Local LGBTQ pipeline project helps diversify board leadership

An initiative to increase the number of LGBTQ people of color, trans people, youth and seniors in board leadership at Philadelphia’s queer organizations drew to a close Thursday evening as the inaugural cohort of 20 people received their placements.

Almost a year in the making, the LGBTQ Leadership Pipeline was spearheaded by the Office of LGBT Affairs and the LGBT Affairs Commission in partnership with the Independence Business Alliance, William Way LGBT Community Center and Delaware Valley Legacy Fund. About 80 people gathered 43 floors up at the Comcast Center for a graduation ceremony.

In order to remove financial and social barriers associated with obtaining an LGBTQ leadership position, the pipeline program was free. Participants spent six months receiving training on strategic leadership, finances and development, personal branding, public relations and other skillsets applicable to effectively serving on a board. 

Those placed through the Leadership Pipeline are:

  • Brandon Thompson – Independence Business Alliance
  • Kai Thigpen, Shara Howard – William Way LGBT Community Center
  • Tekara Gainey – DVLF
  • Bri Golphin, Jay Alston, Katrina Robinson – Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs
  • Tyunique Nelson – The Attic Youth Center
  • Monique Gary – Bebashi: Transition to Hope
  • Terry Young – Fifty Shades of Purple Against Bullying
  • Wilfredo Hernandez – Galaei
  • Phillip Sylvester – GALLOP
  • Morgan Mahdavi, Mars Bielski – GLSEN Philly 
  • Tierra Rich – Leeway Foundation
  • Damon Reaves – Pathways to Housing PA
  • Jarrett Thompson – Philadelphia Black Pride
  • Shelli Branscomb, Brenda Zenoka – Philadelphia Family Pride
  • Kaleb Aronson – Therapy Center of Philadelphia

Participating organizations will waive any financial expectations for serving on the board during the first year. 

Amber Hikes, executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, said Pipeline graduates are now poised to advocate for LGBTQ community members who share their identities, experiences and visions. 

“Every single one of you represents another one of us who now has a chance, who now has access like never before,” Hikes said to the crowd. “This has never been about the seats that you are occupying today. It’s about you holding that door open for everyone for tomorrow.” 

The project is one of several initiatives Hikes created during her tenure, which draws to a close at the end of the month as she prepares to move to a new position as chief diversity officer at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Mayor Jim Kenney commended Pipeline participants for further developing their leadership and abilities to impact the community “at a time in this country when new bold voices and leadership are needed the most.”

“Your persistence is a powerful reminder to all of us about the importance of representing the communities we serve authentically and having a seat at the table for the many diverse voices in our city,” Kenney told the cohort, adding the program is a step toward “more equitable, diverse and representative” organizations.

The LGBTQ Leadership Pipeline was born following a Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations LGBTQ Report in 2017 that identified persistent racism and unwelcoming attitudes toward LGBTQ people of color, women and trans people in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood. 

Alston, who is joining the board of the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs, said his biggest takeaway from the program is that Philadelphia is a “world-class LGBTQ city” even though its leaders and efforts for LGBTQ representation are sometimes overlooked. His main focus in his new role is listening to community members, Alston added. 

“I don’t feel like this role is really about me, so ideally I would like to just listen to what the greatest needs of the community are and the folks who don’t often get to be in these spaces or get to be heard from,” he told PGN at the event. 

Howard, who will join William Way’s board, said the program taught her the importance of communication, honesty and being upfront to effectively represent community needs. 

“I’m hoping that not only can we make a place in a corporate environment, but we can make a place in the mind and the hearts of the communities that are outside of our own,” she added. “That people make a space for us and that we don’t convince them to … but we all willingly make a space for everyone.”

Pipeline graduates were already prepared to assume board roles and the program served as a mechanism to hone their confidence and skills, said Zach Wilcha, executive director of the Independence Business Alliance.

“You’ll be stepping up with brave, intersectional leadership, addressing the unique and evolving needs of our community at a time where we, our community, our city, our nation need it the most,” he said. 

Hikes closed Thursday’s ceremony by noting the pipeline project was “personal” for her as the youngest and first Black person to lead the Office of LGBT Affairs.   

“I just spent the last two-plus years in room after room after room with my colleagues where I am the only one who looks like me,” Hikes said to program graduates. “It has been lonely, it has been depressing, it has been isolating and it must change. And thanks to you all, it will, it is already changed.”