Person of the Year 2009: 'Dolph Ward Goldenburg

Person of the Year 2009: 'Dolph Ward Goldenburg

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As the new decade begins, the local LGBT population is continuing the goals of a leader who spent the better part of the last decade building “community” here.

After six years as executive director of the William Way LGBT Community Center, ’Dolph Ward Goldenburg ended his tenure and moved to Atlanta to be with his partner.

Goldenburg was credited with heightening the center’s visibility in both the LGBT and mainstream communities and enhancing the organization’s ability to provide outreach and opportunities.

During his tenure, the number of annual visitors to the center more than doubled, from 24,000 to 50,000 and the staff size expanded exponentially. The increased staff capacity and improvement of the center’s finances that occurred under Goldenburg’s direction allowed the center’s programming to flourish, including the launch of the vastly popular Way Gay U program, which, in the past year, offered more classes than ever.

“He was invaluable in bringing the center to an entirely different level,” said the Hon. Ann Butchart, treasurer of the center’s board. “He not only stabilized the center but really advanced it as an institution in the community, and helped make it become the real focal point for activities and for momentum.”

Jane Shull, executive director of Philadelphia FIGHT and former center board member, agreed that Goldenburg was the driving force behind the center’s development and successes.

“I think ’Dolph did a stellar job at the center. His professionalism and his treating the center in a professional manner and recruiting people who’d also behave in that way was just absolutely key to the center’s transformation and its increased stability and increased programming,” Shull said. “And ’Dolph was very much responsible for a lot of the physical transformation of the actual building that meant that a wider group of people in the community saw this as a place to be and a place that is welcoming to everyone.”

Throughout his years at the center, Goldenburg led the effort to install an elevator, which was unveiled this past summer during the agency’s Building Bash celebration and fundraiser. Also in the last year, the center hosted 70 executive directors of LGBT community centers from throughout the country for a weekend conference, enhancing the agency’s networking abilities and its prominence in the national LGBT spectrum.

Ted Greenberg, who has served on the center’s board for three years, said Goldenburg’s direction was an invaluable asset to the organization’s future.

“He is a dynamic and talented individual with endless energy,” Greenberg said. “Through ’Dolph’s leadership and vision, the William Way Community Center has become a world-class community center.”

More than 100 people attended a farewell reception Nov. 17 for Goldenburg, during which state Sen. Larry Farnese (D-1st Dist.) presented the outgoing director with a citation from the Senate, marking the first time the term “LGBT” was used in an official Senate commendation.

The board appointed Laurie Ward as interim executive director during its search for a permanent leader, though Butchart noted it will be a challenge to find someone to fill Goldenburg’s shoes.

She joked that Goldenburg’s diminutive stature belied his personality, which she said guided his many contributions to the center and the local LGBT community.

“For being so short, he was really big in his heart. Unlike a lot of administrators, ’Dolph really took the mission of the organization as his own mission and made personal sacrifices, which I think is very unusual to see people make these days. He has a massive heart and cast an incredibly long shadow.”

ALLIES OF THE YEAR U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy

The first Iraq War veteran in Congress took over the legislative effort to repeal the military’s ban on openly gay servicemembers in 2009, lending visibility to the damaging effects of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” on residents in the Delaware Valley, as well as throughout the country.

Pennsylvania U.S. Rep Patrick Murphy (D-8th Dist.) became the lead sponsor on the Military Readiness Enhancement Act in July and, since then, has boosted the number of cosponsors from 140 to 186, the highest level of support the bill’s ever seen by far: Last session, the legislation acquired 149 cosponsors before it died in committee.

Murphy, along with a coalition of LGBT and ally servicemembers, kicked off a national campaign in Philadelphia this past summer, sponsored by the Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers United, that took them on a tour of the country for roundtable discussions and public forums on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Murphy also toured the cable talk-show circuit, appearing on such programs as “The Rachel Maddow Show” and on CNN to discuss his plans for overturning the law.

In October, Murphy spearheaded a one-hour discussion on the policy on the House floor and launched a Web site,, which provides resources and encourages visitors to sign a petition to end the ban.

U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak

U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak (D-7th Dist.) has come out swinging on LGBT issues in the past year.

