Gloria Casarez Passes Away at 42

It’s a terribly sad day in gay Philadelphia. The incomparable Gloria Casarez, the City’s first director of the Mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs has passed away at the age of 42.

She had been battling cancer, but Gloria was a fighter till the end. One of her last public appearances was at the rainbow flag raising at City Hall on October 2nd to mark LGBT History Month in Philadelphia. Despite her illness, she stood up and rallied the crowd as the flag made its way to full mast.

The mayor’s office just released the following statement, which highlights some of her biggest accomplishments—which include everything from being executive director of GALAEI and working to put into place the groundbreaking LGBT Equality Bill that helped Philadelphia earn a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index.

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.

“Gloria was a fun, serious, strong and kind person who always wanted to do more for others and who fought for equality of rights for all people. She was a clear, strong voice to the LGBTQ community in Philadelphia and across America.

“We all loved Gloria’s commitment and spirit. She was a fighter and champion, personally and professionally. I knew when I met her that I had found the right person to serve as the Director of the LGBT Office, but more importantly, that I had met a great person. Her judgment and influence were felt throughout the Administration on a broad range of issues.

“Our prayers are with her, her wife Trish, and their families. I am deeply, personally saddened by our Administrations’ loss of such a valued colleague, but our entire Administration team has benefitted from having had the opportunity to serve our City and citizens with the support of her leadership and wisdom.”

Gloria Casarez, 42, was born in Philadelphia and grew up in Kensington. She is a graduate of West Chester University with degrees in criminal justice and a second in political science.  She was a founding member and community organizer of Empty the Shelters, a national housing rights and economic justice organization. She was later a coordinator for the LGBT Center at the University of Pennsylvania and then executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative [GALAEI] in Philadelphia, where she dramatically increased resources and developed nationally recognized programs serving men of color and the transgender community from 1999 until joining the Nutter Administration in 2008.

As director of the City’s LGBT Office, Gloria Casarez developed priorities and policy for the Administration in a wide range of areas, including health, city services, civil rights, public safety and education.

In 2012, the City garnered a Number Two national ranking in LGBT equality in the first edition of the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index. Philadelphia was the highest ranking among the nation’s 10 largest cities and the highest scoring city in a state without statewide legal protections for LGBT people.

And during her tenure, Ms. Casarez was recognized by at least a half-dozen organizations for her work, including an annual Community Service Award from the NAACP, the Cheryl Ingram Advocate for Justice Award from the Philadelphia Bar Association and the Kiyoshi Kuromiya Award for Justice from Philadelphia FIGHT.

Within months of becoming LGBT Office director in April 2008, she played a key role in the establishment of the Mayor’s Advisory Board on LGBT Affairs in September 2008.

In 2010, while winning a handful of awards for her public service, Ms. Casarez took great pleasure in performing an important ceremonial role: on Aug. 23, 2010, she tossed the first pitch at Citizens Bank Park at the start of a Phillies game.

My thoughts go out to her wife, family and friends. Such a great, great loss.