Standing in solidarity with LGBT residents

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.

Mayor Nutter was among hundreds of the admirers of Gloria Casarez helping to create her tribute mural.

Mayor Nutter was among hundreds of the admirers of Gloria Casarez helping to create her tribute mural.

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.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau adds a stroke of brilliance to the Gloria Casarez mural.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau adds a stroke of brilliance to the Gloria Casarez 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 Gloria Casarez mural will stand at the 12th Street Gym, in the heart of Philadelphia's Gayborhood.

The Gloria Casarez mural will stand at the 12th Street Gym, in the heart of Philadelphia’s Gayborhood.

“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.

The 2015 Trans Walk drew people from across the city and region to march in solidarity.

The 2015 Trans Walk drew people from across the city and region to march in solidarity.

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.

Activists and allies assembled in Center City to march in support of their trans family, friends and neighbors.

Activists and allies assembled in Center City to march in support of their trans family, friends and neighbors.

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.”

Examining intersections of religious freedom with other rights

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau joined an expert panel  at the Philadelphia Bar Association for a brown-bag discussion Friday on modern interpretations of religious freedom amid new legal protections for LGBT people and shifting reproductive rights.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau (c.) draws attention to a point as co-panelists Molly Tack-Hooper and Rabbi David Teutsch listen.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau (c.) draws attention to a point as co-panelists Molly Tack-Hooper and Rabbi David Teutsch listen. Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Bar Association.

Religious Refusals and Exemptions: Religious Opposition to LGBT Rights and Reproductive Freedom explored issues raised by recent cases and news, from the Hobby Lobby decision in the U.S. Supreme Court to the controversial decision by an elected Kentucky country clerk who refused to approve marriage licenses due to her objections to same-sex marriage.

Along with Molly Tack-Hooper, staff attorney at the ACLU of Pennsylvania and Rabbi David Teutsch, director of the Levin-Lieber Program in Jewish Ethics at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, Landau delved into where the lines lie today.

Dozens of attorneys and other interested professionals attended the session and engaged in a Q&A with panelists on Constitutional, moral and ethical grounds.

“It was a lively discussion, and it got a lot of us thinking about things in new ways as we forge new territory for newly instilled rights,” Landau said.

“Still, it’s important to remember that we already have laws in place from the Constitution to multiple statutes that protect religious freedom. So, we must reject any new religious exemption laws that are attempts to legislate discrimination,” she added.

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PCHR responds to pending bill on gender-neutral bathrooms

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau commented on a bill being advanced by City Councilman Mark Squilla that would make single-stall bathrooms in the city gender-neutral:

“We thank Councilman Mark Squilla and applaud City Council for taking up a bill that would establish and affirm gender-neutral status for single-stall bathrooms. It’s a provision that addresses both access and quality of life issues for residents and visitors alike.

“We have found that something as basic as heading to the bathroom can be a source of great angst and consternation for many – be they transgender men or women or people assisting older or disabled family and friends.

“By the simple act of removing a particular label from a single-use stall, there is an opportunity to replace shame and embarrassment with respect and dignity. It’s an easy, largely cost-neutral move that would reap considerable relief and rewards and further cement Philadelphia as a progressive and welcoming place for all.”

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PCHR responds to call for updated statewide nondiscrimination law

PHILADELPHIA – PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau responds to the rising debate regarding the need for an updated nondiscrimination law in Pennsylvania. Democratic and Republican lawmakers recently introduced Senate Bill 974 and House Bill 1510 — together, known as the Pennsylvania Fairness Act — in the General Assembly.

“Despite marriage equality being the law of the land – first through the 2014 Whitewood decision, then affirmed nationally by the U.S. Supreme Court in June – LGBT residents and visitors can still suffer discrimination across the commonwealth. People can be denied services, evicted or fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity without penalties across much of Pennsylvania.

“Philadelphia is one of the few areas where comprehensive protections barring LGBT discrimination exists – a practice that should be in place in every municipality, Landau says.

“For decades, Philadelphia has recognized that strong nondiscrimination laws protecting everyone – including LGBT residents and visitors – make economic sense. They allow businesses to attract more dollars, broaden their workforce and build our tax base as a result. We understand that the best and brightest can come in all shapes, sizes and colors. Philadelphia has continued to lead in this area. Now Pennsylvania must follow.

“Passing comprehensive nondiscrimination legislation would give us hope that all Pennsylvanians will be protected, be it in the streets or in the workplace. Whatever law eventually passes in Harrisburg must preserve the rights of cities like Philadelphia to be at the cutting edge of addressing discrimination, and should emulate our efforts. Only then would we see our commonwealth finally live up to its credo – virtue, liberty and independence.”

PCHR disappointed in SEPTA ruling

The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, defendant in a lawsuit by SEPTA regarding jurisdiction over the transportation system, issued the following statement in response to today’s Commonwealth Court ruling:

“We are deeply disappointed with the majority opinion of the Commonwealth Court,” said Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. “We are still reviewing the decision and assessing our next steps.

