Jeff Brown is the founder of Brown’s Super Stores, Inc., a twelve-store supermarket chain trading under the ShopRite and The Fresh Grocer supermarket brands, and he plans to add “Philadelphia mayor” to his resume in 2023. According to his website, Brown plans to address issues surrounding generational poverty, community safety, economic opportunities, public education and returning citizens.
In the coming weeks, PGN will be publishing interviews with the mayoral candidates in the order in which they were completed. PGN spoke to Brown on Dec. 12, 2022 about his stances on LGBTQ issues. Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.
What are the challenges facing Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community, and how will you address them?
I think there’s a whole bunch of different challenges and it depends on your circumstances. But certainly, there’s a housing crisis [and] it’s not just limited to LGBTQ [people]. [It’s also] for working people and those with lower incomes. But it certainly affects the community and dictates a thoughtful solution. This is an area I’d like to really focus on because I think you can bring state and federal local nonprofit resources together to really accelerate affordable housing. So that would be one of the objectives.
We know there’s a safety problem for everybody in the city of Philadelphia, but we know the LGBTQ community is disproportionately impacted with that. And that’ll be a focus of a Brown administration, because everyone should feel safe.
I have learned over the last couple of years that there is a very unfortunate circumstance with people of color that are transgender. And there’s a disproportionate amount of suicides in the transgender community. I’m very concerned about that. And a lot of them are forced to do sex work. And one of the things that am working on in my own business is to embrace that form of diversity. We’re very diverse, but [for] the last couple of years, [we] weren’t as conscious of what it feels like to get a job with people that don’t really understand you. And we’ve been through this in a lot of different communities where first, the employees don’t really understand or feel comfortable and we’ve taken [a step forward]. And we plunged in and hired people and really supported them. And we have started that in the transgender community as well. I think it’s going well. We hope to be the example that other people follow, to open things up and show people that this is not a mysterious or bad thing. We’re all different and we should embrace and celebrate those differences. And in the government that I would run, I think it’s also a great platform to make an example of a diverse workforce that includes the LGBTQ community in important positions for a number of reasons. If you don’t live with the difference, you don’t really truly understand that perspective.
As a leader, I’ve been fortunate enough to have people around the table [in] just about everything I do, to help me understand what I might not understand as well on my own. And that has helped me make much better decisions — having people of different races, religions, life experiences, heritages, sexual orientations, or gender identities. I think I’m well informed. But I’m not as well informed. No one is, until you’ve had people around explaining why something is wrong for their community. And I’m very committed to that in my own business. And when I’m mayor of Philadelphia, I’ll be very committed to that as well. I think it helps you make better decisions. There’s so many different ways that people don’t understand others. And the more you’re familiar with [them], the more you fall in love with people and realize we’re all human and unless you force yourself to make that step, you’ll never learn.
What LGBTQ community leaders and organizations have you worked with in the past?
When Seth Williams was [district attorney], he put me in charge of diversity for the DA’s office as a volunteer, and I worked with [PGN publisher Mark Segal] on that effort to make sure we included people in the right way. And that was a very good experience many years ago. And I’m a fan of William Way [LGBT Community Center]. I’ve spent some time [there] to understand what they’re doing. And basically, in my world, everybody is included. Let me add one more thing to it, a personal thing. And my family’s okay with sharing this [so] that’s why I’m sharing it. My son, Lenny [is] married to Yim, [whom] I call my they-in-law. [They’re] non binary. [They] have been a great source of education for me, and understanding. We spent a lot of time together, and they’ve been very understanding of what I didn’t know and have been a great resource for me to understand.
In light of the numerous mass shootings, including at Club Q in Colorado and the many mass shootings in Philadelphia, what confluence, if at all, do you see between the issues of hate crimes and gun violence? And how does your approach to gun control address that?
[In Philadelphia], we are subject to state and federal laws, and we’re preempted from really doing much to implement gun-control laws. We can advocate for it and we certainly will but I think that the more important approach is to be proactive and get violent people off the streets. You have to focus on a very, very small percentage that have violent tendencies. I think there’s great opportunity with artificial-intelligence software to search social media and communication platforms, to try to be on the lookout for people that have violent tendencies towards any group, whether it’s LGBTQ or Jewish people or Muslim people. Because all those groups are on the lists that these people eventually get around to hating. And I think our law enforcement needs to be more intelligent about looking out for that.
