“It Was an Ambush”: Behind the Vote That Ousted Sharron Cooks as LGBT Commission Chair

Sharron Cooks | Photo taken by Kelly Burkhardt

The Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs, a 23-member advisory board announced in October 2016 after several intense months of revelations about racial discrimination in the Gayborhood, convened its first meeting on March 16th at City Hall. This inaugural gathering served as the formal introduction of Amber Hikes, a black queer woman newly appointed as the executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, to the diverse body of volunteers who would help her advise Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration on the pressing needs of Philadelphia’s LGBT community.

It was during this meeting, which kicked off with commission members taking the floor for two minutes apiece to present overviews of their lives and work, that Sharron Cooks, a black transgender advocate and new member herself, noticed something potentially troubling. She felt that another member, a white cisgender woman, was “taking up too much space” — essentially framing discussion of diversity and inclusion around her own experience rather than that of people of color. Cooks said nothing, but noted that, unlike other members, the woman eventually spoke for five minutes longer than the allotted time. Read more »

Sharron Cooks Announces Resignation From LGBT Commission After Being Voted Out as Chair

Sharron Cooks | Photo taken by Kelly Burkhardt

After having made history as the first transgender person ever to chair a city commission, Sharron Cooks was removed as head of the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs on Tuesday night in a 13-3 (with 3 abstentions) vote during an emergency meeting. G Philly was sent documentation from the meeting that raised concerns surrounding Cooks’s social media interactions with members of one of the commission’s committees.

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“Pop-Up Love Party” Counters Anti-Trans Bus’s Philly Stop

Sharron Cooks guiding people away from the anti-trans bus | Photo by Jennifer Bryant

Sharron Cooks guiding people away from the anti-trans bus | Photo by Jennifer Bryant

On Saturday, the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, in collaboration with GALAEI, Trans-health Information Project (TIP), Attic Youth Center, William Way, ACLU, Mazzoni Center, and other community organizations, held a “Pop-Up Love Party” to protest the anti-trans “Free Speech Bus Tour” that was scheduled to appear. The National Organization on Marriage (NOM) has been driving across the East Coast for several weeks in a striking bright orange bus with transphobic messages and images, which has been met with protestors and vandalism. Read more »

Sharron Cooks Becomes the First-Ever Transgender Person to Chair a City Commission

Sharron Cooks | Photo taken by Kelly Burkhardt

Sharron Cooks | Photo taken by Kelly Burkhardt

The Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs finished its internal election for board leaders this week, and G Philly was notified on Thursday that transgender advocate Sharron Cooks was elected as chair, along with out rowing coach Libby Peters as secretary and community activist Jason Evans as treasurer. In this role, Cooks becomes the first transgender person ever to chair a citywide commission in Philadelphia. Read more »

Office of LGBT Affairs to Host “Pop-Up Love Party” to Counter Anti-Trans Bus

Philling Our Streets With Love at Hate Speech Bus Tour! is this Wednesday, March 29th.

Philling Our Streets With Love at Hate Speech Bus Tour! is this Wednesday, March 29th.

The Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, in collaboration with GALAEI, Trans-health Information Project (TIP), Attic Youth Center, William Way, ACLU, Mazzoni Center, and other community organizations, are planning to host a Pop-Up Love Party to peacefully counteract the anti-trans “Free Speech Bus Tour” coming to Philadelphia on Wednesday.

Over the past month, the National Organization on Marriage (NOM) has been driving across the East Coast in a bright orange bus with transphobic messages such as “It’s Biology: Boys are boys … and always will be. Girls are girls … and always will be. You can’t change sex. Respect all.” Read more »

LGBTQ&A: Amber Hikes

Amber Hikes | Photo credit: Ashlee Kulp

Amber Hikes | Photo credit: Ashlee Kulp

Amber Hikes, the new executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, has served in community leadership positions at the Attic Youth Center, William Way Community Center, Philadelphia Dyke March, and many other organizations. We chatted with the unapologetically proud black queer woman on her goals in combating Gayborhood racism, things she’s never told anyone, and following in the footsteps of one of her favorite mentors, the late Gloria Casarez. Read more »

Mayor’s Office Announces Appointments to the Commission on LGBT Affairs

Photo courtesy of Philly Bricks.

Photo courtesy of Philly Bricks.

A day after announcing Amber Hikes as the new director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, the Mayor’s Office has released its long-awaited list of appointees to the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs. The commission’s 23 members were selected through an application and review process that involved the Office of Diversity & Inclusion, the Office of LGBT Affairs, and the Mayor’s Office.

“Philadelphia values and promotes diversity and the contributions of our LGBT community,” said Mayor Kenney in a statement.  “I appreciate the commitment of these stellar individuals to serve on the LGBT Commission, and I believe the city will benefit from their rich and varied perspectives.” Read more »

Amber Hikes Named New Director of the Office of LGBT Affairs

Amber Hikes. Photo credit | Ashlee Kulp

Amber Hikes. Photo credit | Ashlee Kulp

The Mayor’s Office officially announced on Monday that Amber Hikes, a black queer woman, will be the new executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs. Hikes will begin work on March 6th.

“My diverse experiences in the vibrant Philadelphia LGBTQ community — first as a student, then as a professional, then as a business owner and finally as a community leader — afford me the unique opportunities to view LGBTQ community work in this city from multiple vantage points,” said Hikes in a statement. “I’m eager to serve my community during this pivotal time by increasing the accessibility of the Office, listening to community members and implementing initiatives to serve LGBTQ Philadelphians more efficiently and effectively.”

Hikes is a well-known community leader within the Gayborhood, having served as a board member at the William Way LGBT Community Center, an organizer for the Philadelphia Dyke March, and a community fundraiser for GALAEI, the Attic Youth Center, and ACLU-PA before moving to California for a short time.

Hikes succeeds Nellie Fitzpatrick, who is leaving the office effective today. In an interview with Philly Voice, Fitzpatrick said she will be opening a private law practice in April.*

“Mayor Kenney and I are committed to serving the needs of Philadelphia’s LGBT community,” said Nolan Atkinson, chief diversity officer for the city, who oversees the Office of LGBT Affairs. “Nellie’s work to institutionalize this Office by pushing forward legislation to change the city’s charter helps make this possible, and we appreciate her laying the foundation for the focused community work that Amber will be doing moving forward.”

As executive director, Hikes will focus on “community organizing and engagement, as well as inward facing policy work, both of which are in line with the mission of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, under which the LGBT Office sits.”

*Editor’s note: This sentence was edited for clarity after publication.

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