Elicia Gonzales is a long-time queer Latinx activist and nonprofit leader in the community. We spoke with the executive director of the Women’s Medical Fund on her new role, advice for GALAEI, and the current state of LGBTQ people of color. Read more »
GALAEI’s new home at 149 West Susquehanna Avenue. | Photo from Google Street View.
Later this spring, GALAEI, the only organization for Philly (and all of Pennsylvania)’s gay and lesbian Latino community, will move from its digs on Chestnut Street in the Gayborhood to a new space in North Philadelphia. The new location was the former home of the Norris Square Civic Association and, according to Executive Director Elicia Gonzales, it will situate them in an area that will allow them to reach more of the nonprofit’s constituents.
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Every Friday Delaware Valley Legacy Fund (DVLF) Executive Director Samantha Giusti introduces you to a local LGBT non-profit in Philadelphia. This week, the Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative more affectionately known as GALAEI. (Pronounced “gal-āy.”)
Who are you? Elicia Gonzales, executive director of GALAEI. We are a queer Latin@ social justice organization. “Queer” acknowledges and represents the mosaic of sexual and gender identities within our communities. “Latin@” represents the multiracial, multicultural experience of Latinidad. GALAEI embodies the common history of resistance and resilience of Latin@ and queer people. We are unwavering in our commitment to the advancement de nuestra familia through leadership and economic development, sexual empowerment, and grassroots organizing.
When was GALAEI founded? GALAEI was founded in 1989 by David Acosta and other queer, Latin@ activists to respond to the lack of support and resources for our Queer Latin@ community during the HIV epidemic.
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The untimely death of Gloria Casarez, Philadelphia’s first director of the Mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs, has sent shockwaves through the city as her friends, family, and colleagues mourn her passing. At only 42, Ms. Casarez left a legacy that will continue to impact the community for years to come. We reached out to Philadelphians who were impacted by Gloria’s unwavering dedication to the city and the LGBTQ community to share their thoughts, memories, and pictures of the local legend.
"’I'm fortunate to have loads of memories of Gloria—from community events to dance parties to coffee dates and karaoke battles. However, I never appreciated her more than I did last year when I served as Grand Marshal for Philly Pride.
When I found out that I had to ride on a float and give a speech in front of 10,000 people, Gloria was the first person I ran to for advice. To be fair, she was always the person I ran to for advice. In addition to giving the best tips for how to liven up the parade route with the right candy and the perfect pageant wave, Gloria was a life savior when it was my turn to speak.
I don't often get cold feet in front of an audience but the crowd at Penn's Landing was the largest group I've ever spoken in front of. Gloria noticed the textbook signs of an anxiety attack right before I went on and she took time to get me water and keep me out of the sun. Most importantly, she looked me in the eye and reminded me that I earned this honor and that I should let my heart guide my words. And just to make me laugh, she made a joke about the hilarious possibility of me fainting in front of 10,000 people. After that perfect pep talk, she turned around and delivered the most heartfelt introduction I've ever been honored to hear. That was Gloria's way.
Her light was so bright, it lit the way for all of us. She used her energy to build up those around her and support our dreams and our talents. Gloria guided this community in ways most of us do not know or even understand. She was a leader for LGBTQ people in this city for sure but to this queer brown girl, she was a giant, a living legend, proof that there was a place for queer people of color in this community. She was a constant beacon of light and my world will never be the same without her.” —Amber Hikes, Director of Upward Bound Program, University of Pennsylvania
Philly Dyke March
"We exist because of you, Gloria Casarez. You brought to life the Philadelphia Dyke March as we know and love it, and breathed energy and creativity into it every year since. You were, are, and always will be our family. To say that you were a trailblazer for dyke visibility and rights is an understatement, but we weren’t the only lucky ones. You paved the way for so many in our Philadelphia LGBTQ community with your fierce advocacy and unrelenting spirit. We don’t have enough words to do you justice. Our hearts are so heavy with this loss. We will never forget you, and we vow to carry forward your passion and vision. Rest in Power: we all mourn your loss together. The Dykes United Will Never Be Divided.” —Philly Dyke March Organizers
"Gloria was a mentor, a colleague, and most of all, a friend. I still cannot believe she isn't with us, but at the same time, she always will be. She is a part of all who knew her. She is my personal Wonder Woman. My karaoke outings will never be the same. I will miss her always." —Elicia Gonzales, Executive Director, GALAEI
"My first interaction with Gloria was via email. I had just joined the Nutter Administration in 2008, and was trying to make connections. From our first meeting, she immediately had my back, and I was an instant fan. She became a friend and mentor who I could call upon for advice, or a good laugh. She was the reason I became involved in the LGBT community and I will truly miss her." —David Torres, Chief Operating Officer, Greater Philadelphia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
"I used to always run into Gloria at community events, but the first time I sat and talked with her one-on-one was literally her first week working at City Hall.
