On Jan. 21, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office released the names and brief biographies of the members of its new LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee.
The committee will advise DA Larry Krasner regarding policies and issues affecting the city’s LGBTQ+ community. Efforts to create it began in 2020 after a reported increase in violence against Trans women and gender non-conforming individuals. The committee has already met once with Krasner and the hope is for it to meet on a monthly basis.
The new committee members are: Caleb Arnold, Chuck Black, Kelly Burkhardt, Sappho Reynan Fulton, Sterling Johnson, Asa Khalif, Messapotamia Lefae, Sayeeda Rashid, Kendall Stephens, Mikah Thomas and Tito Valdes.
Krasner issued this statement on the committee: “The inaugural members of the DAO LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee are passionate advocates for their communities and for justice for all people. It was especially important to me that people who have historically felt targeted instead of protected by law enforcement and the criminal justice system be part of this committee to inform prosecutorial policies and practices that will enhance the safety of all Philadelphians. Queer people are too frequently the victims of violence because of their vulnerability to discrimination and mistreatment in all other spaces, including education, housing, employment and economic survival. The DAO LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee will help us build a criminal justice system that is accessible to — and informed by — our most vulnerable neighbors, which will make all Philadelphians safer.”
Kelly Burkhardt, LGBTQ+ liaison and victim/witness services coordinator at the DA’s office, issued this statement: “This committee’s vision for a criminal justice system that includes us and protects us is 100% achievable, through such simple innovations as a community crime reporting app for those who fear law enforcement due to sex work and survival work, to expanding grant- and nonprofit-funded housing and health care for LGBTQ+ people. As a victim/witness coordinator in the criminal court system, I’m especially eager for our advisory committee to improve advocacy and resources for queer survivors of intimate partner violence — reported incidents of which have tragically grown over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. This committee will also address the myriad issues involved in persistent underreporting of violence and crime by LGBTQ+ people.”
The DA’s office, which had previously been withholding the committee members’ names, released the following biographies:
Caleb Arnold (they/them) is an assistant district attorney and immigration counsel for the DA’s office. Caleb brings almost two decades of experience building movements for social change as an organizer, queer advocate, and community-based lawyer, including positions as a public defender and immigration attorney. Caleb’s personal and professional experience with the criminal system led them to understand the need for lawyering that centers the most vulnerable members of our communities. In their current position, Caleb advocates for fairness and justice at the intersection of the criminal and immigration legal systems by building relationships with community leaders, engaging in training and outreach, and advising more than 300 attorneys at the DA’s office on the immigration consequences of criminal convictions. They reside in West Philly.
Chuck Black (he/him) works for the Fair Elections Center as the midwest regional manager of the Campus Vote Project. He is a current graduate student focusing on higher education at Temple University. Mr. Black resides in Center City.
Kelly Burkhardt (she/her) is the LGBTQ+ liaison and a victim/witness coordinator at the DA’s office. Trained in trauma-informed care, Kelly helps victims, survivors and their families navigate the many facets of the criminal justice system. Ms. Burkhardt has 20+ years of activism, advocacy, and organizing experience in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ and anti-gun violence communities, and is an award-winning photographer and filmmaker. Ms. Burkhardt continually volunteers and serves as secretary of the board for William Way LGBT Community Center, sits on the Philadelphia Police LGBTQ Liaison Committee and recently joined the external advisory board at Jefferson’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention. She lives in West Philly.
Sappho Reynan Fulton, MA, MSW (she/her) is an international psychology student, educator, and community organizer. She draws on her lived experience with substance use disorder and mass incarceration to help others. Sappho currently works as clinical director with the organization Why Not Prosper, and has a private practice as a licensed psychologist. As CEO of the nonprofit Sappho LaRoyce Foundation, Ms. Fulton centralizes her work around ending domestic violence among LGBTQ+ individuals. She lives in West Philly.
Sterling Johnson (he/they) is a longtime housing and harm reduction activist in Philadelphia. They have a law degree from University of California Hastings College of Law in San Francisco. Mr. Johnson currently resides in South Philadelphia.
Asa Khalif (he/him) is a longtime social justice advocate who has lent his voice and brought national attention to numerous issues and causes. Born and raised in Philadelphia, he attended Roman Catholic High School and Temple University. While racial issues are important to Asa, he is a powerful champion against discrimination of any kind. He has campaigned against the sexual degradation of women and for equal rights for women. As a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, Asa has worked tirelessly for the rights of LGBTQ+ people. Asa lives in Northern Liberties.
Messapotamia “Messy” Lefae (she/her) is a queer cabaret artist who has collaborated and performed with The Bearded Ladies, Opera Philadelphia, Wilma Theater, and Villanova University, and is a Bingo Verifying Diva at AIDS Fund’s GayBINGO. She is a parishioner at Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, where she pioneered a new outreach ministry delivering 1,400 pounds of produce and groceries per week from Philabundance to families experiencing food insecurity in Philadelphia during the COVID-19 pandemic. She is interested in innovating ways to notify the community when hate crimes happen in real time, and wants to assist in developing resources that the media can use to be more mindful of how they report about queer and transgender crime victims. Messy lives in the Gayborhood.
Sayeeda Rashid (they/them) is the director of the Center for Gender Resources and Sexual Education at Haverford College. Previously, they served as a coordinator at the City of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs, developing municipal policies, citywide initiatives, and programs affecting LGBTQ+ communities; as well as a resource director at the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition developing and implementing a movement-oriented fundraising and capacity-building strategy to advance immigrant rights across the state. Sayeeda also co-facilitated LGBTQ+ statewide leadership calls during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sayeeda lives in Center City West.
Kendall Stephens (she/her) is a full-time student at Temple University studying Public Health and Social Work with a minor in Communication and Activism. Kendall is an active board member of William Way LGBT Community Center and Bethany Children’s Home. In her free time, Kendall is a vocal LGBTQ+ advocate and public speaker on discrimination and hate crimes, facilitating cultural competency trainings around Pennsylvania. She currently resides in Northeast Philly.
Mikah Thomas (they/he) has resided in Philadelphia for more than a decade and is originally from Montgomery, Ala., where they worked alongside their father fighting for civil rights and protesting restrictions on the right to vote. Mikah has worked as a recruiter for GALAEI’s Trans Equity Project (now TINGS) and is currently serving as the community engagement and communications specialist with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health’s AIDS Activities Coordinating Office. Mikah has lived all over Philadelphia with strong connections in North Philly. Like many Philadelphians who are faced with housing disparities and insecurities, Mikah has been residing in a family shelter in Mount Airy since October 2021 as a safe place to heal and rebuild. Mikah is heavily involved at the Next Level Revival Church in Germantown.
Tito Valdes (he/him) is an assistant district attorney currently assigned to the Family Violence and Sexual Assault Unit, where he focuses primarily on child physical and sexual abuse cases. In addition, he is an adjunct professor at Temple University, teaching a class on institutional racism. Outside of work, he serves on the board of the Attic Youth Center, an LGBTQ youth nonprofit organization in Philadelphia. He also serves on Gov. Tom Wolf’s Commission on LGBTQ Affairs. Prior to joining the DA’s office, Tito represented the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, the agency tasked with investigating reports of child abuse and neglect, for four years. Tito lives in Northeast Philly.