Top Stories 2015

This was a banner year for LGBT rights.

Nationally, marriage equality was finally won and trans visibility reached new heights. Locally, Philly celebrated its unparalleled position in LGBT history as we continued to make history. Like any year, there were downs that came with the ups, and injustices that followed victories. But, good or bad, each of the big LGBT stories we saw this year served to deepen conversation about, and among, our community.

Let’s take a look back at the LGBT highlights of 2015.


Marriage equality is won nationwide

Marriage equality became a reality across the country in a landmark June 26 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision in Hodges v. Obergefell, which challenged Ohio’s ban on same-sex marriage, found that the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right to marry.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the 5-4 opinion that said denying same-sex couples marriage rights constitutes a “grave and continuing harm.”

“The imposition of this disability on gays and lesbians serves to disrespect and subordinate them,” he wrote. “The Equal Protection Clause, like the Due Process Clause, prohibits this unjustified infringement of the fundamental right to marry.”


Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan joined Kennedy in the majority opinion. In a scathing dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts, along with Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, called the decision a “threat to American democracy.”

“Enjoy the happiness of the moment,” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter at a rally on Independence Mall the day of the ruling. “But none of us can be free until we’re all free. None of us have rights until all of us have rights. Let us end discrimination of all kinds in the United States of America because that’s who we are – that’s why we’re Americans.”

Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs becomes permanent

There were a number of LGBT victories at the polls in November, including the success of a ballot question that made permanent the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs.

Thanks to legislation introduced by City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, the question made it to the ballot. In a vote that came out to 91,825 to 67,319, voters decided to amend the City Charter to officially incorporate the office.

“This bill offers the LGBT community a permanent seat and voice at the table,” Reynolds Brown said in a statement the morning after the vote. “To a community who too often faces discrimination, it is imperative for them to have a direct line to the mayor and City Council.”

Democrat Jim Kenney, widely regarded as an LGBT-affirming politician, was elected mayor of Philadelphia in a vote of 200,444 to 31,069 against Republican Melissa Murray Bailey.

At the beginning of December, Kenney named Nellie Fitzpatrick to continue as director of the Office of LGBT Affairs. Mayor Nutter originally appointed Fitzpatrick in January to succeed Gloria Casarez, the inaugural director of the office who died last year of breast cancer.

Fitzpatrick told PGN she would like to continue working to “close the gap between the ‘L,’ ‘G’ and ‘T’ and, in doing so, bring understanding as well to the ‘B,’ which often goes unrecognized.”

EEOC makes historic ruling for gays and lesbians

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decided in July that federal law protects gay and lesbian workers from discrimination.

Discrimination based on sexual orientation constitutes a violation of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, the EEOC determined. An independent commission of the EEOC announced its interpretation of the law in response to a complaint brought by a Florida-based air-traffic control specialist against the U.S. Department of Transportation.

In 2012, the EEOC found that discrimination based on gender identity is also prohibited based on the Civil Rights Act’s sex-discrimination clause.

Determinations from the EEOC do not require courts to interpret the law in the same way, or change federal or state law. They are, however, integral in shaping future federal court decisions.

Local Scouts to accept gay adults

A Boy Scouts council that covers Philadelphia, Delaware and Montgomery counties began accepting gay adult volunteers and employees in June.

The Boy Scouts of America Cradle of Liberty Council, headquartered in Treddyfrin Township, voted unanimously to accept gay adults. About 30 people attended the voting meeting. Scouting councils across the country have accepted gay youth since 2013, but only a handful accepted gay adults.

James M. Papada, president of Cradle, told PGN that the organization has 75 employees and 5,000 volunteers who serve about 15,000 youth.

Cradle had occupied a city-owned building on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. It moved to the suburbs two years ago after declining to sign a city lease with comprehensive anti-bias language.

Papada told PGN Cradle’s decision to pursue LGBT equality this year came on the heels of comments made at the annual conference for the Boy Scouts of America.

