Top Stories in 2012: A year of history-makers
Dec 27, 2012 | 1884 views | 1 1 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
<b>Kyra Cordova</b>
Kyra Cordova
This year marked a sea of highs and lows for the local and national LGBT communities. Locally, Philadelphia saw the fruition of the long-awaited LGBT senior-housing complex, was recognized nationally for its municipal LGBT policies and saw the victory of the first out candidate for the state legislature. However, the local community also grappled with the murder of one of its own, with funding struggles and legal squabbles. Nationally, this year marked a tidal wave of marriage-equality progress, including the president’s evolution on the issue and several new states sanctioning same-sex marriage. But at the same time, the fight for equal rights and treatment has continued in the courtrooms and in the court of public opinion.

While 2012 will soon be over, it will certainly be one for the LGBT history books.


Senior-housing facility moves forward

Ground was finally broken this fall for the long-awaited LGBT senior-housing complex.

The facility, slated to open in late 2013, was revealed as the John C. Anderson Apartments at the Nov. 9 groundbreaking ceremony. The project is spearheaded by the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund.

The complex, at 249-257 S. 13th St., will cost about $19 million. Backers secured $6 million in state funding through the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program and $2 million from the city’s Office of House and Community Development.

On April 12, the final funding piece was put in place as the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency awarded low-income-housing tax credits expected to generate about $11 million. Wells Fargo Bank subsequently purchased the credits.

The complex will be six stories and include 56 one-bedroom units for those ages 62 and older.

The groundbreaking was originally set for late October but was postponed because of Hurricane Sandy.

Funding changes impact HIV/AIDS orgs

A number of HIV/AIDS organizations scrambled to reassess their financial situations early this year.

At the end of 2011, the AIDS Activities Coordinating Office announced the local recipients of the Centers for Disease Control’s High-Impact HIV-Prevention Services awards. Among the casualties were ActionAIDS and The Colours Organization, who were zero-funded, after having received $233,000 and $190,000, respectively, the previous year. Shortly after, the city announced that Colours would receive $135,000, funding that was put on hold in light of the sudden death of the agency’s director.

ActionAIDS laid off three staffers to contend with the cut.

The city received $577,000 less from CDC than in the previous year, as the agency restructured the program to focus on testing among the hardest-hit populations. In keeping with that format, the city allocated the funding to 22 agencies, compared with 15 in the previous cycle, lessening many organizations’ cut.

Nutter joins marriage-equality coalition

More than 100 mayors from across the nation came together this year to rally for marriage equality, including Philadelphia’s Mayor Michael Nutter.

Nutter and about a dozen other mayors took part in a press conference in February to announce the formation of Mayors for the Freedom to Marry. The effort was unveiled during the 80th annual U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C.

Nutter was joined by two fellow Pennsylvania mayors: John Callahan of Bethlehem and Joe Sinnot of Erie, as well as Chad Goerner and Cory Booker of Princeton and Newark, N.J., respectively.

“I encourage our members of Congress to support this great effort,” Nutter said. “It’s the right thing to do. It’s the American thing to do.”

Throughout the year, Nutter was joined by mayors of Lansdowne, Doylestown, Newtown, Macungie, Easton, Braddock, Turtle Creek, State College, Lancaster, Kutztown, Parker, Homewood Borough and Pittsburgh.

Penn revamps health-care policies

In two separate moves this year, the University of Pennsylvania retooled its health-care plans to allow for LGBT inclusiveness.

In March, the school announced it would expand its healthcare coverage to include gender-reassignment surgery for transgender individuals, joining just a handful of other American universities that offer the benefit. The change went into effect July 1.

Also in July, the university instated a tax-offset program for employees who take advantage of the school’s domestic-partner health-care coverage. The school began reimbursing employees on the plan up to $125 a month, or $1,500 annually, for the extra taxes incurred because of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents recognition of same-sex unions. Penn joined just several-dozen employers in the nation to offer such a program.

PA DOMA case filed

An Illinois lesbian fighting for her late spouse’s pension brought her case before a Pennsylvania court.

Jennifer Tobits, who married Sarah Ellyn Farley in 2005 in Canada, is seeking to collect her wife’s $41,000 profit-sharing plan. Farley, who died in 2010, was an attorney at the Chicago office of Cozen O’Connor, a Philadelphia-based firm. Farley’s parents said they supplied a beneficiary form to the firm, in which their daughter appeared to have designated them as the beneficiaries of the plan instead of Tobits.

