Op-Ed

Conversational space when it comes to issues of racial bias always seems to be co-opted by white cis-gender activists using a momentous issue to elevate their voice above the voices of black and brown community members, who they often identify as having oppositional politics or simplistic diatribes. It is a point of privilege to enter this conversation on race.

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I have been actively involved in, and at times considered a leader of, the Philadelphia LGBTQA community for many years. I have helped to form and lead numerous organizations meant to advance the interests of the LGBTQA community, including several long-existing HIV-related organizations and organizations aimed at enhancing the political influence of the community. In all of these activities, I have made the particular point that LGBTQA people come in all sorts and conditions, and that our community fails to be as strong and effective as it can be because we have allowed ourselves to be defined as white, male and middle to upper-middle class. This made me particularly unpopular, especially in the 1980s, when the media portrayed the typical person with HIV as a middle-class white gay male and I was among those pointing out that, since the beginning, LGBT people with HIV in Philadelphia have been predominately poor people of color.

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The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (PHRC) is the state agency with the statutory responsibility to address unlawful discrimination in the areas of employment, housing, educational opportunities and public accommodations. I’ve served as a commissioner since 1999, and I was named interim chairperson in April 2016 by Gov. Tom Wolf. I consider it a great honor and a great responsibility.

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In response to the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando; the deaths of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota; and the deaths of five police officers in Dallas, Men of All Colors Together-Philadelphia felt compelled to release our thoughts on these tragedies that affected all Americans: gay or straight; black, white or Latino; police or non-police.

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On Sunday, Philly Pride was aware of the unfolding of events in Orlando, but certainly none of the specifics. Our volunteers and coordinators were on the street as early as 5:30 a.m. and continued our PrideDay parade and festival with an overwhelming presence from the Philadelphia Police Department, unaware of the grisly details that would emerge over the next several days.

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Last week, in response to a derisory letter from the board of the Liberty City Democratic Club (LCDC), a meandering change.org petition concocted by one of said board members that garnered only 350 signatures, and the divisive rhetoric of fringe activists, the Philadelphia chapter of the Gay Officer Action League (GOAL) nobly removed themselves from serving as Grand Marshals of this year’s Pride parade. As much as their withdrawal reflected GOAL’s standing as understanding and responsive member of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community, their decision was also a disappointment for many.

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