LGBTQ&A: Rue Landau
Rue Landau has been the executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR) and the Fair Housing Commission (FHC) for the past eight years. We got to catch up with the out and proud lesbian about her work to increase LGBTQ visibility in the city and what it will take to make our community more inclusive.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a social justice advocate. My path has taken twists and turns. I began as a scrappy activist in the streets and later put on a suit to advocate for justice in the courtroom as a legal services lawyer. Now I’m in City Hall as the leader of the city’s civil rights and fair housing agencies.
I’ve lived in the Philadelphia area my whole life. I love Philly and I recruit heavily to get people to move here. In fact, over a decade ago, I convinced my wonderful wife to move here from Boston. She and I have been together for 13 years, and we have an incredible eight-year-old son. We’re Little League parents — never would have predicted that in my gay adolescence.
I have an identical twin sister who also lives in Philly. So, if you say hi to me on the street and I don’t say hi back, it’s probably her. My brother is the chef/owner of Vedge and V Street, so I’m deliciously well fed. I’ve got a wonderful family and community of friends who I love and who are a never ending supply of support for me.
I’m joyful and an optimist. My job is challenging, and even in the hardest times, I always bring a bit of flair and fun into the work. You need to be an optimist to keep fighting for change.
You’re the executive director for the city’s Commission on Human Relations. How do you make LGBTQ issues matter at such a large capacity?
Philadelphia has great laws and policies protecting LGBTQ people because our former and current mayors and City Council members care about our communities and listened when our communities’ leaders demanded equal treatment for LGBTQ people. Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance has included nondiscrimination protections for our community since 1982, and we’ve continued to build on them ever since. Because we don’t have protections at the state and federal levels, our local laws and policies are essential to protecting the rights of all LGBTQ people who live, work or play in Philadelphia, particularly our marginalized transgender communities of color.
I’m proud to be the director of the PCHR, the city agency that enforces the civil rights laws, resolves community conflicts, and brings people together across differences. LGBT issues are integrated into every aspect of my work at the agency. So, when I’m working to improve relations with police in communities of color, helping to settle new immigrants and refugees, tackling bullying in schools, or collaborating with the faith communities, I make sure that LGBTQ issues are on the table.
Most recently, my work for LGBTQ advocacy has moved to the national level. As a board member of the International Association of Official Human Rights Agencies (IAOHRA), I advocated to bring our national conference to Philadelphia this year and to focus on LGBTQ issues, a historic first for the association, which was founded in 1949. IAOHRA members are civil rights leaders of state and local human rights agencies across the county. Most of these leaders are straight and cisgender and are expected to enforce laws (when they exist) that protect our communities. They need more in depth knowledge of LGBTQ issues to effectively advocate for and with our communities. IAOHRA conference panels will highlight the intersection of the larger civil rights and the LGBT rights movements; the breakdown of systems — schools, family, criminal justice — that often leave our youth, particularly young people of color, homeless; and the role of religion and faith in accepting our communities. I’m very excited that members of our communities will be able to share our knowledge with civil rights leaders throughout the rest of the country.
Socially, lesbians don’t often get the same level of attention as gays in the Gayborhood. As a lesbian in the community, how do you think this group can get more love?
There is transformative power in inclusion and visibility. It will make our communities stronger. Historically, lesbians have not been the focus of the Gayborhood and we haven’t made much progress in gaining inclusion and visibility. If you look at the leadership of our Gayborhood, it is mostly white, cisgender gay men. Our communities are not immune to sexism. This has to change. The men in power in the Gayborhood need to make a concerted effort to help create this change. Hopefully now that we have the first woman presidential nominee, we will see some progress.
What are some of the major LGBTQ issues that get overlooked in the city?
The LGBTQ communities are microcosms of our larger society. We suffer from issues of racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, and transphobia. We need to start having real conversations in each of our subcommunities as well as the LGBTQ community as a whole so we can start healing and creating spaces that are not only inclusive, but also promote the leadership of people of color, women, and trans people. LGBTQ communities must also take on issues of poverty, housing and employment discrimination, and inequities in our education and criminal justice systems that disproportionately affect people of color, women, and trans people. Only when we have successes in these areas, will we have equality and true inclusivity.
What can the Gayborhood and Philly at large do to bridge the inclusiveness gap that often occurs within the LGBTQ community?
In recent decades, our community has evolved to recognize that sexual orientation and gender identity have evolved to be more fluid. That certainly helps in building a bridge from the Ls and the Gs all the way to the Ts and the Qs. As a whole, the LGBTQ community has made some progress in recognizing the transgender community, but there is still much work to be done for all of us to be truly equal.
I have some tips to help us bridge the gap. Recognize your privilege – whether it’s white, male, and/or cisgender – and your implicit biases, and start to make concerted efforts to change. Actively listen to people who do not look like you, be inclusive, see people as individuals, not groups (don’t paint communities with a wide brush), give people the benefit of the doubt (don’t judge). These small steps will begin to make the change we need in our communities.