Robert Gates, president of the organization, said in May that the Boy Scouts would not ban LGBT leaders at the national level; instead, it would be up to local councils to decide whether to include adult LGBT leaders.  


Local Dems make first LGBT endorsements

Local Democratic leaders endorsed an openly LGBT candidate for Philadelphia City Council for the first time.

At its April endorsement meeting, the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee backed out candidate Sherrie Cohen for an at-large seat on Council. The committee also endorsed out candidates Christopher Mallios and Abbe Fletman as judges on the Court of Common Pleas.

Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club sent the Democratic committee a letter before the endorsement meeting, urging it to back an LGBT candidate for Council.

Cohen did not earn enough votes in the May primary to make it to the November election, meaning Philadelphia still has yet to elect an openly LGBT person to City Council.

However, Mallios and Fletman both earned nominations in May and won judgeships in the Court of Common Pleas in November.

Philly’s LGBT community holds events for papal visit

Pope Francis participated in a weekend of events in Philadelphia at the end of September in his historic first visit to the United States. He had no direct interaction with the local LGBT community, but people had plenty of options to discuss Catholicism through an LGBT lens.

Margie Winters and her spouse Andrea Vettori spoke at a Papal Picnic hosted at John C. Anderson Apartments in the Gayborhood. Winters was fired in June from Waldron Mercy Academy in Lower Merion Township for her marriage to a woman.

Before the pope addressed a crowd in front of Independence Hall, Mayor Michael Nutter said, “In America, everyone has rights. Our lesbian, gay and bisexual citizens continue to fight for equality.”


While Pope Francis was on his return flight, a reporter asked if he supported individuals, including government officials, who say they can’t comply with some laws in good conscience. Multiple outlets reported the following response from the pope: “I can say that conscientious objection is a right that is a part of every human right.”

The pope met Kim Davis, the Rowan County, Ky., clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, in Washington, D.C., during his visit. But the Vatican said it “should not be considered a form of support of her position in all of its particular and complex aspects.”

At the same D.C. meeting, Pope Francis met with one of his former students, Yayo Grassi, a gay man.

City celebrates 50th anniversary of Annual Reminders

Dozens of volunteers restaged the Annual Reminder Day march for gay rights outside Independence Hall on the Fourth of July. Fifty years ago, in 1965, it was the location of one of the first LGBT-rights demonstrations in the country. Women wore dresses and men wore blazers and ties to harken back to 1960s civil disobedience.

Reminder events took place throughout the Independence Day weekend. An outdoor ceremony featured out comedian Wanda Sykes. A luncheon featured Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case that defeated the Defense of Marriage Act, and Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard, who was murdered in Wyoming in 1998 because he was gay.

The new rainbow crosswalk at 13th and Locust streets in the Gayborhood was unveiled July 5 at the Annual Reminders Block Party. In a ceremony spearheaded by Philly Pride Presents, the crosswalk was dedicated with four Annual Reminders participants invited to be the first to cross the intersection.  

Mazzoni Center hosts first Youth Pride

After learning about a youth-focused Pride hosted in Washington, D.C., members of the Mazzoni Center Student Leadership Board decided to organize a similar celebration in Philadelphia. The teens involved wanted to host a less-expensive and alcohol-free Pride.

The first Youth Pride took place July 5 for people under the age of 24. Mazzoni Center sponsored it and offered free STI screenings throughout the day at the John C. Anderson Apartments.

Young people led workshops at the William Way LGBT Community Center. Topics included bullying, online etiquette and self-love and body positivity.

A dance party broke out on 13th Street with live music and other talent performances on the Youth Stage.

Organizers expect it to become an annual event.


Sims to run for Congress


State Rep. Brian Sims announced in October his plans to run for Congress, representing parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties at the national level. He is the first openly gay state lawmaker elected in Pennsylvania.

Sims hosted a “Congress Exploratory Committee” fundraiser at the Ethical Humanist Society in Rittenhouse Square the same day as his announcement. Attendees paid between $50 and $2,700.

