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.”

U.S. Supreme Court wraps eventful, historic term

The latest term of the U.S. Supreme Court sliced through a host of complicated cases, but what emerged for progressive advocates affirmed and reinvigorated their efforts to ensure justice and equality under the law.

Without doubt, 2015 will go down in history for decisions that stand to have generational impact. Arguably, the affirmation of the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – will mark a watershed moment, as did the implementation of Social Security and Medicaid decades before.

But with rulings preserving the goals of the nation’s fair housing laws and establishing marriage equality as the law of the land, the Supreme Court also offered clear marching orders for agencies such as PCHR.

“With last week’s prudent U.S .Supreme Court rulings, all Americans inclusively gained access to the fundamental rights of fair housing, healthcare, and same sex marriage,” said PCHR Chairman Thomas H. Earle. “It was a powerful set of outcomes for people who often had been left powerless in our society.”

Advocates cheer U.S. Supreme Court ruling to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin, AP

Advocates cheer U.S. Supreme Court ruling to uphold the Affordable Care Act. Photo credit: Jacquelyn Martin, AP

From the court’s marble steps on First Street NE in Washington, D.C. to town squares across the country, reactions to the rulings were as euphoric as they were spontaneous – and colorful. Obamacare proponents could be seen waving brightly colored placards while marriage equality supporters waved rainbow flags.

The lawn of the National Constitution Center filled with supporters along with an array of notable speakers, including Mayor Michael A. Nutter, ACLU of PA Executive Director Reggie Shuford, PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau, Human Rights Campaign’s Christopher Labonte and the Rev. Jeff Haskins of the Unity Fellowship of Christ Church, among others.

Obergefell v. Hodges – and the three related cases bundled with it – proclaimed that the protection of marriage’s rights and privileges among wedded same-sex couples could not be denied in any state. A marriage in Massachusetts or Pennsylvania must be recognized in Alabama or Texas.

The ruling on marriage equality both elicited joy and set the stage for the next civil rights battle for LGBTQ advocates and their allies. While Philadelphia has nondiscrimination policies, in communities across the Commonwealth, someone legally could be fired or evicted on the basis of LGBTQ bias. Until Pennsylvania adopts a nondiscrimination law, that specter will hang like a gloom cloud over even the sunniest wedding and honeymoon memories.

The White House lit up in celebration of marriage equality.

The White House lit up in celebration of marriage equality.

That was a point emphasized at rallies that arose in the wake of the decision.

“Today we celebrate – and recommit to the hard work in front of us,” said Chris Bartlett, executive director of the William Way LGBT Community Center. “That’s to fight discrimination, to insure trans equity, and to insure safe schools for LGBT students.”

And while not as heavily publicized as the other cases, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project stands to have an equally sizable impact.

At issue was the interpretation and application of the Fair Housing Act, specifically its call making it illegal to refuse to rent, sell or otherwise block the rental or sale of a property to someone based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The concern in this case, and others like it elsewhere was “disparate impact” – that a law or policy has a discriminatory effect, even if unintended.

In Texas, there were claims that state and local governments were violating the spirit of the Fair Housing Act by perpetuating segregation, and using federal housing dollars to do it. Under the ruling, subsidized housing cannot solely be placed in isolated, impoverished areas when the goals are to integrate areas and open access to better jobs and schools to the underserved.

Tax-funded housing projects must consider disparate impact, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tax-funded housing projects must consider disparate impact, according to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling helped chip away at the negative legacy of redlining and other discriminatory policies of the past that continue to shackle too many.  In an age of urban revitalization and tensions spawned by gentrification, the Supreme Court cast an important perspective on both public accommodation and fair housing for communities nationwide.

“As the largest poor city in America, this decision impacts us greatly regarding the effects of development on communities of color in Philadelphia,” PCHR’s Landau said.

“Philadelphia is continuing to go through vast changes and development, this decision reinforces the notion that we must slow down and look at the impact development will have on our communities.”

Another term down, and other high-profile cases wait in the wings. In the meantime, there is plenty to absorb and put into action. As always, PCHR stands ready to help ensure justice and equality reign supreme.

2015 PCHR Awards: Philadelphia at its best

The opulent Arts Ballroom served as a perfect backdrop to celebrate the tireless efforts and ceaseless commitment of people and organizations in Philadelphia working on behalf of their neighbors and residents.

This was the 2015 PCHR Awards, and it was a night to remember.

Some 20 recipients from all walks of life and across the city and region received a well-earned spotlight. Mayor Michael A. Nutter, Managing Director Richard Negrin and PCHR commissioners presented the night’s awards to deserving recipients.

