Shortly after President Obama outlined where the nation stands in his State of the Union, Philadelphia’s LGBT leaders came together to delineate where the local LGBT community stands on a number of topics, and where it should focus its attention in the coming year.
Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club’s State of the City identified a number of areas of focus — including safe spaces for youth, LGBT homelessness, equal access to health care for transgender people and opportunities for economic development — that the local LGBT community can concentrate on in 2012.
The first-of-its-kind discussion, held Feb. 2 at The Church of St. Luke and The Epiphany, was moderated by Liberty City board member Sherrie Cohen and featured remarks from city director of LGBT affairs Gloria Casarez, former city LGBT liaison and founder of The Colours Organization Inc., Mike Hinson, former co-president of OutFront! Kathy Padilla and president of The Attic Youth Center’s Youth Planning Committee Ibrahim Vicks.
The panelists reviewed LGBT accomplishments in the city in the past year, including the progress that was made on the LGBT senior-housing project, the approval of a bill to mandate domestic-partner benefits for partners of employees of city contractors and Mayor Nutter’s vocal support for the national Mayors for the Freedom to Marry movement.
Casarez outlined federal efforts, such as the administration’s decision to end its legal support for the Defense of Marriage Act and the recent adoption by the Housing and Urban Development of LGBT nondiscrimination regulations, noting the impact that pro-LGBT policy changes could have in Philadelphia.
Locally, the city is on the cusp of launching the nation’s first residential treatment facility for transgender individuals, Casarez noted, and efforts have also been made by several city departments, especially those that work with youth and homeless populations, to educate staffers on LGBT issues.
While steps have been taken to support LGBT youth, more outreach and education is needed to ensure young people feel safe in city schools, Vicks said.
“LGBT youth need safer spaces in schools. I’ve had friends who have been really hurt by things people say and do in school,” Vicks said. “Students would say, ‘That’s so gay,’ in some classes and get away with it, but not in others, so the teachers really have to be responsible.”
Casarez added that the ongoing leadership transitions at the school district have hindered the city’s ability to adequately address LGBT youth issues in schools.
Padilla identified a number of aims for the coming year, including enhanced transparency in the Nizah Morris investigation, voter-protection efforts and the launch of an LGBT Community Development Center.
Removing exclusions from health-insurance coverage for transgender city employees, an effort that Padilla said has been underway for about a decade, should also be a community aim this year.
Other unresolved challenges the panelists referenced included the ongoing debate over the Boy Scouts building, SEPTA’s gender markers and unsolved homicides in the community, including that of Morris and Stacey Blahnik.
Despite the breadth of the issues and interests facing the community, Casarez suggested that collaboration could be integral this year.
“Our LGBT community is a community of communities. We’re not one, we’re not whole and we’re not of one particular mindset, need or interest. We as a collective should reject that notion that we are one group. We are many but we do have some points of unity,” she said. “It’s a broad landscape but I firmly believe it’s a great time to be alive, and it’s a really important time for us to be engaged.”
Just as unity is critical, Hinson also noted concrete action will be key to achieving progress this year.
“We have to be the change,” he said. “We have to be an action and not wait for action to take place. Real transformation requires an investment in being better, being more secure and more complete, and it requires absolute action. Our challenge is to be the change.”
Padilla hailed the event as an important conversation starter that could be a useful annual tool.
“It was a chance to look backward and see where we’ve come from and to look forward as a community,” she said. “I think it was really brilliant on Liberty City’s part, and I hope it becomes a tradition for them.”
Good morning. My name is Sara Jacobson. I am a member of the Board of The Liberty City Democratic Club and the Chair of its Endorsement Committee. I thank the Committee on Law and Government for accepting our testimony on the Equal Benefits Bill. Many of you came before our membership less than a year ago asking for our support in the elections. When we opened our City Council candidate night in the Spring, we asked you to remember our members,notonly on Election Day when you had our votes, but after Election Day as well, when you made decisions that affect us in these halls.
Liberty City was founded in 1994 to build lesbian and gay involvement in the Democratic Party. Our goals include mobilizing LGBT voters; electing LGBT and LGBT-friendly candidates; working to oust anti-gay office holders; and promoting legislative issues of importance to our community. We have approximately 4000 members throughout Philadelphia and the surrounding counties. Our membership cares deeply about LGBT equality. They turn to Liberty City for guidance about important legislation like the Equal Benefits Bill, and they vote.