“We’re in a time when across the country we’re expanding protections for people in the LGBT community, and today the Commonwealth Court renders a decision that would make it legal to discriminate against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender riders and employees of SEPTA. That’s shameful.

“We believe President Judge Pellegrini is correct in his 21-page dissenting opinion when he says, ‘The consequence of making SEPTA subject to Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance would mean that more invidious discrimination would be abated . . ..’ ”

“For any public agency to think they can be immune from anti-discrimination laws in their operation is an affront to the entire community,” said Thomas H. Earle, PCHR chair. “It’s always good to interpret and apply civil rights laws as broadly as possible. The commission will fully explore next steps, including re-filing with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.”

PCHR is the agency charged with ensuring fair dealings in employment, housing, public accommodations and real estate and diffusing inter-group conflict within the city, as outlined in the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, Philadelphia’s guiding civil rights legislation.

Seeking to end hate crimes loophole: city edition

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau testified in City Council before its public safety committee Tuesday on behalf of a new bill introduced to close the gaping loophole left when the state Supreme Court stripped hate crimes protections for LGBT and disabled people from the state code.

Bill No. 140720, introduced by City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown and Councilman Jim Kenney would expand the city’s laws to include hate crimes penalties. Atop of whatever sentence the initial crime calls for, 90 more days and up to $2,000 would be added if it is determined to be a hate crime.

While the violent Center City gay bashing on Sept. 11 spurred a lot of attention for LGBT rights, the legislation also has an eye on people with disabilities, who also find themselves victims of hate crimes too often, statistics and advocates report.

Charles Horton Jr., executive director of the Mayor’s Commission on People with Disabilities, and Thomas Earle, president and CEO of Liberty Resources Inc.were among those testifying in support of the bill. Earle also serves as chair of PCHR.

There remain some questions on the legal construction of the bill in getting to the outcome desired by lawmakers, as raised by Capt. Francis Healy of the Philadelphia Police Department. Still, Healy, like Landau, spoke of the need to establish meaningful law to address hateful perpetrators.

Capt. Francis Healy (l.) and PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau (r.) testify at a committee meeting Tuesday on a proposed hate crimes bill offered by City Council.

Capt. Francis Healy (l.) and PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau (r.) testify at a committee meeting Tuesday on a proposed hate crimes bill offered by City Council.

“This would not be the first time Philadelphia is taking a leadership role to address issues of inequality,” Landau said. “But with any hope, what is proposed here soon will be mirrored and enacted on the state level. Still, I am convinced that regardless of the outcomes in Harrisburg,

“Philadelphia must continue its historic role of building and assuring tolerance for each and every resident and visitor here – and detail consequences for those who violate our shared values.”

It was an emotional day for Landau, as she spoke amid occasional tears. Gloria Casarez, the city’s LGBT affairs director, had planned on attending, if not testifying at this hearing; cancer robbed her of that chance last Sunday.

Read the full PCHR testimony here.

The committee unanimously approved the bill, which will go to the full City Council as early as next week.

PCHR remembers Gloria Casarez, city’s LGBT affairs director

PHILADELPHIA, October 20, 2014 – The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations joins countless individuals and organizations across the city and nation mourning the passing of Gloria Casarez, director of LGBT affairs for the Nutter Administration after her long bout with cancer. She was 42 and survived by her wife, Tricia Dressel.

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, a Casarez colleague and friend of 20 years, offered these thoughts:

“Gloria focused her work on all people facing oppression, particularly people of color – or, as she would say, ‘black and brown people.’ She knew that many laws and policies currently in place do not benefit communities of color and the less connected, and she spent her entire professional career fighting to change that.

“As for the LGBT community, Gloria made sure to give a special voice to the trangender community, because so often they were shut not only out of the broader lesbian and gay community, but were so completely marginalized by all of society – especially trans men and women of color.

“During the mayor’s announcement of her appointment, she made it a point to fill the Mayor’s Reception Room with every segment of the LGBT community. That’s because she wanted to send a message that City Hall was open for everybody.

“She was such a wonderful mentor to many, many young people. She made colleagues friends and her friends became family. She was a fierce warrior and a friend beloved by many, of all colors, gay, straight and anywhere between. Her humor and her passion will sorely be missed, but we will continue her fight to ensure inclusive, nondiscriminatory policies that affirm and advance everyone. Gloria wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Mayor Michael A. Nutter ordered that the rainbow flag that had been hoisted for LGBT history month be lowered to half-staff at 1 p.m. today.

PCHR is the agency charged with diffusing inter-group conflict within the city and ensure fair dealings in employment, housing, public accommodations and real estate, as outlined in the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance, Philadelphia’s guiding civil rights legislation.

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(l-r) PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and LGBT Affairs Director Gloria Casarez often raised their voices and worked together to help ensure inclusion and fairness in city policies.