Opinion: Here’s Why Philly Needs To Vote “Yes” For the Office of LGBT Affairs

flag raising

I was never formally introduced to Gloria Casarez, the City’s first Director of LGBT Affairs, but I did see her in what was, for many, one of her last public appearances before her untimely death due to cancer: She lead Philadelphia’s rainbow flag raising ceremony at City Hall, which was an event that almost anyone will tell you was near and dear to her heart.

I remember watching Ms. Casarez, who was very clearly ill, take a great sense of pride in what the ceremony meant to Philadelphia. After her death, the condolences and memories rolled in, not just from her dear friends and family, but from people who interacted and worked with her. It was clear to see that people sought solace and comfort in Gloria, and they often went to her for advice with both personal and professional matters.

Fast forward to Nellie Fitzpatrick, who was appointed as the new Director of LGBT Affairs, and I can see why the position is so vital and powerful. Part of it is because Mayor Nutter has selected two outstanding leaders to oversee the office, but it’s more than that. The Office of LGBT Affairs is a critical  and powerful liaison for those who not only fall in the LGBTQ spectrum, but for the entire city, and most of that work happens quite literally behind the scenes.

In the short time that I’ve become acquainted with Ms. Fitzpatrick, I’ve seen just how important her role is to the overall civil structure of the City. I can’t tell you how many times Nellie has played the part of unseen educator and fighter to make Philadelphia simply a better place, period, LGBTQ matters removed.

Ms. Fitzpatrick has made invaluable progress with the police force when it comes to incidents dealing with violence towards trans people, and the difference can be tangibly observed when speaking with many officers about trans victims. Trans people are being called by their names, using preferred pronouns, by police. This may seem like a minor aside, but for those who understand the gravity of such matters, Nellie’s work with law enforcement is a huge, measurable change.

She’s also made sense of seemingly nonsensical matters when it came to the recent Center City gay bashing case and why the proceedings were moving at what appeared to be a glacial pace. As a former Assistant District Attorney, Ms. Fitzpatrick knows the justice system, and she has handled a plethora of cases dealing with violent offenders. She knows victims’ rights and knows how to speak about them and why they are excruciatingly important.

I can also say, on a personal note, that I consider Ms. Fitzpatrick one of my very good professional colleagues and a friend who has always “talked straight” about a number of issues and provided the most poignant advice. I’ll never forget when I reported on a local restaurant who put a rather distasteful sign in their window about Caitlyn Jenner and her (literal) near immediate action of walking right to the eatery to speak with the owners. She called me after, told me about her interaction, and turned the rather sour incident into something a teaching moment for a bunch of straight white cisgender guys. Not too many people could do that.

However, today’s ballot measure goes beyond Ms. Fitzpatrick’s administration; If the measure is approved, the Office of LGBT Affairs will be made permanent as part of the City’s charter. This is critical for several reasons, most importantly because, should a future mayor, who is not as LGBTQ-friendly, take office, he or she will not be able to abolish the position. It will continue to make Philadelphia a safe haven for LGBTQ-friendly businesses and tourism. In short, it makes Philly a better city.

As any good advocate will say, the work for equality is never done. There are plenty of other matters that someone, like Ms. Fitzpatrick, needs to spearhead in order for Philadelphia and the region to continue to grow. The impact of the Office of LGBT Affairs is as tangible as the newly-minted mural of Ms. Casarez, which was recently revealed on 12th Street. Let’s make sure the position is as permanent as that piece of public art.