He intends to challenge U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, a Democrat, to represent Pennsylvania’s Second Congressional District. Fattah was indicted in July on charges of racketeering and related crimes. He pleaded not guilty and plans to seek a 12th two-year term.

Also running are Dan Muroff, an attorney and ward leader for the powerful Philadelphia Ninth Ward Democratic Committee, and Brian Gordon, a commissioner in Lower Merion Township.

Sims also plans to run for his current seat representing Center City, including the Gayborhood, in the state legislature, according to Mason B. Lane, Sims’ chief of staff.

Mazzoni announces plan to consolidate facilities

Over the next two years, Mazzoni Center plans to consolidate its locations and considerably expand operations, the LGBT health and wellness facility announced in February.

Nurit Shein, Mazzoni executive director, told PGN that the agency’s two Gayborhood locations would move into a shared space at 1328-38 Bainbridge St., fusing its medical practice, case-management and other services.

Mazzoni’s locations at 21 S. 12th St. and 809 Locust St., along with the adjoining Walgreen’s pharmacy, will make the move, which is expected to happen in 2017. The Washington West Project will remain at its current location.

The new building at the corner of Broad and Bainbridge streets will undergo extensive renovations with a total project cost of about $14 million. It has no current tenant. The state welfare office vacated the property several years ago.

Mazzoni expects to double the size of its medical practice, increase the number of therapists, launch an intensive outpatient drug and alcohol program and add Saturday hours.

GALAEI heads to North Philly

GALAEI: A Queer [email protected] Social Justice Organization moved in April to North Philadelphia, leaving behind its Center City building.

The new building at 149 W. Susquehanna Ave. used to house the Norris Square Civic Association. It’s not substantially larger than GALAEI’s former home on Chestnut Street, but the layout offers more opportunities for communal activities, said Elicia Gonzales, executive director of GALAEI.

Gonzales told PGN the move would put the organization in closer proximity to the communities it serves. She added her organization’s move to North Philadelphia marks the first time an LGBT organization makes its home in a neighborhood with HIV prevalence.

“We knew we wanted to be in an area that is primarily Latino,” Gonzales told PGN in March. “This area in particular has rates across the board of under-employment, difficulties with education, poverty and other social determinates that really are so connected to HIV.”

New initiative to push for anti-bias law

Local and national agencies launched a new initiative in August to organize business support for legislation to ban LGBT discrimination in Pennsylvania.

The resulting campaign, called Pennsylvania Competes, is spearheaded by Equality Pennsylvania, the state and national chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, American Unity Fund, Gill Action and the Human Rights Campaign.

All 23 of the Fortune 500 companies in Pennsylvania have already enacted LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination policies, according to Ted Martin, Pennsylvania Competes board president and Equality Pennsylvania executive director.

Pennsylvania Competes aims to have both large and small businesses in the state mobilize support to add sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in the state’s nondiscrimination law. Businesses that would like to add their support can sign a pledge at

The latest nondiscrimination law to include LGBT people, called the Pennsylvania Fairness Act, was reintroduced in August after stalling for years. The bill is still in the State Government Committee in the House of Representatives and Senate, and cannot move forward until the chairman in either body schedules it for a vote.

Organizers with Pennsylvania Competes have said they don’t expect any movement on the nondiscrimination legislation until the state budget is passed. Pennsylvania was supposed to have a budget in June.



Gay-bashing case goes to trial

After 14 hours of deliberations, a jury convicted Kathryn Knott of four misdemeanor charges in December, but cleared her of more serious felony charges in last year’s attack on a gay couple in Center City.

Knott was convicted of simple assault, reckless endangerment and conspiracy to commit simple assault against Zachary Hesse, and reckless endangerment against Andrew Haught. Her four convictions are misdemeanors, each of which carries a penalty of up to two years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

The jury of eight women and four men acquitted Knott of two counts of aggravated assault and two of conspiracy to commit aggravated assault, which are felonies.

Knott will be sentenced Feb. 8 and remains free until then.

