“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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LGBTQ Event of the Week: 2017 Transgender HIV Awareness Day

Wednesday is National Transgender HIV Awareness Day.

Wednesday is National Transgender HIV Awareness Day.

For its civic timeliness and community-building vibe, this week’s LGBTQ event of the week is 2017 Transgender HIV Awareness Day. Recognize this significant day of advocacy with a full lineup of tributes, receptions, and live performances. There is a cash bar with snacks, and proceeds from the entire event go to the Philly AIDS Fund. Chair of the Mayor’s Commission on LGBTQ Affairs Sharron Cooks will give a keynote address and serve as Mistress of Ceremonies for the evening. The event kicks off at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 19th, at William Way LGBT Community Center, 1315 Spruce St. This event is free and open to the public. Read more »

“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 »

Local Black Trans Women Speak Out About Recent String of Murders

Black trans women speaking at direct action on March 5th, 2017 | Photo credit: Christian Lovehall

Black trans women speaking at direct action on March 5, 2017. | Photo credit: Christian Lovehall

On Sunday, March 5th, the Black and Brown Workers Collective (BBWC) and the Trans-Information Project (TIP) held a direct action, “We Demand to LIVE”, at Cedar Park in West Philadelphia. Centered around local black trans women speakers, the event was a community response to a string of murders of black trans women nationwide. So far, seven trans women of color, six of whom were black, have reportedly been murdered so far in 2017 — Mesha Caldwell, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, Jojo Striker, Tiara Richmond, Chyna Gibson, Ciara McElveen, and Jaquarris Holland. Read more »

Community Leaders to Honor Gay Black Civil Rights Icon on MLK Day

MLK Day of Service at William Way LGBT Community Center is on Monday, January 16th.

The MLK Day of Service at William Way LGBT Community Center is on Monday, January 16th.

This MLK Day, the Gayborhood will recognize not only the late civil rights icon and namesake of the federal holiday, but a gay black leader as well. Bayard Rustin, the late out civil rights trailblazer, was not only the lead organizer for the famous 1963 March on Washington but also an advocate for LGBTQ and women’s rights causes throughout his entire life. The West Chester native’s legacy will be commemorated as part of the community’s Team Bayard MLK Day of Service at the William Way LGBT Community Center. Read more »

G Philly’s Top 10 Stories of 2016

G Philly's Philly Gay Pride Event Round-Up

It was an incredible year for LGBTQ news in Philadelphia, with both inspirational times and some very controversial moments. Here, we rank the top 10 stories that rocked the community in 2016. Read more »

Sharron Cooks on What the U.S. Transgender Survey Means for Philly

Sharron Cooks

Sharron Cooks

On December 8th, the National Center for Transgender Equality held a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., to release and review the findings in the latest U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS). More than 28,000 trans-identifying Americans participated in the largest-ever national study on transgender experiences, which covered issues including discrimination in employment, education, health, housing, and family life, and the criminal-justice system.

G Philly spoke with Philadelphia trans advocate Sharron Cooks, who had the opportunity during the press conference to share her personal experiences with discrimination as a black trans woman.

What would you describe as the key factors shaping the recent U.S. Transgender Survey?
Discrimination exists in many areas of my life and has throughout my lifetime. The U.S Transgender Survey is a data report that discusses the pervasive mistreatment and discrimination of transgender people in America. The U.S. Transgender Survey is the largest data report of its kind. Violence, sexual assault, unemployment, sex work, lack of medical treatment, homelessness, poverty, and racial bias are examples of some of the areas that were examined.

What stood out to you?
As a black transgender woman who is an advocate, community organizer, and consultant, the U.S. Transgender Survey acknowledges and affirms my experiences of discrimination as well as provides statistical data from nearly 30,000 transgender Americans who have shared similar experiences with discrimination. The finding in the report show that transgender women of color tend to experience higher levels of racial bias, poverty, homelessness, unemployment, harassment, violence, HIV/AIDS rates, inadequate healthcare, and run-ins with law enforcement than respondents who were not of color.

What was it like being one of the few trans people of color speaking at the press conference?
During the U.S Transgender Survey press conference, I shared very personal examples of discrimination that connected my experiences to the numbers in the report. In order to advocate, educate and policy-make, it is important to have both data and personal experiences to help people understand the high levels of inequality and lack of opportunities people in the trans community face, especially trans people of color. The U.S. Transgender Survey also includes findings of the discrimination non-binary people experience, which I think is great and ground-breaking for those who identify as non-binary. The U.S. Transgender Survey data report is a very useful tool that I will be utilizing in my business and community work, and I would strongly encourage all people, businesses, and organizations to read and use the U.S. Transgender Survey in a positive and transformative way for the betterment of all our community members.

What are some motivating factors in your life that keep you optimistic despite many of these statistics?
My life was enriched greatly with the support of my family, friends, and community. I have a B.A. in philosophy with a focus on ethics from Arcadia University. I created my own company, Making Our Lives Easier LLC, that is a consulting firm that provides quality resources and information to underrepresented communities, particularly trans women of color.

What is your advice to other transgender Americans facing the issues highlighted in the report?
I know what it’s like to feel rejected and unsupported as well as the feeling of being respected, accepted, and supported, so in my role as a visible member of the transgender community it is my responsibility to bring awareness and attention to the overwhelming rates of discrimination members of our community deal with daily. I firmly believe that transformative change begins with self, but it is our job as a community and the responsibility of people in leadership to relentlessly and persistently advocate for diversity, inclusion, economic empowerment, and equality in all areas of public life for all people. Using the USTS is a great starting point.

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