Liberty City supports the Equal Benefits Bill, and thanks Councilwoman Reynolds Brown for introducing it, as well as Councilman Kenney, Councilman Greenlee, and Councilman DiCicco for co-sponsoring the Bill.
Philadelphia needs the Equal Benefits Bill because this bill ensures that our city doesn’t endorse discrimination in its private contracts. This bill says that if you want to do business with our city, you must do right by all its citizens, by providing the same employment benefits to life partners who share the same gender identity as those given to opposite sex couples. Permitting tax dollars to give the benefit of city contracts to businesses that don’t do so, would be a use of tax dollars to endorse discrimination. The Equal Benefits Bill is inclusive, because using the term “gender identity” in its definition of who is covered, contemplates transgender people. The bill shows leadership, placing Philadelphia among a growing list of States and Cities who have passed similar legislation[i]. This bill is smart, because it combats discrimination without costing the city a dime.
A mere eight days ago the members of Liberty City stood in line to vote, and when they voted, they stood up for many of you. They did so because you came to Liberty City and pledged your support for the issues that matter to us. Issues like the Equal Benefits Bill. I ask you to stand up for us now, as we did for you then. Stand up for us by passing this bill.
[i] The State of California and 13 other municipalities (Berkley, CA; King County, WA; Long Beach, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Miami Beach, FL; Minneapolis, MN; Oakland, CA; Olympia, WA; Sacramento, CA; San Mateo County, CA; San Francisco, CA; Seattle, WA; Tumwater, WA) have legislation similar to Bill #110057. Five other municipalities (Salt Lake City, UT; Portland, ME; Broward County, FL; Sacramento, CA; and Atlanta, GA), have related ordinances, like ordinances that give contract preferences to companies that either have non-discrimination policies or provide equal employment benefits to domestic partners. http://www.hrc.org/resources/entry/equal-benefits-ordinances. Councilman Green, in his recent Liberty City candidate questionnaire, noted that the city should consider whether companies provide domestic partner benefits when awarding city contracts. Other members of City Council (Councilman Goode, Councilwoman Quinones Sanchez, and Councilwoman Reed Miller) have indicated they would co-sponsor or support such a Bill in past candidate questionnaires. We thank all of you for such support. See: http://www.libertycity.org/committees/endorsements/questionnaire-archive.html.
This Wednesday, November 16 at 10:00 am, City Council is holding a public hearing on Councilwoman Reynolds Brown's Equal Benefits Bill, legislation that would extend equal benefits for same sex partners. The bill would require contractors accepting service contracts from the City of Philadelphia of $250,000 or more to extend the same employment benefits to life partners of its employees that is extended to spouses of married employees.
Councilwoman Reynolds Brown needs our help to pass this bill and we urge you to voice your support for the Equal Benefits Bill. City Council needs to hear from you now.
Below is the sample letter with the address, telephone numbers and email addresses of the Councilmembers who serve on the Committee on Law & Government (where this bill will be read, debated and voted on). Also included are their legislative aides. We must touch these offices. We ask for your help in contacting them via at least one means of communication.
City Council Contact Information
Re: Bill #110057, Equal Benefits in City Contracting
Dear Council Member ,
I am proud to support the Equal Benefits Bill, #110057, to promote equal benefits in City Contracting. Sponsored by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, Bill #110057 ensures that all contractors who enter into contracts of $250,000 or more with the City of Philadelphia must extend the same employment benefits to life partners of its employees that are extended to spouses of married employees.
Providing the same benefits to an employee with a life partner, or same-sex or opposite-sex spouse ensures that workers receive equal pay for equal work.
Providing equal benefits also shows respect for the diversity of employees and their individual circumstances. Additionally, treating employees fairly is a sound business practice. A non-discriminatory benefits program enables employers to attract and retain the best and most talented employees, lowers turnover and recruitment costs, and helps improve employee job satisfaction and performance.
Bill #110057 will level the playing field for all employees of Companies that contract with the City of Philadelphia. For those reasons and more, we urge you to vote in favor of Bill #110057.
Should you have any questions regarding our support for this bill, please contact me at <Enter Contact Information>.
<Enter Your Name and Affiliation>
Today, Liberty City sponsored a table at the vendor area of the LGBTQ Womyn of Color Conference at Temple University. The event was fantasic! Gloria Casarez of the Mayor's office and Poet/Activist Sonia Sanchez each spoke at the event creating a very empowering and motivating experience! Congrats to The Elements Organization for a great conference! Liberty City looks forward to participating again in the future.
