Every year, the Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative pays tribute to an individual who has contributed time and dedication to the LGBT community. This year, it will honor someone whose recognition is a long time in coming.
At the May 9 event at City Hall, GALAEI will present Gloria Casarez, the city’s director of LGBT affairs, with the agency’s fourth annual David Acosta Revolutionary Leader Award.
GALAEI executive director Elicia Gonzales said leadership is something Casarez is exceptionally skilled at.
“She has a way like no other person I have seen of bringing folks together and working in collaboration with them,” Gonzales said. “She works in every quadrant possible of the LGBT community — business, tourism, social services, housing, violence, etc. Gloria is a one-woman show but manages to get it all done.”
The DARLA was created to recognize both Acosta, GALAEI founder, and future LGBT leaders.
“We started it back then as a way to honor David Acosta as being a revolutionary leader and having the vision, courage and passion to create GALAEI and for recognizing that an organization like GALAEI needed to exist,” Gonzales said. “We wanted to carry that tradition forward annually and honor those who embodied the characteristics that David possesses.”
She said the organization previously asked the community for DARLA nominations but, this year, was confident that Casarez fit the bill.
“In years past, we went through a nomination process that involved us putting out a blast to everyone saying what we were looking for and folks would identify someone whose leadership improved the community, in line with GALAEI’s mission,” Gonzales said. “This year, we bypassed that because we recognized it was time to recognize Gloria. People have asked us from the beginning when Gloria was going to get honored.”
Gonzales said Casarez is not only a friend to the LGBT community, but to GALAEI.
Before being named to her current position in 2008, Casarez served as executive director of GALAEI for about a decade.
She since has become a leader in promoting awareness and acceptance of the LGBT community in Philadelphia, Gonzales said.
“Without her, we wouldn’t have some of the increased visibility of LGBT issues in the Philadelphia area,” she said. “She was responsible for the raising of the flag at City Hall during LGBT History Month, which is always a beautiful experience, and that was an idea that she brought to fruition. She just gets the issues in a deep and personal way. She lives and breathes LGBT Philly and she always has and continues to represent marginalized communities.”
Casarez said the award was a surprise.
“It is obviously a real honor. I worked at GALAEI for 11 years and was executive director for almost 10 and took over after David left. He was somebody who was a mentor to me,” Casarez said. “A leader is somebody who develops other leaders, and that is something I can say about David and something I admired about him and tried to do myself. Being a leader is working with others to advance your cause.”
Casarez, a Philadelphia native, first became involved in community organizing during her undergraduate work at West Chester University, where she volunteered in her old neighborhood in Philadelphia.
“Immediately, I was able to put to use my skills to help,” she said. “I did a lot of behind-the-scenes work, like research and writing press releases and grants.”
She co-founded Philadelphia’s Dyke March in 1998.
“It is one of the things I am really proud of and is something that lives on. I haven’t been involved for probably eight years, but I go every year,” she said. “What excites me is that it thrives. When you can be a part of founding something and see it thriving years later, it’s really rewarding.”
Casarez said it is rewarding to be recognized by an organization that encompasses the communities to which she belongs.
“GALAEI is a special place for me. This is an award given to me from people I respect and it comes from communities I am a part of,” she said. “GALAEI is a Latino and queer organization and those are big parts of my personal identity. Being recognized and appreciated for the work that I have done and do is extra-special.”
Gonzales said GALAEI is proud to offer the award to somebody who has helped bring together its constituent communities.
“With DARLA, it is critically important to highlight queer Latinos in Philadelphia. The more that we are visible and have our stories told and seen in the community, the better it is for all communities. We are truly honored to do this,” she said.