Mayoral Candidate Interview: Cherelle Parker

Photo via Cherelle Parker / Facebook.

Last September, Cherelle Parker resigned from her two-term post on City Council to announce her mayoral candidacy. Before joining City Council in 2016, Parker served as a member of the Pa. House of Representatives from 2005 to 2015, where she supported HB 300, an amendment to Pennsylvania’s nondiscrimination law to include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” as protected classes. Prior to serving as a State Representative, Parker worked in the office of former City Councilperson Marian Tasco for 15 years. According to her campaign website, Parker has plans to clean city streets, provide economic opportunities, improve education, and invest in public safety.

For the past few weeks, PGN has been publishing interviews with the mayoral candidates in the order they were completed. Some responses from Parker’s Feb. 16 interview have been edited for length and clarity.

What are the challenges facing Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community, and how will you address them?

I think overall, members of the LGBT community want the same things that all Philadelphians want. They want to live in a safer, cleaner, and greener city that provides access to economic opportunity for all. While I don’t know what it’s like to walk in your shoes, I am proud to be a strong ally. And I am proud to be a candidate for mayor who is no Johnny Come Lately supporter for fighting for equal rights, particularly when it wasn’t a popular thing to do for the LGBT community. 

During my early years, in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, [I supported] House Bill 300. I have stood for what was right. I’m a Black woman. So obviously, I know what it’s like to be marginalized, to be unseen. And when I think about the violence that has been directed to trans Black women in particular within the LGBT community, it’s important for us to recognize that we can’t ignore that as a very specific form of violence. Those are some of the issues that I think are extremely important. People — when I say “people,” I mean “all Philadelphians” — want access to opportunities, so that they can survive and thrive in our city. And under a Parker administration, we’re going to make sure we get that done.

What LGBTQ community leaders and organizations have you worked with in the past?

I’ve worked with Liberty City [LGBT Democratic Club]. I’ve worked with PGN and Mark Segal. Again, [this was] long before it was a popular thing to do. I’m biased when it comes to [Segal]. He has been the prime leader who I looked up to, on whose shoulders I feel like we all stand. When I was a staffer in Council, we fought for [LGBTQ] partners to receive the pensions of their lifelong loved ones. I’ve also been proud to support Bebashi over the years. I can remember when we needed to raise those issues relative to health-care concerns, and making sure that access to support, treatment, counseling and therapy was widely available. 

[My work with the community] wasn’t on social media. Social media wasn’t even around when we were doing this work. I’m glad that being a good ally meant that I wasn’t just there to stand when we were going to take a picture. I wasn’t just there to put my fists in the air to say, “Yes, I’m with you.” I was there when we were developing strategy for how we move legislation forward and the statewide strategy for House Bill 300. And we were doing it in counties across the Commonwealth in an effort to get the Pennsylvania General Assembly to move [forward]. 

I really think we’re on the cusp of doing something great [with] my good friend Josh Shapiro as governor, Democratic leadership in the Pennsylvania House, and really strong leadership in the Senate. So I’m looking forward to seeing us finally reach some of the milestones that we were trying to get with House Bill 300. I think we’re going to see it now. I’m confident. I feel good about it.

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?

There is no candidate who is prepared and has the level of intergovernmental experience that I bring to this table. Now is the time for us to focus on common-sense reforms that will control the flow of illegal guns and to ensure that the only people who have access to a firearm are those people who meet all of the requirements. I’m reading stories about people who have been undergoing behavioral and mental-health treatment and therapy and counseling, but still being able to access a firearm. I’m talking about assault weapons. Even if you’re a hunter in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, do you need an AK47 in order to go hunting? I’m thinking about the influx of access because of the internet — of the ghost guns. Thank you President [Joe] Biden for ensuring that kits just aren’t readily available. But remember, the underground market is very savvy [and] you can buy pieces to put together your own ghost gun. Those are things we need to address in Harrisburg. And I think now is the opportune time. 

I will participate in civic engagement and non-violent protests and advocacy. I will do that every day. But right now, we need leadership. And leadership is bringing unlikely allies together to realize that we need to reach much-needed compromise on issues that are negatively impacting our community. When I look at those mass shootings, I think about what we need, as it relates to common-sense reforms, as it relates to guns, and we can find a way to get there, but we have to be unified and speak with a unified voice. That also [includes addressing how] gun violence disproportionately impacts the Black community — in particular, Black men and boys and just the overall community at large. We’ve all got to be rowing in the same direction and now is the time for us to unite to get something done.