I was working on a project with the staff at the Department of Human Services to update their polices for working with LGBTQ youth in foster care. I emailed her to set up a time when we could talk, and I couldn’t believe that she made it a priority to meet with me during her first week on the job. Now looking back on this, it seems so Gloria. She never wasted time, especially when it came to making the city the best that it can be for LGBTQ people.
Over the years, every time I saw her, even if we only had a two-minute conversation, I felt so inspired by her social-change work and all that she had accomplished at her age. Thank you Gloria for bringing social justice to City Hall.” —Alyssa Mutryn, Director of Development, The Attic Youth Center
"One of Gloria's fundamental orientations was being a voice for someone who didn't have one. There are dozens and dozens of people who benefitted from her. As one of the founders of the Philly Dyke March, she was really a strong advocate for women. Gloria was incredibly accessible, whether it was having the mayor attend an event or giving suggestions for a policy. Because she really strategized for people and organizations to have the ability to be self-empowered, her work will live on for decades. I was one of the adults who benefitted from her wisdom. There will be many times I will hear her voice when I try to make a decision.” —Chris Bartlett, Executive Director, William Way LGBT Community Center
"There are no words to express the profound loss of Gloria. Like she was for many, she was a role model for me and the driving force in encouraging me to take on the job as executive director of Delaware Valley Legacy Fund. In leading by example, she taught me how to lead. While I will miss her leadership, I will most especially miss her friendship. Waking up this morning to a first day without her it makes everything around me feel so much less vibrant. Her love of life infused everything she did; Gloria really knew how to live. She was one of a kind.” —Samantha Giusti, Executive Director, Delaware Valley Legacy Fund
"Year after year, Gloria came up to me at Pride and wanted to know all about the Attic Youth Grand Marshals. She was interested in their lives, their accomplishments, their struggles, and their stories. Together, she and I would walk through the crowds and find them. Gloria would congratulate them and acknowledge their honor. Knowing that she was the Mayor’s Director of LGBT Affairs, the youth felt recognized and truly special. I will really miss her, especially at Pride next year. I am so glad that I saw her a few weeks ago and I’ll fondly remember our last conversation on the never-ending hopes we’ve had for creating housing for LGBTQ youth and how close it seems we are to making this finally happen.” —Carrie Jacobs, Director, The Attic Youth Center
"As a community leader, she taught me so much and influenced how I exist in our community. As a professional colleague, there was no one I enjoyed getting on the phone and bantering with more over whatever issue was at hand than Gloria. It wasn’t abnormal for us to text at midnight over an issue involving the community. In the end, though, no matter how grave or ridiculous the situation, Gloria found a way to make lemonade out of lemons, fix the problem and then laugh about it. To quote her, 'I have an inner hippie. Sometimes I think the greatest successes [the Philadelphia LGBT community has had] have been the bad things we didn’t let happen.'
I don’t think anyone knows how many things 'haven’t happened' because Gloria Casarez was there to make sure they didn’t. While the physical presence of Gloria as a lighthouse is gone, it will always shine bright." —Angela Giampolo, Attorney, Giampolo Law Group
"My heart is heavy. This is an incredible loss for the City of Philadelphia, the Latin@ community and the L.G.B.T.Q.A. community that were so lucky to see the results of her activism, heart and care all these years. Thoughts and prayers are with Gloria's wife Tricia Dressel, family and friends - all of us that will miss her incredibly.” —Michael Beachem, Associate Director, International House Philadelphia
“The impact of Gloria Casarez on what we now consider to be the most LGBT-friendly city in America can’t be overstated. She was a game-changer for everyone in Philadelphia who had been working to bring issues of gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, and racial & ethnic justice to the forefront in government and policy. It would be impossible to envision the experience of an LGBT person in Philadelphia without the hard work of Gloria Casarez. This city will never be the same because of her and it will certainly never be the same without her.” —Representative Brian Sims, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
LOVE Park was a veritable sea of supporters this afternoon, when more than 300 (!) local lawmakers, LGBT leaders and community members showed up in the rain to attend a rally for the two gay men attacked on September 11th in Center City.
