One more important voice

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Celena Morrison speaking at the Leeway Foundation’s “Leeway @ 25: TransForming Inclusion” event in 2018. Photo by Kelly Burkhardt. Photo credit: KENZI CRASH / LEEWAY FOUNDATION.

The Office of LGBT Affairs announced Black trans woman Celena Morrison’s appointment as executive director on Jan. 28. On Monday, March 2, she will officially take office and begin the hard work that comes with her new position. According to the city, the Office of LGBT Affairs “works to foster equal working and living conditions for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people and to advocate for LGBTQ issues in all areas of City government.” 

Morrison is a known quantity in the LGBTQ community. As director of programs at William Way, she was essential to establishing the Arcila-Adams Trans Resource Center. She has also worked on the ground level with many LGBTQ groups and organizations including TMAN, Sisterly LOVE, OUR Way and others. She has been on the Philadelphia Commission of Human Relations (PCHR) since 2018 and is a support specialist for Mazzoni Center’s Pediatric and Adolescent Comprehensive Transgender Services program (PACTS). 

The LGBTQ community has waited considerably for “our” office within city government to be filled, after former Executive Director Amber Hikes left for the ACLU on Aug. 1.

Morrison told PGN in August that she “will continue the work of the office and focus on the most marginalized members of our community. As many of us do, I am going to have a particular focus on trans women of color.”

Philadelphia has long been ready for a Black trans woman to fight for Black trans women. Last year, this city witnessed the murder of Black trans woman Tameka “Michelle” Washington. In 2002, Black trans woman Nizah Morris was killed, and the LGBTQ community still doesn’t have answers regarding her death. Morris was found with a fractured skull shortly after receiving a “courtesy ride” from police. She requested to be taken home but was dropped three miles from her house. Records regarding Morris’ case were lost and only some were recovered, leaving many questions unanswered. We need those answers, now. 

Morrison told PGN in August, “As a Black trans woman, I have experienced first-hand the transphobia, workplace discrimination and many other challenges that face our community. All of this motivates me to fight relentlessly for my fellow LGBTQ+ siblings.”

The Office of LGBT Affairs assures that work is being done for LGBTQ folks within the Mayor’s Office. We have state representatives and councilmembers fighting for our rights with legislation, but we will always need additional voices, operating in diverse avenues. Morrison’s arrival on March 2 gives the entire LGBTQ community one more important voice.  Her appointment is particularly meaningful for Black trans women, who have been historically underrepresented in all levels of government due to transphobia, racism, sexism and transmisogyny. Since the gay rights’ movement began, queer folks have fought for change, acceptance, representation and respect. Our elders forged a path for us with no map to lead them. It is our responsibility to extend and broaden that path, move forward and ensure equity for all members of our community.