The stories of 2021

Amidst a second year of the Covid-19 pandemic, 2021 saw a mix of good, bad, and in-between news for the LGBTQ community. PGN took a look back at some of the most memorable and important local and national LGBTQ stories of the past twelve months.

Philly Pride Presents disbands; PHL Pride Collective works to reimagine Pride

In June, Philly Pride Presents, which had put on the city’s Pride parade and festival since 1988, disbanded after criticism over social media posts and mounting pressure from organizations including Disrupt Philadelphia, ACT UP Philadelphia, and the Philly Trans March. Following the disbandment, PPP came under scrutiny for declining to repay some vendors who bought space for Pride and OutFest events that were canceled in 2020 and 2021. A new organization, PHL Pride Collective, formed in June 2021 and has partnered with the nonprofit GALAEI as they work to organize and fundraise for next year’s Pride event. The group’s points of unity include not permitting police at Pride nor working with police; that Black and Brown LGBTQ folks be at the helm of Pride; and that Pride be welcoming to people of all backgrounds.

New leadership at local organizations

Several LGBTQ+ centered organizations found new leaders in 2021. In February, Ashley Coleman became the executive director at QTBIPOC social justice organization GALAEI. In October, The Attic Youth Center appointed John Fisher-Klein as their new executive director, following a 14-month search. The appointment came after the conclusion of two independent two-year investigations into allegations of racial discrimination and sexual misconduct. In December, Mazzoni Center announced Sultan Shakir will become its new president and executive officer after a 12-month search. The hire came after several years of staff and organizational shakeups that began in April 2017 when former Medical Director Dr. Robert Winn resigned after allegations of sexual impropriety with patients.

Dr. Rachel Levine joins Biden administration

In January, Dr. Rachel Levine was nominated by President Biden to be Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services, and she was confirmed by the Senate in March. Levine became the highest ranking openly transgender official in the Biden administration, as well as the first openly trans federal official to win Senate confirmation. In October, Levine was sworn in as a four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. She became the first openly transgender four-star officer in the eight uniformed services, and she helps lead a team of 6,000 people whose duties include providing health services to underserved communities as well as preventing and controlling disease.

Historic wins for LGBTQ people in 2021 election

There were some historic wins for LGBTQ Democrats across the country in local races. Gregory Yorgey-Girdy became the first openly gay man in history elected as a judge on the Philadelphia Municipal Court. Franny DiCicco, former executive director of Philly Pride Presents, won election as mayor of Folcroft Borough. And Xander Orenstein won their race for the Allegheny County Magisterial District Court, which makes them the first nonbinary person elected to a judicial position in the U.S. In New Jersey, openly gay man Don Guardian, former mayor of Atlantic City, won election to the New Jersey State House’s 2nd district. There were also historic wins for LGBTQ candidates in Atlanta, Detroit, NYC, Montana, and other municipalities.

City settles with Catholic Social Services for $2 million

After a 3-year legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously in Fulton v. Philadephia that the city of Philadelphia’s refusal to contract with Catholic Social Services for the provision of foster care services unless CSS agreed to certify same-sex couples as foster parents violated the free exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment. In November the city agreed to pay $2 million in legal fees to CSS and to renew the Catholic foster care agency’s contract sans adherence to the city’s nondiscrimination policy. As part of the agreement, CSS also had to stipulate to changes in their policy by accepting the settlement. The agency is required to post a warning on its website that it does not work with same-sex couples and to provide referrals to agencies that do work with same-sex couples.

Judge rules in favor of city in Morris case

Following a hearing in July, a Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Joshua H. Roberts denied PGN’s request for additional records in the Nizah Morris case, despite a prior court order calling for transparency in the long-stalled murder case. In March, PGN filed a motion in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, seeking enforcement of a 2008 court order for transparency in the Morris case. However, Roberts wrote in his ruling that “The Philadelphia District Attorney is an independently elected county official who is not covered by or subject to the Stipulated Order.” During the hearing, city attorney Danielle E. Walsh emphasized the separateness of the two probes. She said the DA’s interviews don’t belong in the police department’s Morris homicide file. Also during the hearing, Sgt. Matthew White of the Philadelphia Police Department testified that police have an “open” investigation into Morris’ 2002 homicide.

PGN celebrates 45th anniversary; receives state historical markerPhiladelphia Gay News published its first issue on January 3, 1976. The publication celebrated its 45th anniversary this year with a commemorative issue, which featured articles on the history of the iconic purple vending boxes, longtime reporters Victoria Brownworth and Tim Cwiek reflecting on the stories over the years, and a look back at 45 uplifting LGBTQ news stories. In October, the PGN was honored with a state historical marker at 233 S. 13th Street, which was the paper’s very first office. A public ceremony was held which included remarks by PGN Publisher Mark Segal, community leaders, and elected officials. “PGN is different from all other LGBT media in the nation. We were started by an activist, and we pioneered new forms of LGBT journalism,” Segal said at the ceremony.