As Philly Pride and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots approached, The Inquirer asked readers to share their thoughts about the work that remains undone to achieve equality for the LGBTQ community. We received dozens of thoughtful, interesting responses and share a few here, along with a few responses we solicited from key members of the community.
Empower the LGBTQ community economically
LGBTQ people must be given the opportunity to participate equitably in the economy so we can build community wealth and influence. We need to invest in our own community to fund LGBTQ-driven innovation and support programs that lift up our community. Community wealth gives us more control over business and jobs. It increases our ability to access capital, attract talent, and shape an inclusive economy. A good place to start is letting LGBTQ people be who they are, where they are -- especially small towns. Too many LGBTQ people run to large cities where the cost of living and doing business is higher. The increased costs are prohibitive and play a role in perpetuating systemic poverty in our community. No -- we are not all Will Trumans and Ellen DeGenereses. A 2016 report showed one in four LGBTQ people went hungry. And the poverty rates get worse when you look at the transgender community -- especially transgender people of color.
Tony Doran is the president and founder of Woodbury Community Pride. — Reader response
Create equity in health care
One area where LGBTQ inequity still exists is health care. HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment remain a high priority for our community, but we need to return to the basics: preventive care for our community, especially for those most on the margins. We know, and data support, that people who are both LGBTQ and members of a racial or ethnic minority will often face the highest level of health disparities. We are at a higher risk for substance use, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), cancers, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, bullying, isolation, rejection, anxiety, depression, and suicide as compared with both the general population and their straight racial and ethnic counterparts. We receive poor quality of care due to stigma, lack of health care providers’ awareness, and insensitivity to the unique needs of this community.
As a cancer surgeon and an educator, I know the battle for health equity begins with me. I take personal responsibility and pride in doing the work in medical education to make sure that future physicians and health providers are competent, caring, affirming, and focused on the whole of a patient, and not just their disease or perceived at-risk health issue. On a larger scale, health systems need better integration and coordination of primary care and preventative services like mammography, gynecologic exams, colon cancer screening, and mental health services.
Monique Gary is a breast surgical oncologist and medical director of the Grand View Health/Penn Cancer Network Cancer Program in Sellersville.
Elect L-B-T-Q politicians
While I will always remain appreciative of our straight allies, when it comes to policy, there’s no better advocate for our community than a member of our own community. But I’m not talking about more cisgender, white gay men running for office. The white G, in LGBT, has commanded this conversation and its direction for too long. If we are to grow as a community, and garner new levels of understanding and acceptance, we need to diversify the representation we have in local, state, and federal government. We need more people of color with a gavel when discriminatory legislation comes up on the docket. We need transgender individuals on the Senate floor when the White House wants to take away your right to serve in the military. We need women in positions of influence when the state threatens their right to choose. Only when we have consistent representation in all aspects of our government will the LGBTQ community take the next step toward equality.
Raymond Smeriglio is the head of experiential learning partnerships for Saxbys.
Broaden hate-crime legislation
Hate crimes are on the rise and there is no LGBTQ hate-crime legislation in Pennsylvania. Lawmakers need to pass an addendum to the hate-crimes bill to include LGBTQ people, and this addendum has been voted down three times. Now is the time for change.
Kelly Burkhardt serves as secretary of the board of William Way. — Reader response
The role of philanthropists and endowment funds will continue to be crucial in the fight for LGBTQ equality. These dollars provide a broad base of long-term funding to help nonprofits address the emerging issues we see in the LGBTQ community today, as well as the issues that will inevitably arise in the years ahead. Both our region and our nation have come a long way over the past 25 years due to the establishment of LGBTQ-specific, regional endowment funds. But we have much more to do, including increasing grant-making for trans communities, with a commitment to trans-led organizations and increasing the recruitment and retention of trans and gender nonconforming people of color and other minorities. This will ensure that full equality is achieved and that all members of our diverse LGBTQ communities can live long, healthy, fulfilling lives.
Juan Franco is the executive director of Delaware Valley Legacy Fund (DVLF).
The LGBTQ community as a whole is under siege by the Trump administration, and we must do our best to protect our most marginalized. To win upcoming battles, it will take a coalition of LGBTQ community members and our allies to pass legislation and support community programs to make sure our community’s rights are protected and needs are met. Our state (and all states) should pass a comprehensive nondiscrimination act for LGBTQ individuals regarding employment, housing, and public accommodations. Schools should be empowered to allow trans and gender nonconforming students to thrive as who they ostensibly are. Funding should be increased for programs that help at-risk LGBTQ populations.
Zach Wilcha is the first-ever executive director of the Independence Business Alliance, the LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. — Reader response
Use citizen voices to influence the politicians we have
Securing equal rights for the transgender and gender nonconforming (GNC) populations is the next battle for LGBTQ equality. New legislation is necessary for any lasting legal change, but accomplishing that will be difficult without a broad coalition of allies. The trans and GNC communities have historically been left out of gains made toward equal rights for gays and lesbians, despite marching arm-in-arm to help secure them. While the fight for gay and lesbian rights is by no means over, the wave of intersectional activism that we are now experiencing is moving us ever closer to a point where meaningful change may be possible. This can only be accomplished by influencing our politicians. Their job security is determined by their popularity, yet they are uniquely positioned to take widely disseminated, impactful stances, and ultimately write laws that inform America’s integrity. Making good decisions feel less risky to our politicians is up to us. As citizens, it is our duty to make our priorities abundantly clear to them and to hold them accountable for the results.
Nima Etemadi is the co-owner of Fishtown’s Cake Life Bake Shop.
