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.”