Tobits filed her case in late 2011, and the parties came before U.S. District Judge C. Darnell Jones 2nd in March for a hearing.

Farley’s parents argued that the marriage was not valid under the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The U.S. Department of Justice filed a brief in the case, continuing to support its finding that the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

In September, Jones suspended the case indefinitely, presumably in anticipation of next year’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on the constitutionality of DOMA.

In November, an Illinois probate court closed the Farley estate after recognizing the marriage and declaring Tobits the official sole heir and legal representative of Farley.

SEPTA to lift gender markers

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority announced this year that it would remove its long-used, and long-criticized, gender-marker stickers.

In March, Councilwoman-at-Large Blondell Reynolds Brown introduced a resolution that would urge SEPTA to end the use of the stickers on fare passes, and Council unanimously adopted it. The stickers have been blasted by activists who say they have fueled discrimination against transgender and gender non-conforming SEPTA users. Activist groups such as Riders Against Gender Exclusion were at the forefront of pressing SEPTA on the issue.

SEPTA general manager Joe Casey said in April that the stickers would end in the second half of 2013, shortly before the system introduces its New Payment Technology.

Hearings will be held in the spring of 2013 to finalize NPT and the removal of the gender markers.

182nd race proves historic

The LGBT community was divided in the spring over the race for the 182nd District seat in the Pennsylvania House.

Incumbent Rep. Babette Josephs held the seat, which encompasses the Gayborhood, for more than 25 years, but was challenged by Brian Sims, the former president of Equality Pennsylvania, who was seeking to become the state’s first out lawmaker.

Sims, who served as treasurer for Josephs’ 2010 campaign, ultimately won endorsements from PGN, Victory Fund, Equality Pennsylvania and the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, whose members backed Sims with a vote of 22-12.

He went on to defeat Josephs in the April primary, capturing 3,759 votes to Josephs’ 3,524 votes, becoming the first out candidate elected to the state legislature. This fall, a Republican state legislator came out.

Sims will be inaugurated next month.

City ordered to pay in Scouts case

The long-embattled debate about the future of the local Boy Scouts’ property continued this year without a resolution.

In the spring, the city was ordered to pay nearly $900,000 in legal fees relating to its attempt to evict the Scouts from its city-owned property — because its ban on openly gay and atheist members conflicts with the city’s nondiscrimination law.

In 2010, a jury found that the city acted improperly in its eviction attempt, and in March, Judge Ronald Buckwalter, who heard the case, ordered the city to pay $877,122.07 that the Scouts say they spent in litigating the case.

Buckwalter also upheld the jury verdict.

The city appealed in April to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, challenging both Buckwalter’s upholding of the ruling and the legal-fee assessment.

The parties went into mediation over the summer, but that was unsuccessful.

In November, the city asked the court to vacate the jury verdict, which it called “irreconcilably inconsistent.”

Earlier this year, the city’s attempt to strike a deal in which it would sell the building to the Scouts for $500,000, a fraction of its market value, fell through because of a lack of support from City Council.

In January, local gay businessman Mel Heifetz made another offer to buy the building, this time at $2 million, and donate the building to a nondiscriminatory organization. The city has not announced a decision on that proposal.

LGBTs caught in meth bust

At least two LGBT people were arrested in a multi-county methamphetamine-distribution bust this past spring.

Joseph “Phoenix” Croxton and Marissa Devine, both Philadelphia residents, were among more than 30 people arrested in May in a bust that stretched from Philadelphia to Montgomery County. Croxton and Devine both worked as hosts at Darling’s Diner at the Piazza at Schmidt’s.

In June, felony charges against Croxton were dropped, including three counts of conspiracy for possession with the intent to deliver and one count each of corrupt organizations, possession with the intent to deliver, criminal use of a communication facility and dealing in unlawful proceeds. He still, however, faces six misdemeanor counts of possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. He could face up to a year in prison and a fine if convicted.

A prosecutor working on the case said Devine was more entrenched in the ring than Croxton and “was helping to facilitate the operations of one of our targets.”

Devine faces nearly 20 felonies and misdemeanors and is awaiting trial.

Philly priest trial makes history

Monsignor William Lynn stood trial in the spring in a landmark case that brought national attention to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

After a three-month trial, a jury in June found Lynn guilty of endangering the welfare of a child, making him the first high-ranking Roman Catholic official in the nation convicted of covering up sex-abuse claims.

Lynn handled sex-abuse investigations under former Archbishop Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua. In July, a judge sentenced him to three-six years in prison.