“Every year that we do this awards event, I take the opportunity to reflect on our current work and to make connections to the past.  For us, we don’t have to look far to make those connections,” said PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau. “In its early days, our commission was led by two giants in the civil rights movement – Clarence Farmer, Sr. and Sadie T.M. Alexander – who shepherded us through tumultuous times in Philadelphia’s history and who helped to shape a more equitable city.

“While the country as a whole has made tremendous progress since those early days . . . there is still much work to be done.  Thankfully, the people in this room today – from the PCHR staff and Commissioners to our wonderful awardees and supporters – are the people who will move us forward,” Landau added.

All photos shot for Adria Diane Hughes Photography. For more photos, click here.

In his comments, Mayor Nutter did not spare praise for the many who work to improve and advance justice and equality in Philadelphia. He aptly summarized not just the beauty of this one night, but also the ongoing importance of PCHR, the first municipal civil rights agencies of its sort in the country.

Celebrating civil rights champions from across the city

awardds_logoPHILADELPHIA — On Tuesday, April 28, PCHR will lead hundreds in recognizing and celebrating individuals and organizations from across the city and region who work in their daily capacity to improve the quality of life for all.

The 2015 PCHR Awards will honor a variety of civic  and social leaders, from the public, private and nonprofit sectors at the Arts Ballroom, 1324 Locust Street, Philadelphia, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. The complete list of this year’s honorees:

  • Bishop Dwayne Royster and Philadelphians Organized to Witness, Empower and Rebuild (POWER), Clarence Farmer Sr. Service Award recipients
  • Gloria Casarez, former LGBT affairs director for the City of Philadelphia (posthumously), Sadie T.M. Alexander Leadership Award recipient
  • Lt. Joyce Craig (posthumously), PCHR Chairman’s Award recipient
  • Adrienne Simpson, PCHR Chairman’s Award recipient
  • Ellen Somekawa, PCHR Executive Director’s Award recipient
  • Art-Reach workshop

    Art-Reach

    Art-Reach, PCHR Award for Arts and Culture

  • Kelvyn Anderson, executive director of the Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission, PCHR Award for Public Safety
  • Philadelphia CeaseFire, PCHR Award for Community Service
  • Steven Seibel and TC Shillingford of Broad Street Ministry, PCHR Award for Nonprofit Stewardship
  • Rosa’s Pizza, PCHR Award for Corporate Responsibility
  • Officer Juan “Ace” Delgado, PCHR Community Excellence Award

    Officer Gary Harkins

    Officer Gary Harkins

  • Gearing Up, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • Officer Gary Harkins, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • Officer Nokisha Jacobs, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • The Rev. Frank Lettko, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • Linda Toia, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • The Rev. Frank Toia, PCHR Community Excellence Award

    Regina Young

    Regina Young

  • Marsha Wall, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • Officer Tina Willis, PCHR Community Excellence Award
  • Regina Young, PCHR Community Excellence Award

You can still join Mayor Michael A. Nutter, PCHR leadership and other notables at this event, as well as jam with great sounds from members of the Philadelphia Clef Club’s Youth Jazz Ensemble, explore a silent auction packed with goodies, enjoy great food and even better company. Tickets are $75 and are still available for purchase here.
PCHR also would like to thank its generous sponsors for helping to make this event possible:

BRONZE
Regina Austincruz
Cruz ConstructionGraham Logo (Lt Green)
The Graham Company
Mel Heifitz
PEARL
Rebecca Alpert
The Arts Ballroom
Beneficial Foundation
dmhFund
Kearsley Rehabilitation and Nursing Center
Sarah Ricks, Esq.
Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin and Schiller
JADE
Orthodox Auto Company
The Philadelphia Foundation
Society Hill Congregation
FRIENDS
Asian Bank
Gateway Health Systems
Greater Philadelphia
Chamber of Commerce
Jerner & Palmer, P.C.
LAZ Parking
Liberty Resources Inc.
Lockton Insurance
Philadelphia Committee for
Affordable Communities
United Bank of Philadelphia
AUCTION DONORS
Angelique Benrahou
Cashman & Associates
Cruz Construction
Hard Rock Café
Joy Tsin Lau
Office of Mayor Michael A. Nutter
Philadelphia Theater Co.
Philadelphia Mural Arts
Reading Terminal Market
Andre Richard Salon
The Ritz-Carlton Philadelphia
Sally Saddiqi
Sang Kee restaurants
Speed Raceway
Vedge/V restaurants
V Trainers

List as of April 22, 2015

Love over hate: spring holiday edition

Rather than dwell on a ruling that affirmed freedom of speech but poses the opportunity to poison relations among residents, a coalition of advocates, led by an ecumenical group of faith leaders, gathered to declare that Philadelphia would stay true to its roots of tolerance.

