Deja Lynn Alvarez, the first transgender woman to run for Philadelphia City Council, stood outside City Hall on Tuesday and railed against what she described as “transphobic bullying” in the Democratic primary.
Alvarez was speaking to an LGBTQ-friendly crowd. But not everyone there was a friend.
Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, campaign manager for Sherrie Cohen, a lesbian also running in the May 21 Democratic at-large primary, started heckling Alvarez, accusing her of faking her ethnic identity.
“You’re white, Deja,” Muhammad yelled as Alvarez kept speaking during the event, held to mark the raising of a trans pride flag. “You’re white. You’re white. You’re white. You’re white. You’re white. You’re white. You’re white. You’re white. You’re white. You’re white."
“How dare you stand here and tell a trans woman that she is not who she is,” Alvarez responded, her voice rising, the crowd rousing. “You’re bullying!"
By the end of the day, Muhammad was no longer serving as Cohen’s campaign manager. Muhammad said that was because of threats that Cohen could lose political endorsements.
Cohen declined to be interviewed. In a statement, she said that Muhammad decided to “step back” from the campaign last week and that the comments had “been solely in an individual capacity and absolutely not” part of her run for Council.
She also apologized “for any hurt or confusion that has resulted from these statements.”
Muhammad, after the City Hall confrontation, said there have been rumors for years that Alvarez is not Latinx, the gender-neutral name for Latinos and Latinas. Asked for proof, Muhammad offered none.
“This is not something that is new,” said Muhammad, who is nonbinary and once worked for the same LGBTQ health care organization as Alvarez. “This is something I’ve been saying.”
Alvarez said her father, Peter George Alvarez, who was born in the United States, was of Mexican descent. Documents from her name change and a 2001 lawsuit back up her claim, she said, that she has always used Alvarez as her last name.
“My mother is white,” she added. “So what? Now being white is something that everyone should hate?”
Alvarez said Cohen recently shrugged off a complaint about Muhammad. She called Muhammad’s tactics “Trumpian.”
“This is exactly what [President Donald] Trump does,” Alvarez said. “He knows things are not true, and he puts them out there anyway and doesn’t care, because he knows it’s going to stick with some people.”