The 12th Street Gym has become beset with a series of issues — including sexual-assault allegations, fire-code violations and overall financial woes. The location has become a staple in the Gayborhood, but we can only hope justice is served for any allegations and that safety concerns are addressed appropriately.
While some of these issues may create division on the future of the gym, there is one aspect where the community seems to stand together. And that is the future of the Gloria Casarez mural.
One of Casarez’s favorite painters, Michelle Angela Ortiz, designed the mural depicting the first director for the Office of LGBT Affairs. Since its unveiling in October 2015, it has become a landmark commemorating the late leader, who died from breast cancer in 2014.
Casarez made her mark to ensure the LGBT community had a seat at the table. She spoke out on issues such as adopting tighter anti-bullying policies in schools, advising on pro-LGBT legislation, and a number of other initiatives that can’t fit this small space. Outside of the office, Casarez also served as a founding board member of the LGBT Elder Initiative, co-creator of the Philadelphia Dyke March and the executive director of GALAEI.
While serving in the latter position, Casarez co-founded the Trans-Health Information Project, now called the Trans Equity Project, in 2003. Trans Equity Project coordinator and hip-hop artist Christian Lovehall, a.k.a. WORDZ The Poet Emcee, even memorialized the late leader in “See Ya Later … ” His song will be featured in local filmmaker Kelly Burkhardt’s upcoming film, “The Gloria! Project,” yet another medium to commemorate Casarez.
After her passing, friends and loved ones made shirts and pins with the phrase “What Would Gloria Do?” to inform their daily work. The 200 block of South 12th Street was renamed Gloria Casarez Way and Project HOME will soon open the Gloria Casarez Residence, a four-story building offering 30 LGBT-friendly apartments for those ages 18-23 who are homeless, at risk for homelessness and/or aging out of foster care.
Even current director of LGBT Affairs Amber Hikes has spoken on how Casarez inspired her.
The mural on 12th Street Gym was painted on parachute cloth that’s firmly adhered to the wall. This means that if the building were to come down, the mural would come down with it. Should that happen, the community must fight to ensure we will always remember Casarez in that location.
While a source from Mural Arts Philadelphia told us last week that it would be on a mission to redo the monument elsewhere, the hard work that went into the current one cannot be replaced.
As we saw with the debate around the Frank Rizzo statue last year, monuments represent something — whether it’s love or hate. Casarez exemplified the former.
She may be depicted on the side of a building, but Casarez should be front-and-center in our history.