Prosecutors said Knott was part of a group that physically and verbally attacked Haught and his boyfriend Hesse at 16th and Chancellor streets Sept. 11, 2014. The melee started, they said, when Kevin Harrigan, a friend of Knott, made a derogatory comment about the men being a couple.


Harrigan and co-defendant Philip Williams accepted plea deals this fall and will receive no jail time; Knott rejected a similar deal.

More than 20 witnesses were presented over the four-day trial. Defense attorney Louis Busico showed footage of the melee, filmed by one of Knott’s friends, which did not depict Knott hitting anyone. Knott also took the stand in her own defense and said, “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“I have gay friends and family members,” she said.

Man suing for alleged police brutality seeks new trial

Less than a month after a jury cleared Philadelphia police of wrongdoing, Luis A. Berrios filed an appeal for a new trial.

Officer Michael Gentile was cleared in a Nov. 4 trial of using excessive force against Berrios, and Officer Robert Tavarez was cleared of facilitating the excessive force as a bystander.

In his Nov. 30 appeal, Berrios contends that U.S. Magistrate Judge Lynne A. Sitarski improperly prevented jurors from fully considering the alleged anti-LGBT bias of the officers and denying Berrios’ treating physician from testifying about the extent and treatment of his injuries.

The appeal remains pending. Berrios has said if Sitarski denies his request, he will appeal to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.

Berrios’ suit against the police stems from a Dec. 28, 2010, incident in which a neighbor called authorities to his home in the 4500 block of North Seventh Street in Hunting Park for a domestic disturbance.

Berrios told PGN in 2011 that he and his now-ex-boyfriend Jason Mendez got into an altercation in which Berrios struck Mendez with a clothes iron because the latter was pinning him down while he was having an asthma attack.

Berrios said at the time he only wanted officers to take Mendez to his own residence; he didn’t want to press charges. Instead, Berrios said, officers threw Mendez face-first into a pile of snow, repeatedly calling him “nigger” and “faggot.”

When Berrios tried to intervene, he said police handcuffed him and twisted the cuffs to the point where it injured his wrists. Both Berrios and Mendez were arrested on assault charges, which were later dropped.

Lesbian religion teacher terminated


The Archdiocese of Philadelphia came under fire in the summer after a local religion teacher was terminated because of her same-sex marriage.

Margie Winters was let go from her position as director of religious education at Waldron Mercy Academy in July. The longtime educator said school officials had been aware of her sexual orientation and marriage since her 2007 hiring, and only acted after a disgruntled parent complained to the archdiocese. The archdiocese acknowledged weighing in on the issue but insisted school officials made the final decision.

Hundreds of students and parents rallied in support of Winters, starting a fund to support her and her wife. The issue garnered international attention, especially in light of Pope Francis’ visit scheduled for September. Winters took part in a number of LGBT Catholic events during the papal visit.

SEPTA ruling handed down

The Commonwealth Court in August issued a long-awaited opinion finding that the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority was not subject to Philadelphia’s LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. 

The ruling stemmed from SEPTA’s 2009 lawsuit challenging the authority of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, which enforces the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance and which had fielded a number of discrimination complaints against the agency, including from LGBT customers.

After a prolonged legal battle, the state court found that the legislature, in creating the transit agency, “did not intend SEPTA to be subject to a local anti-discrimination ordinance” and that it need only abide by the state nondiscrimination law, which does not include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The following month, the city appealed the ruling, which it said in court papers could cause “substantial undermining of human dignity and human rights.” The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and Mazzoni Center filed petitions in support of the city’s appeal.

A decision by the state Supreme Court about whether it will consider the appeal is pending.


Shooting at Danny’s

An employee at an adult store in the Gayborhood was shot in the summer by a suspect who remains at large.

Kevyn Mines, 31, was attacked in Danny’s Midnight Confessions July 18. He said a man entered the store, made antigay remarks about its merchandise and left, only to return a few minutes later and pull a gun on him. The two struggled and Mines was shot in the back.

Mines recovered from his injuries.