A diverse array of faith and civic leaders joined Mayor Nutter to counter hateful speech with a new campaign, #DareToUnderstand.

A diverse array of faith and civic leaders joined Mayor Nutter to counter hateful speech with a new campaign, #DareToUnderstand.

Under gray skies Tuesday afternoon, Mayor Michael A. Nutter led the announcement of the #DareToUnderstand campaign — a response to provocative ads deemed anti-Muslim set to post on SEPTA buses and trolleys in April after SEPTA lost its court battle to bar the campaign. The ads are paid for by the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a cited hate group that has traveled from city to city, buying space on transit systems for ads that depict Muslims as hatemongers who target Jews.

The Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia spearheaded a coalition of concerned residents interested in taking a stand against the ads, a group that includes PCHR and the Mayor’s Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Hundreds came to LOVE Park as Nutter and a host of speakers all affirmed support for and respect of the First Amendment. By the same token, as the Rev. Judy Sullivan remarked clearly, this group intended to make it known that “we won’t stand by as words and images seek to divide us.”

Since the remedy for hate speech is more speech, enter #DareToUnderstand — a comprehensive resource center that encourages people to take an active, but peaceful role in speaking against hateful and divisive words. People are encouraged to take to social media and use the hashtag along with selfies, poems or other expressions of solidarity.  There are also ideas to help parents, teachers, faith leaders or others to open discussions and probe the concept of tolerance further. A campaign to bring awareness of #DareToUnderstand, from billboards to taxi ads. is under way — as is fundraising for those efforts.

Speech may be free, but irresponsible speech should be called out, the presenters at LOVE Park declared. That this is a week considered holy on the calendar of two major faith traditions — Christians are preparing to celebrate Easter while Jews are preparing for Passover — added greater resonance, advocates said.

PCHR leaders declare they #DareToUnderstand. (r-l) Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney, Commissioner Rebecca Alpert, Executive Director Rue Landau and Deputy Director Randy Duque.

PCHR leaders declare they #DareToUnderstand. (r-l) Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney, Commissioner Rebecca Alpert, Executive Director Rue Landau and Deputy Director Randy Duque.

#DareToUnderstand is a natural extension of the work PCHR does on a daily basis, said Rue Landau, executive director.

“These ads may be a deterrent to our work, but as a city, we’re better than these ads,” Landau said to cheers at LOVE Park. “This is a time we can come together.”

Even dare to understand.

Counter hate campaign launched by the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia.

Counter hate campaign launched by the Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia.

Celebrating Women’s History in a meaningful way

City Council members Blondell Reynolds Brown, Curtis Jones Jr. and Maria D. Quiñones-Sanchez took out time to honor a host of sheroes from across the city, “women of moxie” whose leadership in private, public and nonprofit sectors is helping to move the needle to a better quality of life for all who live and work here: Tina Sloan GreenClarena Tolson, Katherine Gajewski,  Yvonne RobertsIrene Hannan, Hon. Renee Cardwell Hughes, Vanessa Fields, Kathy BlackEvelyn Marcha-Hidalgo and Sophie Bryan 

Mayor Nutter signs a bill asking voters to create a  permanent Philadelphia Commission for Women.

Mayor Nutter signs a bill asking voters to create a permanent Philadelphia Commission for Women.

City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown makes a last-minute edit to her prepared comments during a Women's History Month program at City Hall.

City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown makes a last-minute edit to her prepared comments during a Women’s History Month program at City Hall.

Mayor Nutter, City Councilwomen Blondell Reynolds Brown and Maria D. Quiñones-Sanchez join a host of women who testified on behalf of creating a new Commission for Women.

Mayor Nutter, City Councilwomen Blondell Reynolds Brown and Maria D. Quiñones-Sanchez join a host of women who testified on behalf of creating a new Commission for Women, including PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau and Commissioner Shalimar Thomas.

The Women’s History Month program also featured an important part two: the enactment of legislation that will move the city a step closer to reintroducing a Commission for Women. Mayor Michael A. Nutter signed Bill No. 140230, allowing voters in the Mayor 19 primary election to decide whether to update the city’s charter and make such a commission a permanent feature of municipal government. PCHR testified in favor of this action in February.