Because we can’t control the gun laws, we have to stop these crimes before they happen. And I think a more intelligent approach using technology is a big thing. I also think where you have high-risk situations, you need technology [such as] gunshot cameras, because if you think there’s a high-risk place of business or an intersection, everybody should know that it’s being monitored. And that’s a protection. The police need to be trained to focus on where our risks are the greatest. I think sometimes, we’re scattered around and we don’t focus on the high-risk situations. And I also believe that we’re way understaffed. And you just need a certain amount of manpower to manage the risks that are out there today. And the manpower or people on the street is a deterrent, just like the cameras are. And when you’re 1500 police officers short, you’re missing the street deterrent and you’re missing the people that could protect us, so I would want to focus on getting re-staffed. And personally, my idea of staffing is that the police [force] needs to be more diverse, including the LGBTQ community, and we need to have people policing their own neighborhoods [because they] understand the neighborhood issues. And if it’s a high-enough risk — if there’s a big gathering — we should have police there to protect the people. We shouldn’t wait for something bad to happen.
How will you address the issue of violence against trans women, specifically trans women of color?
I think that’s where you have the most incidents and I think one is awareness. I think if you know people at a personal level, you fall in love with them and you look beyond their differences. And I don’t think people are afraid. They’re unfamiliar and they need to get to know people on a human level. I think that would be one thing.
The second is — trans women of color, or really all trans people — we have to include them more in our world, in our work, [and] in our social settings just so we get to know them better. Understand that they’re humans, just like the rest of us. And I think that will change the perceptions when we accept it’s just a difference, like all of our differences. That would be my main approach. And again, I know that a lot of women are forced to do sex work. And I think we need to protect everybody. And we need to understand how this works. Hopefully, we can create opportunities that they don’t need to be forced to do that work. And that would be one of my proactive steps. Include them in the economy, and we’ll all be successful together.
I also have no tolerance for violence. Right now, it seems like we’ve reached a point in society in which violent people are not being prosecuted. And I don’t have an acceptance for that. If someone has violent tendencies, we need to get them off the streets until we can help them turn their lives around. And I think there are a number of steps to try to address that that I think are not being taken, including our use of proper forensics — that the lab needs to be equipped and staffed better — and technology, like I explained before. [We should] try to avoid these problems before they become a violent incident.
Why should the LGBTQ community give you their vote?
I think if you look at my 35 years in business, I don’t think you’ll find a leader that runs a more diverse and more open business. And if you look at my work, even though I’m a white male, I’m the Chairman of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion [Committee] for the Pennsylvania Convention Center. This is what I spent my life specializing in, helping people out of poverty and equity. And all the work I do sort of centers around that because I don’t believe we have a future if it doesn’t include everybody. And so I say, don’t listen to what people say, look at where they spend their time and what their accomplishments are. And if you walk into one of my stores — you could do it unannounced — we have the most diverse business that I’ve ever seen. Our diversity substantially succeeds almost everyone else’s because it’s just part of my belief system. And honestly, if you’re learning this for the first time, you have a lot of catching up to do. It’s been part of my life, part of what’s important to me for my whole career. Let me just end with this: In an uncertain world, with a divided country, with a Supreme Court that has changed a lot, I know that certain issues will end up at the mayor’s desk. And I can tell you that I will fight for human rights among all people of difference, because I think it’s necessary to sustain our country. I don’t think you could have a country in which people are permanently treated badly. To me, it’s an absolutely critical thing. And I realized this is not going to be cut and dry. Because the Supreme Court is taking actions that are very concerning. And I’m of the mindset that I will have to be creative and forceful to protect people’s rights. And it will be something that’s high on my list to do. And I won’t be too busy picking up the trash or solving crimes to not address this. And I also am really, really going to take a hard position against hate. You probably haven’t seen that side of me, but I think if you give it an inch, it’ll consume us, and I have no tolerance for it. I see the mayor’s job is to protect every citizen in this city, and I will do it most assertively.
For more information about Jeff Brown, visit jeffbrownformayor.com.