Philly mayoral candidates speak on LGBTQ rights

Editor’s Note: An updated version of this article was published March 7 and includes all current candidates.

The race for mayor in Philadelphia has been heating up in recent weeks as more and more candidates enter the contest to succeed incumbent Jim Kenney. As of November 29, seven individuals have announced their candidacy for the Democratic primary next May, with the primary’s winner all but assured to be elected mayor in November. 

PGN reached out to the seven mayoral candidates — Jeff Brown, James DeLeon, Allan Domb, Derek Green, Cherelle Parker, Maria Quiñones-Sánchez and Rebecca Rhynhart — about where they stand on LGBTQ rights. An eighth candidate, Helen Gym, announced her candidacy after this article was written.

Jeff Brown

As the owner of a chain of Shoprite stores in the Philadelphia region, Brown is the only candidate with no previous work in politics. However, he has long been connected to Democratic circles and was an outspoken opponent of Mayor Kenney’s soda tax. 

According to his campaign site, Brown plans to address poverty, public safety, public education, economic opportunity and reducing recidivism. Additionally, in a statement to PGN, Brown said he will be a “fierce defender and advocate for Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ community.” His planned initiatives include providing resources to LGBTQ youth and senior citizens. For the latter, this includes leveraging city resources, including private and nonprofit partnerships, to expand housing opportunities. Brown also plans to ensure his leadership team reflects the LGBTQ community and noted an increased trend of violence against the LGBTQ community in his plans to address public safety.

The candidate said he also wants to work closely with city agencies and organizations that have filled the void between the LGBTQ community’s needs and what the municipal government has provided.

“We must find ways to ensure better collaboration/partnership, and innovative ways to direct resources for the organizations that do critical work in the LGBTQ+ community,” Brown said.

James DeLeon

DeLeon, who served as municipal judge for 34 years and as chair of the legal committee for the Philadelphia Democratic City Committee, is running on a platform to combat gun violence within the city. This includes but is not limited to violence faced against the LGBTQ community. In an interview with PGN, DeLeon said the violence against the community “sickens” him. According to his campaign website, DeLeon plans to offer solutions-based citywide listening sessions with families and communities impacted by gun violence.

DeLeon also told PGN that he plans to implement a new leadership position, a commissioner for the LGBTQ community, if he is elected mayor. The city has an Office of LGBTQ Affairs and a commission that works with the mayor, but DeLeon said this position would hold higher authority and would regularly meet with the mayor to discuss issues within LGBTQ community.

“In Philadelphia, everybody wants to be treated equally,” DeLeon told PGN. “A person should be able to be who they want to be. As long as they’re not infringing on someone else’s rights, then they should be left alone to endure their own freedom and rights. It’s just that simple.”

Allan Domb 

Former Councilmember-at-Large Domb entered the mayor’s race with the intention of rebuilding trust in law enforcement and addressing root causes of crime in the city. Specifically, Domb plans to declare a state of emergency to address Kensington’s public health and safety crisis on his first day in office.

In a statement to PGN, Domb noted that the LGBTQ community faces disproportionate risks of violent crime and that he hopes to work with the community to strengthen the city. He also plans to “work with LGBTQ+ business owners to ensure their businesses have the tools to grow, thrive and create good-paying jobs.”

“Members of the LGBTQ+ community are represented in every corner of our city, and every demographic,” Domb said. “I’m proud that Philadelphia is one of the most welcoming in the country, and I will continue to fiercely defend civil rights as Mayor.”

Domb previously co-sponsored a resolution with Green and Parker to oppose Pa. House Bill 972. The house bill would prohibit transgender student athletes in the state from participating in sports corresponding to their gender.

Derek S. Green

Since his election as councilmember at large in 2015, Green has worked to provide assistance to the LGBTQ community in numerous ways. Green noted to PGN how he introduced legislation in 2017 to expand penalties for businesses violating the Fair Practices Ordinance, which was signed by Kenney later that year. Green previously told PGN he introduced the bill as a result of attending an Oct. 2016 community forum where members of the LGBTQ community spoke on their experiences with racism and discrimination in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood.