On October 8, a delegation of several Liberty City Members joined hundreds of others for Philadelphia's first annual Philly Trans* March. The purpose of the march was to increase visabilty of the whole range of gender expressions and to demand equal treatment for all parts of the LGBTQ community. The Philly Trans* March website explains:
The Philly Trans* March is not only a rally and a demonstration but it is also a revolutionary movement. Open to people of all genders and gender experiences, the Philly Trans* March welcomes everyone to join in this celebration of identities and to protest against the hate, social injustice and inequality faced by our communities and the people in them. With an aim to increase trans* visibility, this march is a celebration of our beauty, strength, and diversity.
The March kicked off with a rally at Love Park at 3pm. As hundreds of supporters gathered with rainbow flags and fabulous marching signs, Emcee Cooper introduced various speakers to inspire the group. Max October and Nico Amador represented RAGE and encouraged the crowd to join the movement to end SEPTA's discriminatory practice of requiring riders to declare their gender in order to ride. Then, HIV and Transgender Activist Jaci Adams gave an passionate rally speech that got the crowd in high spirits and ready to march. Liberty City members then joined members of RAGE as we marched through the streets of Philly. The march took us around city hall, down South Broad Street making a left onto Pine Street and another left onto 13th Street, marching through the Gayborhood to Market Street, back around City Hall returning to Love Park.
From there, the crowed remained in the park for performances by Benni E and Dynasty. Finally, poet and rally organizer Christian Axavier addressed the crowd.
Liberty City LGBT Democrats is proud to have played a role in such and important event. We look forward to participating next year.
On October 6, the General Membership of Liberty City held its Fall Candidates Night and Endorsement meeting. Approximately 50 members of the community came out to hear candidates for office speak and then to vote on our fall endorsements. Our Co-Chair, Lee Carson, opened the meeting and presented announcements. After that he introduced Cei Bell, a member of the Endorsement Committee, who moderated our candidate's discussion.
We first heard from Councilman Bill Greenlee, who was not endorsed by Liberty City in the primary. Greenlee is an incumbent At-large Councilperson and is one of 5 incumbents running for 5 available seats. Since the organization endorsed two challengers in the Primary Election, out lesbian Sherrie Cohen and community activist Andy Toy, two incumbent councilmembers were not endorsed, including Councilman Greenlee. Now that the primary election has passed, and the two challengers did not win, we were able to reconsider Greenlee for endorsement. Greenlee addressed the membership and reiterated his work with the Human Relations Commission to strengthen our Fair Practices Ordinance. After he spoke, the membership unanimously voted to endorse him in the fall election.
1st District Council candidate Mark Squilla spoke next. He also competed for our endorsement in the primary election, but the membership endorsed candidate Joe Grace, who came in second place in a four person race. Squilla won the Primary Election to replace Councilman Frank DiCicco. Even though he is running unopposed in the General Election, he nevertheless appeared once again before Liberty City to earn our endorsement. He reiterated his opposition to selling city owned land to the Boy Scouts as well as his opposition to gender markers on SEPTA trans passes. A member asked if he supported the earned sick leave bill that Mayor Nutter has vetoed. He said that he would not support it in its current form because he doesn't believe it will pass, but would consider supporting a bill with revised language. After discussion by the membership, Squilla was overwhelmingly endorsed.
We then heard from Keith Collins who is running for Delaware County Council. He told us that no Democrat has been elected to Delco's Council in 40 years. He plans to fight for a countywide Human Relations Ordinance much like what we have in Philadelphia. The organization also voted to Endorse Mr. Collins.
Municipal Court Judge James DeLeon spoke on behalf of himself and all of the judges running for retention this fall. Every 10 years a sitting judge must appear on the ballot in a retention election. Retention elections are nonpartisan yes/no elections in which voters decide whether sitting judges should continue to serve for another term. After much discussion, the membership decided not to endorse any judicial retention candidates because we had no information about any of the individual candidates appearing on the ballot.
Three candidates who we endorse in the Primary and won their election returned and spoke to thank us for our support. They were Councilman Bill Green, City Commissioner candidate Stephanie Singer, and Common Pleas Judicial candidate Carolyn Nichols. Each will appear on our slate of endorsed candidates for the fall election.
