Philly municipal candidates speak at LGBTQ+ political forum

Rue Landau, an at-large candidate for City Council, speaks at a Nov. 7 candidate forum at William Way LGBT Community Center. (Photo: Michele Zipkin)

In the lead-up to the Nov. 7 election in Philadelphia, municipal and row office candidates gathered at William Way LGBT Community Center to address members of the LGBTQ+ community. Liberty City LGBTQ Democratic Club and PGN also co-organized the forum, where candidates made their case about why they deserve the LGBTQ+ vote.

Democratic and Working Families Party candidates for City Council, and Democratic candidates for Municipal Court Judge and City Controller attended the forum, including Rue Landau, at-large candidate for City Council and former executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR). If elected, Landau would be the first out LGBTQ+ person to serve on Philadelphia’s City Council. 

Landau’s background in social justice and civil rights activism, her work as a lawyer on low-income housing issues at Community Legal Services, and her work advancing LGBTQ+ civil rights as director of PCHR would be assets to her if she wins the seat, she said at the forum. At PCHR, she worked on the Equal Benefits bill, the LGBT Equality bill, gender-neutral bathroom bills and saw to it that local organizations serving youth have trans and nonbinary-inclusive policies.

“I have helped to fix so many of our pressing problems,” Landau said in response to an attendee question. “I can’t wait to just get started fixing the most pressing problems in the city of Philadelphia, whether it’s violence, neighborhood reinvestment, housing and making sure that our civil rights are protected as they’re getting dismantled throughout the country.”

Another attendee asked Landau whether she supports mayoral candidate Cherelle Parker’s plan to increase police presence in high-crime neighborhoods. 

“I think that we have needed community policing for so long now where we actually have police who get to know community members,” Landau replied. “I think it is absolutely on the right track that people on foot or on bikes are engaging with [the] community.”

Councilmember Jamie Gauthier, who’s running to keep her seat representing the 3rd District, which spans West and Southwest Philly, told forum attendees, “I’m proud to represent what I would say is arguably the queerest district [in Philly]. That’s a point of pride for me. I make it a part of my job to stand with the community.”

Gauthier co-authorized a resolution with Councilmember Kendra Brooks to designate June as Pride Month in Philadelphia, and spoke at this year’s Pride parade along with Landau. In terms of policy, Gauthier has fought to rectify issues that she believes impact the LGBTQ+ community and people of color the most, including pushing for affordable housing and working to invest in communities affected by gun violence. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gauthier collaborated with Councilmember Brooks and former Councilmember Helen Gym to introduce a package of bills that furnished strong rental protections for Philly’s vulnerable communities. 

“We put forward some of the strongest rental protections in the entire country during that time,” Gauthier said at the forum. 

Councilmember Kendra Brooks is running for reelection for her at-large seat as a member of the Working Families Party. 

“I have been a strong advocate and supporter of LGBTQ rights,” Brooks said at the event. “I have introduced resolutions and legislation in order to support the community. I’m also a proud mother of a queer woman. I have been part of this fight way before I was an elected official.”

In her first term on City Council, Brooks authored legislation that increased protections for Philly workers, ensured that Philly’s working families have rental stability and nondiscrimination protections and boosted funding for mobile crisis units in lieu of police response to mental health emergencies. She also introduced and passed a resolution recognizing Trans Day of Visibility in Philadelphia. 

Last month, Brooks was the only City Council member to vote against a proposed bill that would prohibit overdose prevention sites in most of Philadelphia. One attendee of the forum asked Brooks how she would support initiatives for people struggling with substance addiction. 

“I believe in OPCs [overdose prevention centers,]” Brooks responded. “I believe in harm reduction. I believe we shouldn’t take any life-saving measures off the table. Living with a family member that’s been addicted, we’ve tried everything. Why would we take one option off the table just to appease a few people when people are dying in our streets every day? I think that we have to have a broader arrangement of ways for people to choose to live with their addiction.” 

Nicolas O’Rourke is running for one of the seven at-large seats on City Council, and like Brooks, as part of the Working Families Party. He is a long-time community leader and pastor at Living Water United Church of Christ, an open and affirming congregation. 

“I’m very clear about the issues that any of us will be working on, how they have an advanced impact on the queer community,” O’Rourke said at the forum. “Whether it be healthcare, whether it be housing issues, the carceral system, all of these things have an impact. We want to make sure that we’re governing in such a way that we’re helping materially improve the lives of all folks, particularly our queer community.”

He mentioned that tackling the climate crisis on a city infrastructure level is one of many issues that he’s been amplifying as part of his campaign. Some of his other big issues include fighting for a living wage, affordable housing, strong schools and public safety, according to his campaign website. 

O’Rourke answered a question pertaining to how he would bring his perspective as a pastor to the biggest issues in the city, stating, “I think Philadelphia has done a decent job of making sure that we’re accommodating to the fullest for the people of the queer community. One of the things that we were a part of, I think with many other cities and areas, is how we facilitate our bathroom situation.”

At O’Rourke’s church, there is a gender-neutral bathroom option. 

“That was something that we worked through and made that decision,” O’Rourke said. “That’s a small example.” 

Nina Ahmad is also vying for one of City Council’s at-large seats. Ahmad is a scientist who ran for Pennsylvania Auditor General in 2020, though lost to Republican Tim DeFoor. She previously served as Deputy Mayor for Public Engagement under Mayor Kenney, where she launched the Office of Public Engagement to strengthen the relationship between the city government and the people.

Ahmad communicated her allyship with the LGBTQ+ community in the context of supporting her queer child and their trans partner.

“The amount of hate and vitriol I’m seeing around me is just untenable,” she said at the event. “We have to have voices strong and clear to fight back against that.” 

One of Ahmad’s top legislative priorities, she said at the forum, is to address issues “through the lens of public health, particularly gun violence.”

Primarily, Ahmad intends to focus on ensuring that mental health resources are embedded into anti-violence programs in Philadelphia. Improving education and fostering pipelines to jobs with a living wage, as well as taking measures to stem the effects of climate change, are also top-of-list for her. 

Municipal Court judicial candidates Barbara Thomson and Colleen Osborne also made their cases at the forum, as did City Controller candidate Christy Brady. Thomson is an attorney with a background in public service, and has focused her efforts on supporting people experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities and other marginalized communities. Osborne is a prosecutor who focuses primarily on crimes against women and children, and has “fought for some of the most vulnerable people in our society, which included the LGBTQ+ community,” she said at the forum.

Brady has nearly three decades of experience in Philly’s Office of the City Controller. When asked what some of her audit goals are, she said, “Public safety and governmental accountability is my number one issue.”

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.
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