Additionally, Green co-sponsored the resolution opposing Pa. House Bill 972, along with Domb and Parker. He also proposed legislation to create gender-inclusive language in the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter, co-sponsored bill no. 190558 to require youth organizations to adopt nondiscrimination guidelines for trans and gender-nonconforming youth, and sponsored a resolution which called to investigate faith-based agencies refusing to accept same-sex couples as foster parents.

“Philadelphians — regardless of your community — want to see a city that works better than the way it is currently working,” Green told PGN. “And that’s why I decided to run for mayor. I believe all Philadelphians should expect more and deserve better from its leadership.”

Cherelle Parker 

Parker noted how she has “been steadfast in [her] support of the LGBTQ community” in a statement to PGN. She has supported several bills to advance the LGBTQ community throughout her career as city councilmember.

In her role, Parker co-sponsored the resolution opposing Pa. House Bill 972, along with Domb and Green. She was also one of the main sponsors of a bill calling for investigations into faith-based foster agencies refusing to let same-sex couples adopt. She also co-sponsored the state’s first bill to legalize civil unions for same-sex couples.

Parker told PGN about her experiences as a Black woman who was born to a teenage mother and raised by her grandparents on food stamps and public assistance. She noted that no one has to tell her “what it is like to feel marginalized for who you are. To feel forgotten. To feel like you do not have a seat at the table.”

“That is why members of the LGBTQ community will know that in my mayoral administration, you will be part of every conversation,” she said. “You will have a seat at the table and your voice will be heard!”

Maria Quiñones-Sánchez

In a statement to PGN, Quiñones-Sánchez said she is proud that the City Council strengthened the Fair Practices Ordinance during her time as a councilmember. Additionally, she noted her support in “efforts to make housing, education and jobs more accessible, ensuring that members of the LGBTQ+ community and all Philadelphians, have more opportunities.” This includes backing Bill 130224, which offered tax-credit incentives to businesses that add same-sex partners to insurance plans and numerous benefits for transgender individuals.

However, she said that being a strong ally and supporting legislation for the LGBTQ community is “not enough.”

“I believe it’s essential to have people with lived experience at the table so that we can make informed decisions,” Quiñones-Sánchez said. “That’s why I always made sure to have members of the LGBTQ+ community on my staff, especially members of the Latinx community. I recognize the intersectionality of identity — if someone is Black or brown and LGBTQ+, particularly if they are transgender, they face additional challenges. We need to make Philadelphia a place where everyone is welcome and can succeed.”

Rebecca Rhyhart 

Prior to being elected as City Controller in 2017, Rhynhart served as Kenney’s chief administrative officer. During her campaign for city controller, Rhynhart told PGN that in the latter role, she helped “establish best practices in hiring, to have the most diverse and inclusive workforce.”

Under Rhynhart’s guidance, the controller’s office released reports on the city’s missing $33 million in taxpayer money, police spending, investigations into the city’s response to Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, the city’s vaccine rollouts, trash collection during the pandemic, plans to reduce gun violence, a spending plan for the city’s $1.4 billion portion of the American Rescue Fund, managerial issues under Kenney’s administration, and details on establishing fiscal transparency within city operations.

When it comes to LGBTQ issues, Rhynhart said in a statement to PGN that the “community is a part of the rich diversity that makes Philly, Philly,” 

“We should all be able to love who we love without judgment or hate,” she said. “I stand with the LGBTQIA+ community and will fight tirelessly for their rights as mayor. All of our people, especially communities that have been historically put down, deserve a government that will fight for them and make sure they have what they need to thrive.” 

Helen Gym

The former City Councilperson-at-Large announced her candidacy on November 30, after this article was written. Gym has been an active ally to the LGBTQ community, and PGN will cover her candidacy as the race continues.

Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include a quote from Cherelle Parker.

This article is a part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Lead support is provided by the William Penn Foundation with additional funding from The Lenfest Institute, Peter and Judy Leone, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Harriet and Larry Weiss, and the Wyncote Foundation, among others. To learn more about the project and view a full list of supporters, visit Editorial content is created independently of the project’s donors.