Sestak, who’s looking to unseat longtime U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (D) in the upcoming spring primary, has taken his efforts to advance LGBT rights to the media, the military and Congress.

Sestak, who as a former Navy admiral is the highest-ranking former military officer ever elected to Congress, issued letters of support to the military’s discharge board this past summer on behalf of Lt. Dan Choi, who is being discharged under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Sestak and Choi have teamed up to raise awareness about the policy, participating in live blogs with LGBT and mainstream Web sites and appearing together on such programs as “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

Sestak also appealed to top military officials on behalf of openly gay discharged Navy sailor Joseph Rocha, who alleged that years of abuse by his fellow sailors was motivated by homophobia. Following Sestak’s continued correspondence and meetings with Navy officials, the Navy relaunched an investigation into the allegations and eventually censured the individual accused of tormenting Rocha.

Sestak has also been a strong proponent of the Respect for Marriage Act, which seeks to repeal the federal ban on same-sex marriage, and this past fall wrote a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) urging her to bring the bill up for a vote.

The Congressman also addressed the Defense of Marriage Act and “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” in a fall press conference, during which Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) gave him his endorsement, and he also spoke directly to the LGBT community during appearances at last summer’s Pride and this fall’s OutFest.

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter

U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (D) from Pennsylvania made headlines in the spring when he announced he was leaving the Republican Party to become a Democrat. The longtime senator has followed that transition with increased outreach to the LGBT community.

Specter, who’s represented Pennsylvania in the Senate for nearly 30 years, has voted with the LGBT community numerous times during his tenure — including a vote against the original enactment of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and longtime support for an LGBT-inclusive hate-crimes bill — and announced in the fall that he was changing his position on the federal ban on same-sex marriage. Specter voted in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, but announced on the Senate floor and in an opinion piece published in the Huffington Post in October that he believes the law should be repealed.

In a recent interview with PGN, Specter said his mindset, as well as the general mood of the country, has progressed since the enactment of DOMA, and that he would cosponsor a version of the Respect for Marriage Act, which would lift the ban, if and when it’s introduced in the Senate.

This past summer, Specter made his first-ever appearance at Philadelphia’s Pride festival at Penn’s Landing.

RUNNERS UP Soda Nobuhle

Soda Nobuhle continued to emerge in the past year as a leader in the local LGBT community.

Nobuhle was appointed late last year to the mayor’s Advisory Board on LGBT Issues and juggled that role with other leadership positions, including as a board member of the Liberty City Democratic Club and the People of Color Coalition.

The National Association of Black and White Men Together last year elected Nobuhle as the first-ever female to serve on its board of directors.

Men of All Colors Together, the local chapter of NABWMT, held its annual conference in Philadelphia in the summer and presented its Gerald L. Mallon Resisting Racism Award to Nobuhle.

Nobuhle was also an organizer for the LGBTQ Womyn of Color Conference held in Philadelphia last March and spurred the continued growth and expansion of The Womyn’s Village, an organization for sexual-minority women of color that she founded.

Dawn Segal

Out attorney Dawn Segal launched a successful campaign last year to become a Municipal Court judge, gaining confidence from both the LGBT and mainstream communities.

Segal, an attorney for 25 years, was endorsed by Liberty City and the National Organization for Women, among other organizations, and was recommended by the Philadelphia Bar Association.

Segal was the third-highest vote-getter of eight judicial candidates in the Municipal Primary last spring, and sailed through the General Election in November as one of two gay judges elected in the state for this year — alongside Court of Common Pleas Judge Dan Anders.

Ron Sy

Like many other nonprofit heads, Ron Sy, longtime executive director of AIDS Services in Asian Communities, steered his agency successfully through the state-budget crisis, while continuing to expand the organization’s reach and influence.

Sy, a board member of Men of All Colors Together, focused last year on diversifying the health messages the agency disperses, broadening the scope beyond HIV/AIDS to include other diseases affecting the community, such as hepatitis. He has also worked to ensure health information is available to people of all backgrounds, designing materials in languages such as Chinese, Indonesian and Korean.

Sy brought his experiences and the concerns of the local LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities to the national level during his participation in a discussion with representatives of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy in the fall, alongside other leaders of Asian HIV/AIDS service organizations from around the country.

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