Philadelphia elections see big wins for LGBTQ+ community

Pride flags wave in the wind
Pride flags at Philadelphia City Hall. (June 2022)

Democrats in Philadelphia largely celebrated victories — with the elections of the city’s first openly LGBTQ+ City Council member, first woman as mayor, and many others triumphs — marking wins for the city’s LGBTQ+ communities.

Democrats and Working Families Party candidates took all seven at-large City Council seats, including Democrat Rue Landau, who made history as the first out LGBTQ+ person to be elected to Philadelphia’s City Council. Landau is a civil rights attorney, housing rights organizer and former executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. In that role, she played an integral part in implementing a Fair Practices Ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Philadelphia. She holds progressive values when it comes to improving the lives of the people of Philadelphia. 

As part of her victory speech at the Gayborhood bar Cockatoo, Landau said her win is “about our collective journey. It’s about the LGBTQ community, a community that has faced discrimination for far too long. It’s about a city that has been at the forefront in LGBTQ legal protections with a politically active and reliable democratic running block, but has not been able to get one of us across the finish line until now. And it’s about sending a message to the world that love, acceptance and unity can triumph over division and fear.”

Other progressive politicians who retained and nabbed City Council seats are Working Families Party members Kendra Brooks and Nicolas O’Rourke, who took control of two long-held at-large Republican City Council seats. As she continues to serve on council, Brooks intends to keep fighting to curb gun violence, enhance public schools, protect reproductive rights and expand voting rights. 

“Since my election in 2019, our movement has only grown bigger and stronger, and no billionaire Republican or machine politicians could stop us,” Brooks said in a press release. “The Working Families Party isn’t just here to stay — we’re just getting started.”

Brooks has a stellar track record when it comes to fighting for Philly’s LGBTQ+ communities. At an October candidate forum at William Way LGBT Community Center, she said, “I have been a strong advocate and supporter of LGBTQ rights. 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.”

When O’Rourke gets to Council, he plans to push for workplace protections and living wages for Philadelphia’s families, advance climate justice initiatives, increase affordable, accessible housing, eradicate gun violence, push for criminal justice reform and protect reproductive rights.

“We just left the Republican Party to the dustbin of history by running on a positive vision for Philadelphia,” O’Rourke said in a press release. “Philly can be a city where everybody can get a good job, send their kids to a good school, and feel safe in their neighborhoods. Kendra and I are ready to fight for a city where everyone can thrive, not just the powerful or the privileged.” 

In a past PGN interview, O’Rourke expressed his support for LGBTQ+ Philadelphians, including ensuring access to health care. 

Nina Ahmad is another Democrat who newly won an at-large council seat. Hailing from Bangladesh, she’ll be the first South Asian American and the only scientist to serve on City Council. In her previous role as Deputy Mayor, Ahmad created the Office of Public Engagement, which facilitates community outreach and engagement in City Government. 

“To have the chance to represent the city that has been so good to me, it is the epitome of a dream come true,” Ahmad wrote on her campaign website. “It is also a lesson for anyone who may look a little different or sound a little different: Always know that your voice matters, your voice should be heard.”

Ahmad’s support for the LGBTQ+ community was evident when she helped form the city’s Office of LGBT Affairs and devised the online recruitment of the members of the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs. As someone with a queer child who has a trans partner and other close family members who are LGBTQ+, Ahmad has made her allyship known. 

“The amount of hate and vitriol I’m seeing around me is just untenable,” Ahmad said at an October candidate forum at William Way. “We have to have voices strong and clear to fight back against that.”

The reelection of Democrats Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Isaiah Thomas and Jim Harrity to City Council at large also signifies a victory for LGBTQ+ and other minority communities.  

On her first term on council, Gilmore Richardson directed her attention toward Philly’s recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, reskilling the city’s workforce, showing support for local, small and minority business-owners and working to mitigate the effects of climate change. 

During her time as legislative aide to former City Council member Blondell Reynolds Brown, Gilmore Richardson worked on the Equal Benefits Bill, and had a hand in legislation to make the Office of LGBT Affairs a permanent fixture in city government. 

At the beginning of her term in 2020, Gilmore Richardson told PGN that she deemed it important to protect the safety of LGBTQ+ individuals, specifically trans women of color. 

“We need to ensure that that community is protected and that, as a city, we’re being responsive to their safety and health concerns,” Gilmore Richardson said at the time. 

Harrity, another LGBTQ+ advocate, worked to get a Pride Resolution passed in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, and was present during the formation of Liberty City LGBTQ Democratic Club. 

“Everybody should be able to love who they want to love,” Harrity told PGN shortly after last year’s election. “People should have the same rights. I promise that I will also fight for their rights to love whoever they want.”

In his second term on council, Harrity plans to tackle gun violence by boosting surveillance, renovating old schools in the city and building new ones, and continuing to push for bills to improve employment and education, and reduce homelessness.

Thomas is yet another supporter of queer and trans Philadelphians. He attended the 2023 Philly Pride festival, spoke at numerous candidate nights hosted by Liberty City and spoke at demonstrations against the Moms for Liberty Summit that took place in Philadelphia in June. 

