With October being LGBT History Month, there have been a number of events and activities marking the past, but also several looking to the challenges of the present and promise of the future, with a mix of somber reflection and joyous celebration.
That certainly describes those who have been gathering for months to demonstrate their devotion to a departed, but impactful friend, Gloria Casarez. Some may have even dropped occasional tears into their paint cups as they assembled a mural in honor of the city’s first LGBT affairs director. In gyms, rec centers and other community locations, people ranging from former mentees to Mayor Michael A. Nutter strapped on aprons, grabbed brushes and poured themselves into their work.
In the midst of OutFest 2015, her family, friends and colleagues gathered to reaffirm their commitment to justice and equality as they watched the rainbow flag being raised over City Hall, amid the strains of “True Colors” performed by the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus. Afterward, they debuted their labor of love at the 12th Street Gym, home of the soon-to-be completed Gloria Casarez-themed mural.
She died last October from breast cancer-related complications.
Longtime city policy partner and PCHR executive director, Rue Landau, said the effort and its culmination had been “just beautiful.”
“The flag raising last year was the last time Gloria was among us publicly before she died, because that event had such deep meaning for her,” Landau said.
“She was so incredibly feisty, and proud. That made this the perfect setting for this tribute. It’s just fantastic,” Landau added. “And we could definitely feel her spirit throughout the day,”
As a civil rights activist, Casarez fought fiercely for recognition and respect of all, with racism being one of her constant targets. It was in that spirit that the William Way LGBT Center hosted the Black Gay Pride Town Hall Discussion on Race.
Shared experiences with discrimination don’t prevent prejudice and racism from infecting relations within LGBT circles at times, attendees noted. Similarly, some black LGBT people feel pulled in two directions, being noted for being pro-black or pro-LGBT rights, but without enough crossover allies. This meeting sought to build trust, broader alliances and awareness to concerns too often obscured.
That’s a familiar call among those who populate the “T” portion of the LGBT designation. Trans women and men still struggle for the same level of acceptance as their lesbian, bisexual and gay counterparts. The burden grows for trans women of color, who often are marginalized and violently targeted.
In Philadelphia, high-profile murders of London Chanel, and more recently, Kiesha Jenkins, both trans women of color, rocked the sensibilities of many. They add to an unsettling national roster, including the longstanding local mystery of what happened to Nizah Morris in 2002.
These realities helped propel the 2015 Trans Walk — seizing the opportunity to raise public awareness about their concerns, challenges and aspirations.
“It’s important for the trans community to know that the city understands the unique situations they face,” said Ezekiel Mathur, of the PCHR community relations division, who observed the march through Center City. “That’s why seeing allies alongside activists, matters, seeing Councilman Squilla there matters, seeing PCHR there, matters. Because their lives matter.”