How will you address the issue of violence against trans women, specifically trans women of color?

When I introduced a comprehensive neighborhood safety plan, I said I wanted 300 police officers solely engaged in community policing in neighborhoods across the city who weren’t just there to respond to 911 calls, but who were proactively engaged in community policing, walking the beat, riding the bike, getting to know the people they were sworn to protect and serve with adequate training, which is extremely important to strengthen and build relationships between the community and the police. And that is something that we will continue to do. 

Why is walking a beat and riding a bike so important? Because you get to know the community. You’re listening to them. There is a direct connection. Members of the community have [community police officers’] cell phone numbers. We have to have people who are listening to and hearing members, particularly trans Black women. And you have to know the community. You got to spend some time with my community and listen, not engage in what I would call, “I know what’s best for you people” policymaking. That happens with Black people all the time. That happens with the Hispanic community [and] people of color all the time, [as well as] people dealing with the opioid crisis, addiction and open-air drug markets. 

Trans Black women [and] members of the LGBT community will be a significant part of my administration. Imagine living a life where your life is in jeopardy, of being ended simply because of who you are, your identity. I can’t have this conversation with you if I’m not thinking about Mia Green, if I’m not thinking about Michelle ‘Tamika’ Washington, Shantee [Tucker], London [Chanel], [and] Diamond [Jackson-McDonald]. All of these women needed to have someone in city government, in law enforcement, who cared enough about their humanity. That is how we help law enforcement to solve crimes. And if you don’t respect people and their humanity, you can’t address those issues. 

So a Parker administration will [have] zero tolerance for discrimination against any community and/or constituency. We will be knowledgeable enough because we’re going to have officers who understand that cultural competency in their training for every community. You can’t say “OK, well, I’ve been trained to understand the Black and brown community. So that means I’m culturally sensitive to the issues impacting the LGBTQ community.” No. That’s not the case. You have to make sure that you are intentional about understanding what’s happening there. And we’re going to make sure that occurs. And why? Because I know what it’s like to not be heard. To be a part of the historically disenfranchised community, myself. I know what it takes to be seen, and recognizing you can’t have a seat at the table. Because if you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.

Why should the LGBTQ community give you their vote?

I am a certified secondary English teacher by profession. One of the authors that I have always admired all of my life is James Baldwin. He was giving an interview one day during the Civil Rights Movement. And the reporter was saying to him that mainstream America cared about civil rights too and James shot back brilliantly and said, “I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” 

So when the LGBTQ community says, “Why should we even consider Cherelle Parker? Why should we think that she will have our backs, support us in our calls for equality, in our Commonwealth and in our city?” It’s because I want them to watch what I’ve done. I want them to not just listen to what I say, but I want them to check my track record of what, when and how I’ve been willing to stand on the front line. Listen, [I’m] not getting in front of you thinking that I can lead you. You can’t lead a community that you are not a part of. But I can make damn sure I stand right by you — just like many did during the Civil Rights era — to support you in your efforts. And that is what I intend on doing. 

I think about Rabbi [Abraham Joshua] Heschel of the Jewish community, who was right there marching with [Dr. Martin Luther] King [Jr.]. I think of members in the Catholic community. They couldn’t get in front of the Black community and lead us. That was our fight and that was our battle. But the fact that the Jewish community, the Indian community, the Hispanic community, so many of the communities stood right by us to march with us against poverty, for civil rights, for equity: That is what I intend on doing with the LGBTQ community. And I want my record to speak for itself, not a speech, not my participation simply in a march, but when the cameras are off, and when no one can see. 

That’s why I hope the LGBTQ community will consider supporting Cherelle Parker for mayor. They know that they won’t be invisible. They know that they will have a seat at the table. Because to say my voice is heard, that’s one thing. But to acknowledge my humanity and my seat at the table, that’s extremely important. I’ve heard many people in the LGBTQ community say to me, “Thank you, Cherelle, for being a good ally, historically. But guess what? We’ve never had an openly gay member of Council.” That has to be a high priority. “Thanks for being a good ally, Cherelle. But as much as you’re a good ally, you can’t speak for us the way we can speak for ourselves.” So I hear that call. And I understand that call. 

For more information on Cherelle Parker, visit cherelleparker.com.

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 www.everyvoice-everyvote.org/. Editorial content is created independently of the project’s donors.