Philly’s Freshman Four talk LGBTQ issues

From L to R: Kendra Brooks, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Isaiah Thomas and Jamie Gauthier

The new crop of city councilmembers known as the “Freshman Four” are excited to start tackling some of Philly’s most pressing issues, including those affecting LGBTQ+ communities. At-large Councilmembers Kendra Brooks, Isaiah Thomas and Katherine Gilmore Richardson, and District Councilwoman Jamie Gauthier are between the ages of 34 and 40 and are vying to bring a younger perspective to city government. 

Gauthier, Thomas and Gilmore Richardson ran as Democrats, and Brooks, a Working Families Party candidate, was the first from a third party to win a seat on Philadelphia City Council since it instituted a modern legislative format a century ago. 

The councilmembers highlighted access to housing and homelessness, as well as health and safety as some of the biggest issues facing local LGBTQ communities. 

“A lot that I’ve been hearing about on my timeline is ensuring that we’re thinking about the health, safety and welfare of the LGBTQ community, particularly around trans women but also Black trans women,” Gilmore Richardson said. “We need to ensure that that community is protected and that, as a city, we’re being responsive to their safety and health concerns.” 

In her role as legislative aid for former City Councilmember Blondell Reynolds Brown, Gilmore Richardson worked on the Equal Benefits Bill, which provided benefits for all city employees and their partners. She also played a role in passing legislation to make the Office of LGBT Affairs a permanent installment in city government. 

Affordable housing is another issue that intersects with some of the other councilmembers’ overall priorities.   

“I definitely want to make sure that folks in the community have access to affordable housing,” said Gauthier, who represents West Philadelphia and has a background in urban planning. “I want to make sure that there are not discriminatory practices being used against people being able to get safe, affordable housing.” 

Brooks is also very focused on the issue of housing, specifically as related to Black LGBTQ people and those in lower-income brackets. 

“We have a major housing shortage here in the city of Philadelphia in general, and housing discrimination adversely affects gay [and] trans folks in our city,” Brooks said. “My focus is going to be various levels of housing issues, from rent control to affordability, but also understanding that housing discrimination is something that I see as an issue in primarily the Black gay community.” 

Brooks’ child is gender nonconforming, so she has seen firsthand the need for acceptance and inclusion toward LGBTQ people. As a parent, Brooks has supported her daughter and helped her daughter navigate life as a gender nonbinary person. 

“I think that for me, just being able to be supportive has been my pathway,” but she said she also realizes that not all gender-nonconforming children have that level of support from their families. 

In order to make diversity a priority, Brooks works with Erica Stewart, her constituency services coordinator. Stewart will be working to help LGBTQ youth find housing, employment and navigate family issues. 

As executive director of Philadelphia Freedom Schools, Thomas prioritizes issues surrounding young Philadelphians. He singled out LGBTQ youth homelessness as one of the major problems regarding the community. 

“I want to listen to these young people’s experiences and work to provide supportive structures,” he said in an email. “On the campaign trail, I visited places like The Attic Youth Center to better learn the issues facing the LGBTQ community and what types of support are needed from City Council.” 

According to a 2017 study released by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, American LGBTQ youth have a 120 percent higher risk of experiencing homelessness than young people who are heterosexual and cisgender. 

All of the new councilmembers emphasized the need to ensure that LGBTQ voices are respected and heard. In order to protect LGBTQ folks and other marginalized populations, representatives from those communities need to be in leadership roles and in the forefront of discussions about the city’s most integral issues, the councilmembers said. 

“The most vulnerable populations, the people who are marginalized, it’s especially important for them to be at the table when we’re talking about how our city runs, Gauthier said. “Whether we’re looking at housing or how our schools operate, I think we have to make sure that we’re making space to hear that perspective.”  

Gilmore Richardson also underscored the need to keep LGBTQ populations in mind when it comes to passing legislation that will benefit the community. 

“We’re one city, and our city continues to progress forward with individuals of all backgrounds,” she said.