Philadelphia Revenue Commissioner Clarena Tolson, PCHR Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney and City Councilman Blondell Reynolds Brown share a moment of celebration and sisterhood.

Philadelphia Revenue Commissioner Clarena Tolson, PCHR Deputy Director Pamela Gwaltney and City Councilman Blondell Reynolds Brown share a moment of celebration and sisterhood.

With issues ranging from pay equity to human trafficking to cyclical poverty, there is cause and need for a set of thinkers and doers to focus on real solutions, Reynolds Brown reminded the audience. Nutter said he signed the legislation in honor of his grandmother, his mother, his sister, his wife and, “for the future, my daughter Olivia.”

And once the question goes on the ballot, Nutter said, “The answer should be ‘Yes.'”

.

My Brother’s Keeper Philly – next steps

Last fall, Mayor Michael A. Nutter publicly accepted President Obama’s challenge to create environments that would be more conducive for black and brown boys to be successful, given well-documented statistics that bear the sad reality of poor outcomes for too many of them, be they in Philadelphia or elsewhere in the nation.

With the launch of My Brother’s Keeper Philadelphia came a series of brainstorming sessions and conversations to assess what this city would need to strengthen in order to better guide these young men to a productive adulthood that’s starting to bear fruit. MBK Philly expects to issue its recommendations and action plan by the end of the month, unveiling it locally and presenting it to the White House. In many ways, it will further the efforts of the Mayor’s Commission on African-American Males.

“One of the unifying themes that came from these meetings was the need for a coordinated communications strategy with two ends,” said Erica Atwood, the city’s director of Black Male Engagement. “One, is to promote the positive stories of young men and boys of color by asking them to tell their stories, and two, that Philadelphia create an ‘Act or Fund’ campaign to encourage each of us to find a way to impact this work.”

At the center of that work are six areas that would allow black and brown boys — indeed all children here — to thrive better:

  • Entering school ready to learn
  • Reading at grade level by third grade
  • Graduating from high school ready for college or work
  • Finishing post-secondary education or training
  • Entering the workforce successfully
  • Reducing violence and providing a second chance

In the wake of strained police-community relations noted most recently in a report to President Obama on 21st century policing needs and increasing media reports indicating black and brown men tend to fare worse during such encounters, finding ways to stem those negative interactions earlier on is critical. It also brings greater urgency to initiatives such as MBK Philly.

Since the beginning, PCHR has been in the mix in helping how to think through and achieve these goals — lending insights on the issues and assisting some of the ensuing meetings as facilitators.

CRD representative Jonah Roll helps lead a conversation during a session at City Hall.

CRD representative Jonah Roll (c.) helps lead a conversation during a session at City Hall.

In fact, PCHR Deputy Director Randy Duque serves on the MBK Philly working committee, a group of some two dozen people who work throughout city government. The committee took the lead in convening additional listening and informational sessions with interested organizations and individuals willing to offer sound ideas on addressing the challenges outlined. And productively guiding conversations among diverse stakeholders is a tailor-made role for the Community Relations Division (CRD), a seasoned team trained in facilitation and conflict resolution skills, Duque said.

“I had proposed to the steering committee that the CRD could help keep everyone focused on the task at hand, and they did,” he added. “We got overwhelmingly positive feedback from the steering committee members and participants on how CRD brought people through the discussion topics.”

CRD representative Tierra Thompson makes sure the thoughts of the group are captured during a City Hall session.

CRD representative Tierra Thompson (c.) makes sure the thoughts of the group are captured during a City Hall session.

CRD representative Patricia Coyne clarifies a discussion point during a City Hall session.

CRD representative Patricia Coyne (r.) clarifies a discussion point during a City Hall session.

The series of targeted meetings that followed the initial kickoff ranged, from talking with leaders the School District of Philadelphia to those within Latino communities. Committee members also gleaned thoughts from young people, including those at the Juvenile Justice Services Center, those engaged in programs such as YouthBuild, PowerCorpPHL and the Youth Desk of the Liberian Ministers Association, among others.

Of course, unveiling the action plan will be another step along the journey, not the final destination. It will take more to accomplish those outlined goals, Atwood said, citing one young man’s view that applied aptly to students and adults alike.

“He said, ‘In order to make this work, we must be willing to be vulnerable. We must be honest, willing to acknowledge our shortcomings, our gaps in performance, our failures and our missed opportunities.’ And he’s right,” she added. “We all must be willing to work hard to reach a better outcome.”

For more, visit MBKPhilly.com.