A transgender advocate and an alum of two of Philadelphia’s most well-known LGBTQ organizations will soon take over the city’s Office of LGBT Affairs.
Mayor Jim Kenney this week announced that Celena Morrison, who most recently spent two years as director of programs at the William Way LGBT Community Center, will begin her post as executive director in March and will be the leading voice for LGBTQ people in Philadelphia government.
Morrison is the first openly trans identifying person to lead the office, and officials said she is to the best of their knowledge the first openly trans person to head any city office or department.
The post has been vacant since July, when Amber Hikes resigned to take a job with the ACLU. Hikes ran the office for about two years and took over at a time of turmoil after her predecessor had been fired and some in the community believed that the city failed to address racism in the Gayborhood and beyond.
Morrison will be tasked with advising city leaders on policy, connecting LGBTQ community members with services, and educating the city workforce on serving the LGBTQ community.
At William Way, Morrison led a team that established the recently opened Arcila-Adams Trans Resource Center, which William Way executive director Chris Bartlett described as “a space of sanctuary for trans people in such a hostile world.”
Since 2018, Morrison has also sat on the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. Rue Landau, executive director of the commission, said Morrison’s appointment as the first trans person to lead the office is “a landmark, amazing moment for Philadelphia and for the country.”
“She is so kind and caring, and she’s got a really strong passion for justice,” Landau said. “You don’t want anyone to think her kindness is weakness. Because it’s not.”
Prior to her stint at William Way, Morrison was a community engagement specialist at the Mazzoni Center, an LGBTQ-focused health and wellness center. She’s been a longtime LGBTQ community advocate and has been a mainstay on the speaker and panel circuit.
Morrison said in a statement that she believes her intersectional approach will serve her well in the role, and that she plans to lead with a focus on engaging the most marginalized community members.
“I can think of no better place to institute meaningful change than inside City Hall," she said. “As a black trans woman, I have experienced firsthand the transphobia, workplace discrimination, and many other challenges that face our community. All of this motivates me to fight relentlessly for my fellow LGBTQ+ siblings.”
According to the city, Morrison is originally from North Carolina and has lived in Philadelphia for more than a decade.