The State Of The LGBTQ Union Is Proud
Last night, the Philadelphia Office Of LGBTQ Affairs hosted its second annual LGBTQ State Of The Union, a series of short presentations by the city’s LGBT nonprofit organizations, giving a snapshot of their work over the past year. Philadelphia is a very progressive city on issues affecting the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender/gender non-conforming community, and the LGBTQ SOTU is the only event of its kind in America. Leading the march forward in the city’s government is Amber Hikes, the mayor’s point person on all things over and under the rainbow. For this year’s event, Hikes opened the stage to representatives and leaders from a plethora of groups which serve and enrich the lives of their clients and community at large. “We’re actually building the communities we want to live in,” Hikes told a packed house at the beautiful Kimmel Center For The Performing Arts. Following remarks by Mayor Jim Kenney, who has been a staunch LGBTQ ally, each organization made their statements. Taken together, they wove a rich tapestry depicting the spirit of community engagement that characterizes the City of Brotherly Love so well.
As a look into the inner workings of the community’s support network, the various agencies each brought a new dimension to the conversation. LGBTQ youth are a focus of several of these groups, highlighting the need to provide these sometimes very vulnerable people with a surer footing as they grow into their futures. Bebashi, which is one of the city’s oldest organizations serving LGBTQ individuals, discussed their outreach efforts to promote sexual health and provide safe havens, through programs like the ballroom-oriented HYPE and KiKi Lounges, with a weekly social media talk show coming soon. Director Gary Bell outlined how Bebashi provides HIV/STD testing, social services, hunger mitigation, breast health programs, and medication delivery, and its instrumental role in performing “prevention navigation”, connecting clients with Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), and getting trans and GNC individuals access to their unique needs, including clothing and accessories that match their gender identity.
Bringing LGBTQ youth to a safe, supportive place they can call their own is the work of Project HOME’s Gloria Casarez Residence, which operates a recently-opened multistory apartment building for LGBTQ people ages 18–23. It’s a real, permanent sanctuary for those who may have been put out by their families over their sexuality or gender identity. Residents also enjoy access to educational gateways and LGBTQ-affirming health services. At the other end of life’s journey, LGBTQ elders can avail themselves of the Elder Initiative at the William Way LGBT Center, which is also opening a transgender drop-in center on its third floor. Executive Director Christopher Bartlett underscored the need, noting, “Every day is a day of transgender acknowledgment.” As antigay and anti-trans violence skyrockets in our country, the necessity of safe spaces has become much more apparent.
Such oases include a new effort by the Mazzoni Center called The Attic Youth Center. Although the Centrer’s interim director, Shawnese Given, reported turbulence in organizing this program, she was optimistic about its work, noting that The Attic provides hot meals and special support to about 60 youths each day. Given observed that 40% of the city’s homeless kids were LGBTQ, making it apriority for her group. Philadelphia Black Pride leader Le Thomas announced the organization’s 20th anniversary and summarized the contributions it has made to the SGL and trans POC communities, which are carried out all year long.
Also celebrating a milestone was Galaei, a queer Latinx social-justice concern, which, interim ED Francisco Cortes announced, marks its 30th anniversary this year. “We are committed to the ongoing empowerment and enrichment of the advancement de nuestra familia, through our grassroots organizing and leadership,” Cortes stated. Empowerment is also the job of Philadelphia’s Commission On Human Relations (PCHR), a watchdog agency that sees to it that LGBTQ Philadelphians receive equal protection and treatment under the laws. Its head, Rue Landau, pointed out that LGBTQ/trans/GNC individuals were among classes of people specifically defined as protected groups in the city. Also on hand was the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund, a philanthropy that announced new grants to fund local transgender programs and support services.
After the presentations, a breakout session was held in which the leaders from each group answered attendees’ questions and talked about the future. The LGBTQ State Of The Union was a thoughtful, honest look at the condition of Philadelphia’s rainbow community, and how these agencies and nonprofits are addressing its needs. The State of our (LGBTQ) Union is proud.