Philly LGBTQ State of the Union opens up groups to those they serve

Historic town hall calls for inclusion, empowerment, accountability and protection.

Cherri Gregg
May 30, 2018 - 8:07 am
Amber Hikes, executive director of Philadelphia's Office of LGBT Affairs

Cherri Gregg-KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia made history Tuesday night with its first ever LGBT State of the Union at the Kimmel Center. 

The event comes more than a year after protests calling out racism in Gayborhood nightclubs. 

"There is nothing greater in this nation that striving for the inclusion, empowerment and protection of those who continue to be marginalized," Mayor Jim Kenney said to hundreds of LGBTQ individuals and allies in attendance. "It's progress we seek."

The State of the Union is intended to open dialogue by providing an opportunity for better transparency and accessibility between LGBTQ service organization and those they serve. Nearly a dozen of the city's largest LGBTQ service organizations were represented at the event.

It's also been more than a year since Kenney hired Amber Hikes to lead the Office of LGBT Affairs, following months of racial tension within the LGBT community. Hikes made the office more outward-facing by holding community conversations, which culminated with the State of the Union.

"As far as we have seen nationally, there has never been an LGBT State of the Union of this kind of magnitude," Hikes said. "This is by us, for us."

The groups — which included the William Way Center, the Mazzoni Center, GALAEI, Attic Youth Center, COLOURS, Philly Black Pride, Philly Pride, Independence Business Alliance and Delaware Valley Legacy Fund — presented their missions, progress, future visions and their current efforts to diversify. Afterward, community members had the chance to attend focus groups to ask questions directly to those running the organizations.

"There is no roadmap to this," said Hikes, who explained the ground rules for decorum before the break-out groups. "Everyone needs to respect each other — only one person speaks at a time." 

One of the more heated discussions surrounded the Mazzoni Center, which was under fire for over a year following accusations of a racially tense work environment and a lack of diversity in its leadership.

More than two dozen people sat in on the break-out session, asking questions about the organization's new CEO, Lydia Gonzalez Sciarrino, a self-identified cisgender heterosexual Latina with limited connections to the LGBT community in Philadelphia.

"This is a huge leap in terms of accountability and transparency that we have never seen before," Hikes added. "We had executive directors that have been doing this work for 25 years and said 'I have never had to stand in front of the community or had the opportunity to stand in front of the community.'"

Overall, feedback from those in attendance was positive.

"I'm very glad to hear all that they are doing," said attendee Austin Ellis, "and I hope they actually go forward."

"If they enact what they said, it would be a great step for the LGBTQ community," echoed attendee Mike Walker.