Enact job protections
For many LGBTQ people, the workplace can still be held hostage by those who are prejudiced. Imagine working hard for a degree, gaining experience, and wanting to follow your profession for emotional fulfillment as well as making a living to support yourself only to lose your job because of your sexual orientation. There is no federal statute explicitly addressing employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The U.S. is a patchwork of states with varying degrees of protections, including 12 states with no protections at all. Until this critical issue is addressed, true equality is not a reality.
Joanne Stiteler is a clinical social worker from Springfield. — Reader response
Build intersectional coalitions
If I had to define the next battle for LGBTQ equality, it would be the battle of unity within our communities — regardless of whether you are cisgender or transgender, gay or straight. If we are going to create the change we need, our communities — each oppressed by systematic, institutional injustice — we must first become one movement working toward the liberation of and equity for all marginalized peoples. Without the strength of our intersections, it will be impossible to achieve true equality for anyone. It’s not about just the LGBTQ movement. It’s about the Black Lives Matter movement, the reproductive rights movement, criminal justice, and immigration reform. We need people to step up and stand up for protecting each other. The violence against trans women of color — especially black trans women — is a national emergency and until we stand up together as one to protect the most marginalized, then none of us will truly be treated equitably or with respect and dignity we all deserve.
Naiymah Ariana Sanchez is trans justice coordinator for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Normalize LGBTQ lives
My wife and I make a habit out of using the word wife instead of partner or another word when speaking about ourselves to others in an effort to “normalize” our relationship. We are out in our community, a small town in Montgomery County, showing folks that we’re not so different from them. I’m also a writer and have written two memoirs about growing up feeling different from my friends, coming out and navigating today’s world as a butch lesbian. I write to allow people into my world and in a way that lets them stand in my shoes. What does it feel like to be misgendered and called “sir” or to be refused a haircut in a barbershop because you are a woman? Everyone can relate to feeling shame, embarrassment, and acceptance. Stories are a great way to educate and create empathy that can lead to social change.
Rae Theodore lives in Royersford with her wife, kids, and cats and writes about her adventures in gender nonconformity. — Reader response
Philadelphia has been at the heart of many American revolutions. Of course it’s the birthplace of our nation and its Constitution, but it’s largely unknown that our city has played a key role in the birthing and growth of the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) rights movement.
In 1965, four years before the famous Stonewall Riots in New York — the 50th anniversary of which we celebrate this month — the burgeoning LGBTQ activist movement, made up of fewer than 50 people nationwide, started demonstrations on the Fourth of July, dubbed “Annual Reminders,” outside of Independence Hall.
These activists, including seminal movement leaders such as Barbara Gittings (1932-2007), Frank Kameny (1925-2011), and Kay Lahusen (alive and well and still fighting for our rights at age 89), picketed outside the home of the Liberty Bell to stake a claim for the rights of lesbian and gay people to full citizenship under American law.
At a time when homosexuality was deemed a sickness and you could easily lose your job and/or your family for coming out, these courageous pioneers carried signs with claims that were viewed as outrageous at the time, including: “Sexual Preference Is Irrelevant to Employment,” “Homosexuals Should Be Judged as Individuals, ” and “Homosexuals Ask for Equality Before the Law.”
Across town, also in 1965, transgender and black activists protested at the Dewey’s Lunch Counter (at 219 S. 17th Street) — at the site of what would later become the beloved Little Pete’s Diner, now dearly departed and demolished. Using the nonviolent tactics they had learned from the black civil rights movement, demonstrators picketed Dewey’s for excluding transgender, black, and LGBTQ youth from the diner. After a month of demonstrations, Dewey’s relented and rightly welcomed all.
These two profiles of community activists’ courage, 50 years ago, were the start of Philadelphia’s role as a leader in LGBTQ history and culture and established models for the nation and world.
These models included our excellent local newspaper, Philadelphia Gay News; our landmark bookstore, Giovanni’s Room; and one of the strongest and most vibrant AIDS activist organizations, ACT UP Philadelphia, still fighting for the end of the AIDS crisis since 1988. We have also had our fair share of national leaders (including, to name a few, pioneers Gittings and Lahusen, black lesbian author Anita Cornwell, multi-issue activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya, PGN publisher Mark Segal, black activist Tyrone Smith, and transgender pioneer Jaci Adams), who transformed the debate from a time when LGBTQ people were viewed as diseased and troubled, to a time when LGBTQ people are more and more embraced as full citizens under the law. We’ve had many successes, with obvious challenges yet to come.
Fifty years later, Philadelphia has established itself as the most welcoming city for LGBT people in the nation. It received a perfect score of 100 from the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, a score reflecting outstanding support for LGBTQ Philadelphians through nondiscrimation laws, municipal employment, municipal services, law enforcement, and leadership on LGBT equality. LGBT people are established leaders in government, public service, business, and the arts. Our orchestra and opera are led by gay men, and our city’s LGBTQ office is helmed by Amber Hikes, a nationally known black queer woman who has helped establish Philadelphia as a destination city for LGBTQ people, both as visitors and residents.
The challenges of the next decade involve our fight to ensure the same successes for our transgender siblings that we have seen for lesbian, gay, and bisexual Philadelphians. This year at William Way Community Center, we will establish a Transgender Resource Center to support trans Philadelphians who face far too much violence, discrimination, and invisibility.
Philadelphia’s LGBTQ pioneers taught us that we must always be a steady voice to confront homophobia and transphobia in our midst. The hostile policies of the current national administration toward trans people have mobilized us, and we will not allow a rollback on civil rights or on the promise of full citizenship. But our 50 years of activism, mobilization, leadership, and courage have provided a road map to our future success, and the fulfillment of the promise of full citizenship for all LGBT Philadelphians.
Chris Bartlett is executive director of William Way LGBT Community Center.