Store owner Danny Liss, who characterized the incident as a hate crime, offered $5,000 for information leading to the culprit’s arrest and conviction.

Video surveillance captured the suspect, whose identity has not been released and who remains on the loose. A description and video of the incident is available at Anyone with information should call 215-246-TIPS.

Arson fire rips through Gayborhood building

The former Letto Deli on 13th Street was razed after a three-alarm fire, which was later determined to have been an arson.

In the early-morning hours of Sept. 15, a fire broke out at 208 S. 13th St., which was under construction to become a restaurant, Maison 208. The blaze destroyed the site and caused damage to the Gramercy and Chancellor apartment buildings, forcing their evacuation. No injuries were reported, but the fire caused about $1 million in damage.

Local and federal officials later announced the cause to be arson and, on Sept. 30, arrested Stephen Pettiway, 53, of Olney, for allegedly setting the fire.

Mural honors Gloria Casarez

The 12th Street corridor got a new addition this year with the installation of a mural to the late Gloria Casarez.

Casarez was the city’s inaugural director of LGBT Affairs, appointed to the position in 2008. She died last year of complications of cancer.

A mural in her honor was announced in the spring by city officials and the Mural Arts Project. Artist Michelle Angela Ortiz created the template for the work, which pays tribute to Casarez’s varied work with marginalized communities. In two sessions, community members helped paint the mural, including participants like Mayor Michael Nutter, Casarez’s LGBT Affairs successor Nellie Fitzpatrick and many family and friends.

The mural was dedicated at Outfest and officially completed last month.


Rainbow crosswalks installed

The Gayborhood got a lot more colorful over the summer.

Philly Pride Presents announced in March that the organization was working with city officials on rainbow-colored crosswalks in the heart of the Gayborhood, 13th and Locust streets. The crosswalks were officially installed June 24. By the next morning, social media was populated by photos of passersby posing with the colorful markings.

The crosswalks were officially dedicated July 5, with participants in the 50th-anniversary celebration of the Annual Reminders taking the first steps across them. A second set of crosswalks was initially slated to be installed at 12th and Locust, but that plan was put on hold.

Philly followed cities like San Francisco and Toronto, which also installed similar crosswalks.



Firsts for gender-neutral bathrooms

Philadelphia this year made big strides toward ensuring transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals have access to appropriate restroom facilities.

City Council in October unanimously approved legislation to require every single-stall restroom in the city to use gender-neutral language. The measure was introduced by Councilman Mark Squilla, who represents the Gayborhood.

Mayor Michael Nutter signed the bill into law the following month at Fergie’s Pub, surrounded by local LGBTs, business leaders and pubic officials. After the signing, the pub’s owner took down the “Women” and “Men” restroom signs and replaced them with signs reading “Bathroom.”

The law takes effect Jan. 20.

Also this year, director of LGBT Affairs Nellie Fitzpatrick launched the Gotta Go Guide, which tracks public, commercial and governmental buildings that offer gender-neutral restrooms. The Google Maps-powered site went live in May and was thought to be the first city-sponsored initiative of its kind in the nation.

Trans flag flies in Philly

For the first time, the City of Philadelphia raised the transgender Pride flag at City Hall.

The flag-raising ceremony took place June 4 and the flag remained up for four days, throughout the duration of the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference. The effort was conceived by Nellie Fitzpatrick, director of the city’s Office of LGBT Affairs.


The ceremony drew more than 250 guests, many of whom walked in unison from the PTHC at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The event is expected to become an annual one.

Trans woman named as PA’s top doc

Pennsylvania saw the appointment of its highest-ranking out transgender individual this year.

The Senate in June unanimously confirmed Dr. Rachel Levine’s nomination as the state’s physician general. Levine has been in the role in an acting capacity since Gov. Tom Wolf appointed her in the beginning of the year. 

Levine is the first out trans person to hold a top government post in Pennsylvania.