In advance of the trial, Judge Theresa Sarmina ruled Bevilacqua, who had dementia and cancer, competent to stand trial, but the 88-year-old died the following day.

Jury selection began Feb. 22 in the case, and six men and six women were chosen for trial, which began in March. Lynn was tried alongside the Rev. James Brennan, who was accused of abusing a boy in the 1990s. The alleged victim, now in his 30s, testified against Brennan, as did about 20 other victims, who spoke of widespread cover-ups within the church.

Brennan will be retried in 2013, as the jury couldn’t come to a consensus on his charges.

Fire at gay bathhouse

A fire was reported shortly after midnight Aug. 23 at Club Body Center, at 1220 Chancellor St. in the Gayborhood.

The fire was confined to and began in the laundry room. Up to 20 people were evacuated from the building.

Chris Srnicek, who planned to buy the building from its current owners, said he thought the exhaust pipes in the laundry room might have been the cause for the fire, but was still waiting to hear about a definitive cause.

Although the laundry room sustained most of the damage, changing-room doors and windows needed to be replaced. Scorch marks were also seen on the area directly above the laundry room. The basement also suffered water damage due to the effort to subdue the fire.

CBC, founded in 1975, has been at that location since 1995.

Transwoman murdered

A transgender woman was shot to death in the Frankford neighborhood of Philadelphia late this summer, and her killer has yet to be arrested.

The victim, Kyra Cordova, was found in the early-morning hours of Sept. 3 in a wooded area off Adams Avenue. Cordova, 27, was a former volunteer and employee of the Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative. She was last seen earlier that morning purchasing two drinks and two sandwiches from a nearby Wawa.

The William Way LGBT Community Center held a memorial for Cordova Sept. 13, where hundreds of community members celebrated her life and mourned her death.

In October, a reward of $25,000 was offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Cordova’s killer — $5,000 from an anonymous donation and $20,000 from the city.

Cordova’s family, including her mother, Dawn Maher, sat down with Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and other officials Oct. 10.

In early December, police announced that a person of interest had been identified, although a name was not released.

Barbara Gittings Way dedicated

One of the city’s most notable LGBT-rights pioneers was permanently memorialized this fall.

A street sign designating a portion of Locust Street between 12th and 13th as Barbara Gittings Way was unveiled Oct. 1.

The sign, which was proposed by Equality Forum, was authorized by a City Council measure led by Mark Squilla and Jim Kenney that Council passed unanimously in June.

Gittings, who was credited for removing homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s listing of mental illnesses, was also a founding member of the New York Chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis and editor of the chapter’s publication.

The street sign was a focal point during the Oct. 7 OutFest block party.

Philadelphia wins with HRC

In the Human Rights Campaign’s first-ever Municipal Equality Index, Philadelphia received a perfect baseline score of 100 — the only municipality in the nation to do so — and nine bonus points. Overall, Philadelphia came in second to Seattle, which received a 96 base score with 15 bonus points. HRC evaluated 137 cities.

The cities were scored on a sea of policies, programs and positions.

On the corporate side, HRC scored 252 companies in its annual Corporate Equality Index and assigned a full 100 to Philadelphia-based companies GlaxoSmithKline, Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP and Comcast Corp., a newcomer to the top tier that received an 80 last year.

Nizah Morris case sees 10th anniversary

This year marked the 10th anniversary of the murder of transwoman Nizah Morris.

Morris died Dec. 24, 2002, from a fractured skull she incurred two days previously, shortly after a courtesy ride from police.

Morris was highly intoxicated at a club at 13th and Walnut streets, and police say they dropped her off at 15th and Walnut, where they said they believed she lived. She was found a short time later with a head wound. The homicide remains unsolved.

In January, a judge denied PGN’s Right-to-Know request for access to 911 records pertaining to the case, citing the law’s exemption for an open homicide investigation.

Throughout the year, the Police Advisory Commission continued to request information on the case from the District Attorney’s Office, although the D.A,’s Office has been tight-lipped about what materials it has.

PAC is expected to issue its final report on the Morris homicide in the coming months.

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March 18, 2013
On paper Glaxo and some of these other companies look great. Interview some of the LGBT employees and you find that discrimination/homophobia run rampant. At Glaxo, I've heard that one director in particular likes using the word "Faggot" when referring to one of the open employees in the department. It seems if you have a lot of influence at the company, you can say what you want and get away with it. I feel for those employees who think they are in an open environment but then realize, its not real, it's just so the company looks better on paper!