“Everyone of every race, color, sexual orientation, and gender identity deserves to see themselves represented in literature,” Thomas said in a statement. “To those groups being unjustly targeted this weekend: we hear you, we see you, and we will continue to stand up for what is right so you can go on loving and thriving in the City of Philadelphia.”

On Council thus far, Thomas has pushed for public safety including passing Driving Equality legislation to reduce negative interactions between police and community members; getting funding for initiatives to curb gun violence; and serving as chair of City Council’s Committee on Streets and Services. 

As for the district City Council incumbents who had challengers, Jamie Gauthier was reelected to represent the 3rd District, which includes West and Southwest Philly. 

“I am deeply grateful and proud to be re-elected to serve Philadelphia’s Third District,” Gauthier said in a Facebook post. “Last night’s commanding victory belongs to everyone who believes in West and Southwest Philadelphia!” 

Gauthier has worked to address issues that she believes most negatively affect the LGBTQ+ community and Black and Brown folks, such as the pushing for more affordable housing and investing in communities impacted by gun violence. She co-authored a resolution with Councilmember Brooks to designate June as Pride Month in Philadelphia, and spoke at the 2023 Pride parade. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gauthier worked with Brooks and former Councilmember Helen Gym to introduce a slate of bills that provided some of the strongest rental protections for marginalized Philadelphians. 

“I’m proud to represent what I would say is arguably the queerest district [in Philly],” Gauthier said at the October candidate forum at William Way. “That’s a point of pride for me. I make it a part of my job to stand with the community.”

Republican Brian O’Neill retained his seat representing Philly’s 10th District, having won over Democrat Gary Masino. O’Neill’s primary objective is protecting and improving the quality of life for families living in his district, which covers the Far Northeast. He is well known for his constituent services and pushing back against developments, instead supporting investments in playgrounds, parks and rec centers. O’Neill’s team did not respond to a previous request for comment about whether he supports the LGBTQ+ community. 

Philadelphia also elected its first woman as mayor with Cherelle Parker beating out Republican candidate David Oh with about 75% of the votes. 

In a video posted to social media, Parker said that “we’ve already started putting in the work to make sure I’m ready to lead on day one” and to stay tuned on social media for the next few days.

“Thank you, Philly. We did it,” Parker said. “We made history or herstory. As a little girl. I never dreamed that this moment would arrive. But it’s here now. And I thank you for making it a reality. From the bottom of my heart. Thank you for believing in me. And my vision for a safer, cleaner, greener city with economic opportunity for all.

Throughout her mayoral campaign, Parker voiced support for the LGBTQ+ community. This included attending events hosted by numerous LGBTQ+ organizations, such as a televised debate at Mazzoni Center, a candidate meet and greet at the William Way LGBT Community Center, and a PGN photo op speaking out against anti-drag legislation across the country. The mayor-elect also wrote an exclusive op-ed for PGN, where she said, “I stand on my record in support of the LGBTQ+ community. And I am proud of it.”

Parker has also been advocating for LGBTQ+ issues since her tenure as state representative, where she co-sponsored a civil-union bill and House Bill 177, a law which aimed to reinstate hate-crime protections for LGBTQ+ people. She continued this advocacy during her time in City Council, where she co-sponsored a resolution to oppose Pa. House Bill 972, which would prohibit transgender students from participating in sports corresponding to their gender. Additionally, she sponsored a resolution requiring an investigation into faith-based foster agencies that prohibited same-sex couples from becoming foster parents.

Parker also supported several bills in support of the LGBTQ+ community, such as Bill 190558, which mandates that youth-serving organizations safeguard trans and non-binary young people from discrimination; Bill 190559, which provides gender-inclusive bathrooms in City Hall and City-owned buildings; and Bill 190651, which stipulates that the city’s anti-discrimination law include sexual orientation and gender identity.

In an interview with PGN leading up to the primary election, Parker voiced her support for trans people of color, stating that her administration will have “zero tolerance for discrimination against any community and/or constituency.”

“Trans Black women [and] members of the LGBT community will be a significant part of my administration.”

LGBTQ+ rights will also be upheld on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, thanks to the election of Democratic Judge Dan McCaffery.

“I’m humbled by the responsibility Pennsylvanians have entrusted in me and I intend to serve our Commonwealth and every community across Pennsylvania by defending our Constitution and ensuring our society is more fair, inclusive, and accepting,” McCaffery said in a press release.

He brings to the position his experience as assistant district attorney in Philadelphia’s District Attorney’s Office, judge on the city’s Court of Common Pleas, and judge on the Pennsylvania Superior Court, his most recent role. His track record of supporting LGBTQ+ communities includes prosecuting anti-LGBTQ+ hate crime cases as a DA and hearing cases regarding same-gender parental rights on the Superior Court. “I’ve always been somebody who stood up for equality for LGBTQ couples, same-sex couples [and] transgender individuals,” McCaffery told PGN in a recent interview.

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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