Prior to joining the Wolf administration, Levine served as a professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the Penn State College of Medicine. She also was vice-chair for clinical affairs for the Department of Pediatrics and chief of the Division of Adolescent Medicine and Eating Disorders at the Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital-Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

Levine participated in a number of LGBT events throughout the year, including serving as grand marshal at Philadelphia Pride, and speaking on the administration’s commitment to fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Harrisburg on World AIDS Day.

Cohen intros first-ever trans bills

State Rep. Mark Cohen (D-202nd Dist.) introduced two bills this session that would extend unprecedented rights to transgender Pennsylvanians.

HB 303 would amend the Public School Code to eliminate gender-based restrictions and prerequisites for transgender students, allowing students to use school spaces associated with their gender identity. HB 304 would require all private, public and Medicaid insurance plans to cover transition-related care.

The bills were submitted to the education and health committees, respectively, but were not scheduled for a hearing or vote.

Cohen told PGN he didn’t expect the measures to move this session, but that the effort would help raise awareness of trans issues among lawmakers.

“Most legislators weren’t aware of transgender people five years ago,” Cohen said. “It takes time for them to build up to a comfort level.”


Keisha Jenkins murder spurs outcry

The murder of transgender woman Keisha Jenkins mobilized LGBT supporters across the city against rising tides of violence toward transgender women.

Jenkins, 22, was beaten by a group of men in Logan in the early-morning hours of Oct. 6, one of whom shot her twice in the back, killing her.

Jenkins’ murder was a focal point of the fifth-annual Philly Trans* March, held just four days after her killing. About 500 people, the largest-ever crowd, converged for the rally and march.

Investigators said they believe Jenkins was targeted for a robbery, but that her gender identity did not motivate the crime; they are not investigating it as a hate crime.

Police arrested Pedro Redding, 24, Oct. 12 in connection with the crime. He was charged with murder, conspiracy and weapons charges, but is not believed to have been the shooter.

No further arrests had been made as of presstime.


Roommate arrested for murder of trans woman

Local transgender woman Londyn Chanel was stabbed to death in the spring, allegedly by her roommate.

Raheem Felton was charged with murder in connection with the May 18 stabbing at an abandoned home in North Philadelphia that he shared with Chanel and two other trans women.

In a pretrial hearing in June, witnesses said Felton, 31, became violent when Chanel, 21, attempted to tell Felton’s girlfriend that he made sexual advances toward her.

The medical examiner’s report indicated Chanel was stabbed six times.

Felton’s defense attorney attempted to characterize the incident as a mutual fight, urging the judge to downgrade the defendant’s murder charge from first to third degree, a request that was denied.

Felton remains incarcerated, awaiting a trial.

Lesbian gunned down in North Philly

A lesbian was shot execution-style in North Philadelphia in January, the victim of an apparent workplace dispute.

Kim Jones, 56, was shot in the head Jan. 13 while waiting for a bus near Temple University. Police arrested Randolph Sanders, one of Jones’ coworkers at social-service agency Turning Points for Children, for the murder.

Investigators say Sanders had allegedly been stealing money from the organization, and he suspected Jones was going to report him.

Sanders remains incarcerated, awaiting a trial.

Gay man’s body found in suitcase

Investigators say it was a drug-related robbery gone bad that led to the gruesome murder of Scott Stephen Bernheisel.

Bernheisel’s body was found May 28 inside a suitcase near the Tinnicum Township Industrial Park, just outside Philadelphia International Airport. Bernheisel had been bludgeoned and stabbed to death.

Thomas Brennan was arrested for his murder. He is also charged with robbery, theft, abuse of corpse and related charges. Brennan’s girlfriend, Crystal Leibhart, was also arrested as an accomplice.

Investigators say the murder took place in the 200 block of Wilder Street in Pennsport, where Bernheisel, 40, was temporarily living. They said Bernheisel was Brennan’s alleged drug dealer. At a pretrial hearing in September, a former cellmate of Brennan said he contended he killed Bernheisel after the victim made unwanted sexual advances toward him. The witness also testified that Bernheisel told him Leibhart helped him attempt to conceal the body.

Both remain in custody, pending a trial.