The event was hosted by State Representative Brian Sims, who used the opportunity to draw attention HB 177 and SB 42, two pieces of legislation that would add sexual orientation to Pennsylvania’s current hate crime laws.
Photographer HughE Dillon was there to capture some snapshots, which you can seen below. Check some of the captions for remarks made by those who took part.
"There are some in Harrisburg who object to restoring sexual orientation and gender identity protections to the hate-crime law. But they haven't been calling for repeal of the law's remaining protections, for victims targeted because of their race, color, religion or national origin -- they know they would take a political hit for that. "
"Unfortunately, they think there's no political penalty or constituent outrage to face for leaving out women, LGBT people, or people targeted because of their ancestry or mental or physical disability. Pennsylvanians who don't like this injustice need to let their state representative and senator know now."
Caryn Kunkle, friend and spokesperson for the two victims: "I am thankful that many legislators are working to restore Pennsylvania’s inclusive hate crime law. This is important to me not only because of my gay friends who were brutally attacked, but also because I have struggled my entire life to protect my autistic younger brother. It is never OK to hurt someone because of who they are."
Brian Sims stands next to Caryn Kunkle.
Councilman Jim Kenney: "True equality will never be achieved through government action alone. Transphobia and homophobia have always been deeply embedded in American culture. As we were brutally reminded two weeks ago, our children are growing up in a country where LGBTQ people are still seen as an 'other' and somehow different from themselves – victories will remain hollow until this changes."
First Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross Jr.
Rudy Flesher, Beth Wilson Rudd, and Matt Kurilla
Representative from GALAEI, who's Executive Director Elicia Gonzales told the crowd that, ""The outpouring of both outrage and support surrounding this heinous act has been nothing short of heart-warming. The fact that this issue moved hate crimes legislation into the foreground must not be taken lightly. We must also bring to light the other hate crimes that have gone unpunished, and sometimes, unnoticed. Let us use this momentum to continue to seek justice for Nizah Morris, Kyra Cordova, and Diamond Williams."
Sharron Cooks, community organizer and consultant at Making Our Lives Easier LLC, stand next to William Way Executive Director Chris Bartlett,
Every hump day, a Philly woman shares her local picks for Woman Crush Wednesday. Today, Stimulus Philly Co-Founder Morgan Levine. Miss Levine wears many hats day to day: She is currently completing her Masters of Social Work degree at the University of Pennsylvania; working as the project manager for Dubois’ The Ward Oral History Project; and completing her MSW fieldwork with Representative Brian Sims’ office.
My name is Morgan Levine, and these are my picks for Woman Crush Wednesday:
Noe Bunnell is my version of a girl wonder. She's the owner of BONeJOUR in Old City, a budding horticulturist, a talented home chef, and she can fix just about anything. Basically, she's one of the top three people I'd want around if I were ever stranded on a desert island.
Chaska (Precolumbian) is a genderqueer Philadelphia-based DJ who stole my heart when she flawlessly mixed a Disney song with a booty bumpin jam at the height of a Stimulus party. I admire her ferocious originality almost as much as I admire her dedication to positive, inclusive nightlife spaces.
Becky Sell is an all around badass. Seriously, she's a historical preservationist who scales the exterior of buildings for a living. When she's not hanging from perilous heights, she's a Philly Roller Girl, snow boarder, and she recently discovered her love of ice hockey. Swoon!
Hannah Zellman and I don't know each other well, but what I do know makes Hannah a forerunner as one of my Philly social justice #wcw's. Hannah, director of Philadelphia Fight's Institute for Community Justice, works diligently to reduce the number of people in prison living with HIV, and to reduce the lasting effects of mass imprisonment on the communities most affected.
I promised myself I would avoid the usual redo's that are inevitable of the most visible, crush-worthy women in Philly, but I had to make an exception for Elicia Gonzalez. Elicia is the executive director of GALAEI. Sex-Positive Social Justice Advocate. Authentic. Role Model. Fierce Femme. Leader. #WCW.
Share your Woman Crush Wednesday!
Here are the rules: (1) Name five to 10 ladies you’re crushing on (2) You and all women involved must be from Philadelphia (3) Email your crushes to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Last Five Woman Crush Wednesdays:
On Friday night — at Fire and Ice in Old City — GALAEI hosted its 19th annual Alternative Prom. The event invites LGBT youth and allies for an evening of all-inclusive prom festivities for area youth aged 13 to 21. Young people filtered in—wearing everything from sequined gowns and tuxedos to halter tops and even workout attire—to the welcoming environment, not waiting a second before hitting the dancefloor. (I told you it was better than your prom.)
