the most marginalized.”
This is especially critical given the country’s political climate, Hikes said, which similarly motivated her to take point at the Office of LGBT Affairs following the 2016 presidential election. Accepting the ACLU role “is likewise deeply influenced by the constant assault on our collective survival,” Hikes wrote on Facebook.
Leaving Philadelphia after a 13-year residency is “challenging,” said Hikes, a self-described “Navy brat” who was born in Japan before moving to nearly a dozen different places throughout her life. Hikes earned her Master of Social Work at the University of Pennsylvania in 2008 and called the city her “true home,” adding “you can leave Philadelphia, but Philadelphia never leaves you.”
Hikes requested to not participate in the hiring process for her replacement in the Office of LGBT Affairs. But she hopes her successor will feel free to pursue their own vision for the department, she said, noting hers was shaped by the needs of the LGBTQ community two years ago, which have since evolved.
“I hope that my successor is aware of that and they know that they can bring whatever their unique vision is to this work and the community will entrust that that is the right direction for us moving forward,” Hikes said.
The queer identity will continue to serve as one of her primary lenses for navigating a career that focuses on uplifting intersectional identities, including immigrants, people of color and people living with HIV, Hikes said.
“The beautiful thing about a diversity, equity and inclusion lens from an intersectional perspective is that we are bringing all of those voices to the table and all of those communities to a space,” she added.