In February 2017, Mayor Jim Kenney’s office announced the formation of its first Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs. The commission and its 21 members are tasked with advising the mayor on policies that support the lives of LGBTQ community members in Philadelphia. Amber Hikes is the director of the Office on LGBT Affairs.
Since its inception, the commission has held three monthly meetings (March, April and May) that focus on advancing the rights, protections and experiences of LGBTQ Philadelphians. Structurally, the 21 commissioners have formed the following committees: City Relations; Civil Rights, Immigration and Faith; Community Outreach; Economic Empowerment; Elders; Health & Wellness; Race Relations; Transgender Equality; and Youth & Families to address the unique concerns of our diverse community. Each committee is currently assessing the city services and organizations already supporting LGBTQ communities in the city, setting mission statements, goals and initiatives.
One of the nine committees in the commission is the LGBTQ Elders Committee, with a focus on serving LGBTQ elders in all neighborhoods of Philadelphia. The committee members are Gigi Nikpour (chair), Stephanie Haynes (secretary), Jazz Gray-Sadler and Christopher Bartlett.
Nikpour is a paralegal at Community Legal Services and sits on the board of PhillyCAM and Philadelphia Corporation on Aging Caregivers Advisory Council. Haynes is the director of the LGBTQ parent group Philadelphia Family Pride. Gray-Sadler is the producer of LesBe Real Radio/Media and founder of Fifty Shades of Purple Against Bullying. Bartlett is the executive director of the William Way LGBT Center.
“One of our top-level goals is to address the rights of LGBTQ elders in long-term care facilities and address discrimination and problems with isolation,” Nikpour said.
While the committee is just starting up, we already have had several productive meetings to get the lay of the land on LGBTQ-elder needs in Philadelphia and set goals for the next six months. We are looking forward to meeting with entities serving elder LGBTQ Philadelphians such as the LGBT Elder Initiative, SAGE, GenPhilly, Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, AARP and CARIE. We are aiming to collaborate with these organizations and be a bridge by coordinating our efforts to also include the Mayor’s Commission on Aging.
Our first goal is to convene a group comprised of stakeholders, advocates and service providers in the LGBTQ community in an effort to learn about their concerns and priorities.
Next, we want to identify places where either the Mayor’s Office or City Council can assist in filling in gaps in existing ordinances and laws impacting LGBTQ elders. One example we are looking into is the possibility of establishing an LGBTQ Elders Long-Term Care Bill of Rights and mandating trainings for nursing-home staff and in-home health-care workers around sexual orientation and gender identity.
This would help ensure that our elders, many of whom were involved in the beginnings of the gay- and trans-rights movements, are not having to go back in the closet as they age.
We want to ensure that LGBTQ elders are aware of their rights in Philadelphia; it is illegal for employers, housing providers, businesses, providers of public accommodations and city services to discriminate against anyone because of their gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, race, color, ancestry, disability, ethnicity, national origin, age, familial status, marital status, domestic- or sexual-violence victim status, genetic information or source of income.
The commission’s first Community Conversation was held May 25 at William Way LGBT Community Center. We invite all community members to come meet the commissioners, hear about the various committees (including the Elders Committee) and their goals, and for the commissioners to hear from the community members and their concerns at upcoming meetings.