The sense of acceptance in the air was undeniable. Kids were cheering each other on in dance circles, and compliments were flying left and right: “I love your dress.” “I’m so glad you came.” “Girl, you gotta tell me where you got that wing. I want one just like it!” It was heart-warming, and fabulous, and it brought a tear to my eye just thinking about all the stuffy proms around the world where boys aren’t allowed to wear dresses, or a transgender male can’t run for prom king. GALAEI Executive Director Elicia Gonzales explains the history and importance behind the event here:
Check out some more of our photos of the Alternative Prom here.
Philly queer Latin social justice organization GALAEI is gearing up to host its 25th anniversary celebration, an evening that will see the doling out of three David Acosta Revolutionary Leader Awards (DARLA). The trophies will go to Philly go-getters who have worked to improve the lives of queer Latino communities.
The night’s highest honor, simply called The DARLA, will go to Louis “Louie” Ortiz (right), a photographer who has worked on campaigns for the Mazzoni Center and GALAEI. Most recently he has taken on the ambitious personal task of photographing every Latino gay man in Philly in a series he calls “El Gran Varónes.” The project aims to “tell our own history, document our own realities, and chronicle a history that is rarely told – a history that should be told by us.”
Diana Estefania Estrada Alamo will receive the Youth DARLA award. She’s being recognized for her involvement with Penn’s Center for Hispanic Excellence: La Casa Latina, Queer People of Color (QPOC), and for her work to establish the university’s Inclusivity and Support for Queer People of Color Task Force.
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Philly ladies share their local picks for Woman Crush Wednesday (#wcw). Today, hot-as-a-firecracker GALAEI Executive Director — and our 2013 HERO honoree — Elicia Gonzales.
My name is Elicia Gonzales and these are my picks for Woman Crush Wednesday.
Nikki Lopez (aka DJ NiiLO)
Nikki is my hero. Is there anything she can't do? Advocate. Poet. DJ. Friend. She is the baddest queer boricua ever. I will come for you if you even try it.
Gun$ Garcia (aka Regina Garcia)
I have had such a fan-girl crush on this DJ since i first heard her remix of The xx at ActionAIDS' "Fashion in Action" event. I listen to her mixes, like "Galentine's Day," about every other day. No one gets the blood flowing like this fierce DJ. She does it right.
Do I really need to say why? Gloria is a visionary. A warrior. A dear friend. And she can boogie down to Stevie B. and Lisa Lisa like no other. On an almost daily basis, I find myself asking "WWGD" (What would Gloria do?.) Her bravery is beyond measure. She is a true Philly treasure.
I adore this woman. She has been described as the perfect balance of professional and ratchet. All good. She is passionate, hard-working, and dedicated like no other. She puts a smile on my face. I feel honored to be working alongside her in the struggle for justice.
We have been best friends since 2006, and I can officially say we are (clearly) more than that now. Megan is one-of-a-kind. Kind to her core. A heart of gold. A lust for life that is infectious. She is driven (about to complete her graduate program in may.) She is adventurous (agreeing to go camping even though it's not her "thing.") She is a giver (she has been running with me even though she is not a runner — just to help me prep for my half-marathon.) I adore this one.
This woman is a wonder! She is, without a doubt, the hardest working girl in showbiz. Between taking pics, working, being sex-positive, being an amazing girlfriend, and a great friend, she is also just an all-around lovely person. She is spunky and fiery and gives 150 percent in all that she does. I am in constant awe.
Recent Woman Crush Wednesdays
Share your Woman Crush Wednesday! Here are the rules: (1) Name three to five ladies you’re crushing on (2) You and all women involved must be from Philadelphia (3) Email your crushes to email@example.com.
Last night was supposed to be a regular evening for Gabriel Martino (aka Syfr Gavriel). He and some friends went to Woody’s Latin Night, where GALAEI and PhillyGayCalendar just so happened to be hosting the first-ever Mr. SEXO contest. Martino’s friends talked him into competing and a few hours later he walked away with the title. “I’m still in some shock about last night,” he wrote on his Facebook wall, explaining to friends that he was chosen out of a crop of 10 contestants.
The contest was seeking a man who could represent GALAEI‘s sex-positive message, and Executive Director Elicia Gonzales says Martino hit the nail on the head. “I think the crowd chose him as winner, because he is hot, outgoing, fun, confident and not cocky,” she says.
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