The daughter of a late longtime City Councilman officially threw her hat into the ring last week, as she seeks to become the first openly LGBT City Council member in Philadelphia history.
Sherrie Cohen kicked off her campaign Dec. 15 at the William Way LGBT Community Center, amid a crowd of about 100 LGBTs and allies.
Cohen is the daughter of David Cohen, who served in council for nearly 30 years before his death in 2005. While she is committed to carrying on her father’s legacy, she said she’s also prepared to establish her own reputation as a City Council-at-Large member.
The Philadelphia native attained her undergraduate degree in women’s studies from the University of Pennsylvania and her law degree from St. Thomas University School of Law.
She said she was attracted to the legal field by her “lifelong passion to create equal opportunities for all people,” an ideal that also manifested itself through her activism.
In the 1970s, Cohen was one of the early members of DYKETACTICS!, a lesbian-feminist organization that worked against homophobia and sexism. The group was very vocal in support of the Gay Rights Bill and, in 1975, she was forcibly removed from City Council chambers during a demonstration of the nondiscrimination ordinance.
“They weren’t even going to have a hearing on the bill — it was going to be introduced to committee but not pass out of it — so we thought we’d have a silent vigil to mark the death of the bill. But we realized it wasn’t enough to be silent, we wanted to be noisy that nothing was being done about this,” she said. “So we started chanting in City Hall and wouldn’t stop when the City Council president asked us to and we were brutally escorted out of City Hall and kicked down four flights of stairs.”
The group sued the city for excessive use of force in the first known case of alleged police brutality brought by a group of lesbians. While the suit was unsuccessful, the city adopted the nondiscrimination law in 1982.
Cohen was also a co-founder of the Lesbian Feminist Weekend, the predecessor to Sisterspace, and worked with such organizations as the Lesbian Coffeehouse Collective and Custody Action for Lesbian Mothers. While living in New York City in the ’80s, she co-founded the Lesbian Coalition and served as executive director of national LGBT agency Fund for Human Dignity.
Recently, she sat on the board of the Liberty City Democratic Club, the women’s programming committee at the William Way LGBT Community Center and the campaign and finance committees for out Judges Ann Butchart and Dan Anders, respectively. She’s currently vice president of the LGBTQ Caucus of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party.
However, Cohen’s activism and involvement has gone far beyond the LGBT community.
During her time at Penn, Cohen was involved in a 10-day sit-in at the school to protest what many saw as the college’s inadequate response to rapes — an action that led to rape-crisis counseling, the creation of a women’s center and a women’s studies program. More recently, she has served as co-initiator of the International Women’s Day Coalition.
Cohen is currently a Democratic committeeperson and an elected member of the Democratic State Committee from Northwest Philadelphia.
She works as an environmental attorney, but recently led successful legal efforts to prevent the shuttering of city libraries and pools.
If elected, Cohen said she’d work to address issues affecting LGBT youth, including school bullying, substance abuse and homelessness, as well as homophobic and transphobic violence, employment discrimination and the HIV/AIDS epidemic among African-American men who have sex with men.
“I would be speaking out on all of these issues both in and outside of our community,” she said. “I would work to advance any programs or initiatives that would help to improve the quality of life of the LGBT community and that would bring about full equality for this community in our city.”
Her election would also signify the progression the city has undergone in the past several decades.
“It’d not only be historic for me, but for the entire movement of activists, showing that you can go from being kicked out of City Council chambers to being able to walk back in as an out and proud member of City Council.”
To be successful, Cohen said she’ll need the support of the LGBT and ally community.
The campaign’s field operations will begin in February, and volunteers will be needed for door-to-door canvassing and phone banking. Ballot petitions will be circulated from Feb. 15-March 8, so Cohen said volunteers will be especially critical during this time.
She faces a campaign finance deadline at the end of this month and said any donations will be gratefully accepted.
For more information on Cohen, visit www.cohen4council.com.