Finally, Al Schmidt, the Republican candidate for City Commissioner addressed the membership. It was made clear to him that he was not eligible for our endorsement since he was running on the Republican ticket. Allowing Schmidt to speak was consistent with past practices of allowing Green Party and independent candidates an opportunity to speak. After Mr. Schmidt spoke, one member requested that we reconsider that policy and argued that Republicans should not be allowed to speak before the membership of what is a Democratic Party organization. The Co-chair said the board will look into the policy of who gets to speak before the General Membership.
Liberty City is interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter. Should Republicans be banned from speaking before Liberty City, since our mission is to elect LGBT supportive Democrats? What about independent candidates or other progressives from the Green Party or other third parties? Let us know in the comment section below what you think, and the Board will take it into consideration when we next meet.
The fundraising committee has been busy preparing for our fall fundraiser, adn we invite you to come out and support Liberty City Democratic Club on Tuesday, November 1st from 6:00PM to 8:00PM at Stir Lounge near Rittenhouse Square. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER>>
I look forward to seeing you at Stir on November 1st.
The Liberty City Democratic Club thanks the committee for accepting our written testimony on the importance of HB 300. Our organization was founded in 1994 by activists who wanted to build lesbian and gay power and involvement in the Democratic Party. The goals of our organization are: to register, educate and mobilize lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) voters; to elect openly LGBT candidates to public office; to support LGBT-friendly candidates; to work to oust anti-gay office holders; to promote legislative issues of importance to the LGBT community; and to provide a forum for LGBT voters to meet candidates and officeholders. We have over 4,000 members throughout Philadelphia, Delaware, Chester, Montgomery, and Bucks Counties. Our members, like any LGBT Pennsylvanians, are your family members, your friends, your neighbors, and your constituents.
Liberty City supports HB 300. Adding sexual orientation and gender identity or expression protection to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act will make our Commonwealth a fairer place and a better place to live. This law is necessary, it is fair, and its time has come.
Liberty City Opposes the Nomination of City Solicitor Shelley Smith for Appointment to the Federal Judiciary
The Honorable Senator Robert Casey Jr.
August 22, 2011
Dear Senator Casey:
This letter represents the strongly held views of the Liberty City Democratic Club, and has been approved by its Board. We have recently become aware of Shelley Smith’s candidacy for appointment to the Federal judiciary. In that regard, we write this letter to express our significant concerns with that possible appointment. The primary reasons for our opposition are that Ms. Smith grossly mishandled and lost the case between the City of Philadelphia and the Boy Scouts, Cradle of Liberty Chapter, then failed to support an appeal, and then proposed a sweetheart deal with the Boy Scouts.
Shelley Smith committed fundamental errors in the handling of this case. Those errors include rejecting early offers of pro bono legal help, taking no discovery whatsoever from the national Boy Scouts of America, stating no objection to Judge Buckwalter’s potential bias based upon his board membership of the Boy Scouts, and designating no expert witnesses for trial. These errors demonstrate that Ms. Smith either represented the City incompetently, or intentionally favored the Boy Scouts over her client, the City of Philadelphia. Either way, such behavior should be considered before a lifetime appointment to the federal bench is made.
Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club today officially joined the Coalition for Healthy Families and Workplaces and called on Philadelphia City Council to pass earned sick days legislation Thursday, June 16th.
"Liberty City has worked tirelessly to promote policies that support LGBT residents and families and we have worked just as tirelessly to elect councilmembers who support those LGBT-friendly policies," said Lee Carson, Co-Chair of Liberty City. "The earned sick days bill is critical in supporting and protecting LGBT families and Liberty City expects LGBT-supportive councilmembers to vote for it."
"Passing the earned sick days bill is an important step forward for LGBT civil rights in Philadelphia." added Liberty City Co-Chair Adah Bush.
Liberty City joins the following LGBT Community and HIV/AIDS leadership organizations in supporting earned sick days legislation: Mazzoni Center, William Way, Action AIDS, Philadelphia AIDS Fund, Philadelphia Family Pride, AIDS Law Project, GALAEI, and Philadelphia Fight.
Promoting Healthy Families and Workplaces Act (Bill 080474) would allow Philadelphia workers the opportunity to earn up to 7 days of sick time per year for a large business and up to 4 days per year for a small businesses. It was voted out of the Public Health and Human Services Committee earlier this year. The bill could affect up to 200,000 workers in Philadelphia who do not have access to paid sick days.