Two days before International Transgender Day of Visibility, which takes place on March 31, District Attorney Larry Krasner announced in a press conference the forthcoming addition of the LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee to the District Attorney’s Office (DAO).
Although the committee is in its early stages of formation, the DAO team plans to take into account diversity in age, race and immigration status when selecting people to join the committee, said Kelly Burkhardt, LGBTQ liaison for DAO Victim Services.
“We are going to be incredibly intersectional to make sure that everyone is a part of this,” Burkhardt said. “The goals are really to provide safety for our community so folks know that they have a place to go, people they can talk to.”
Krasner began by speaking about the recent stabbing of a 32-year-old transgender woman in Germantown, Pa. He identified the perpetrator as Robert Easley. “This office will vigorously prosecute that terrible violent crime,” Krasner said at the press conference.
He expressed that the DAO “remains committed to standing in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community including its transgender members. For far too long, gay, trans, queer and nonbinary people have been unable to receive support and advocacy from agencies involved in the criminal justice system. Why? Because law enforcement has never worked very well for marginalized people,” Krasner told the press.
Pennsylvania’s hate crime law does not include sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression in its protected categories. However, Philadelphia’s hate crime ordinance does institute harsher punishments for criminals who target LGBTQ individuals.
“I am very terrified of the violence in our city that has run amok,” trans activist Kendall Stephens said at the press conference. “Our peace of mind is shaken. The spirit of our city is broken, and too many of us have actively participated in that brokenness… by our divisiveness, our intolerance, and apathy towards one another.”
Stephens added that the people of Philadelphia can work together to diminish violence against the trans community. She and Deja Lynn Alvarez, director of community engagement for World Healthcare Infrastructures and chairperson on the Philadelphia Police LGBT Liaison Committee, will be part of the DAO LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee. The two have met with Krasner “to see how the voices of the leaders in the trans community could work in tandem with the District Attorney’s Office to create some initiative and seek out some solutions as related to the rising epidemic of anti-trans violence happening in the city,” Stephens told PGN.
“It’s wonderful that they’re acknowledging that they could have done better, and refreshing that they’re willing [to work] with us together as a unified front so that we can better serve the trans community in an affirming and equitable way,” Stephens added.
Other speakers at the press conference zoomed out to address why trans rights are called into question.
“Why is my identity politically-charged,” Alvarez rhetorically asked at the press conference. “I don’t understand it… Why do you feel as though you have the right to decide who I am and how I live?” She amplified the fact that the rights devised in the founding of this country do not exclude people because of their gender, the color of their skin or any identifying factor.
“Nowhere in there does it say, ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness unless you’re a young Black man,’” she continued. “And you’re told from the time you are a child that you are probably going to be a statistic, that when you walk out your door you’re going to be murdered. Or if you happen to come from another country and come [here] seeking the same American dream that everyone else seeks, you’re told, ‘nope, you don’t have the right. Nope, you can be the victim of a crime and have nowhere to go to report it.’ If you even feel safe enough to attempt to report it without fear of being harassed by police, or by government agencies.”
Mikah Thomas, operations manager for GALAEI, told the press that GALAEI’s Trans Equity Project is being rebranded to Transgender Intersex Nonbinary Gender-nonconforming Services, or TINGS for short. He too underscored the fact that trans individuals deserve respect and basic human rights.
“We are here, we are queer and we need the community to understand and respect that you may not understand who we are and what we believe,” Thomas said at the press conference. “We will be here to stand in solidarity with you if you can stand in solidarity with us.”
Rev. Andrea Lamour-Harrington, associate reverend at Whosoever Metropolitan Community Church of Philadelphia, expressed the need for universal acceptance in the context of the Christian bible and The Constitution. She referenced a line in a bible verse that says “whosoever” believes in God “‘shall not perish, but have everlasting life.’ Whosoever means trans; whosoever means heterosexual; whosoever means anyone that has breath and is living and is a human being,” Lamour-Harrington said at the conference. “If you are whosoever, turn to the side and protect your sister, turn to the side and protect your brother…”
When it was time for questions, Burkhardt said that she has been speaking with Celena Morrison, executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, about dissolving silos and best practices for serving victims of crimes.
“When something happens no one knows who to contact,” Burkhardt said at the press conference. “We’re trying to streamline that now. Conversations we’ve been having have been directly about more support, how can we gather resources.”
Those who are interested in joining the LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee may contact Burkhardt at 215-686-8909 or by email at [email protected].