The new head of the city’s Office of LGBT Affairs is already buried in email.
Amber Hikes, newly appointed director of the office, was officially welcomed at a City Hall event yesterday by Mayor Jim Kenney and Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown. Hikes, in her new role, will focus on community organizing and engagement, as well as inward-facing policy work.
“I just need to take a breath because this is a moment I never thought I would experience,” Hikes said, after taking a few moments to address members of city government and the LGBT community. “I am encouraged by the support and commitment of city government, this is my first time in government, and I am so excited to be working with people who get it, who really get it.
“It’s no secret that it is a challenging time in our community. Many of us are frustrated, we’re tired. People are angry, they’re sad, confused and hurt,” Hikes said. “But I don’t want those feelings to hinder us from our progress, so for those of you who have not felt like you’ve been heard, I hear you. For those who feel like they have not been seen, I see you. For those who feel like they haven’t had a seat at the table, I say pull up a chair because in truth we need all voices in this conversation.”
The commission will have a chair, secretary and treasurer that will be announced at a later date.
A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Social Work Program, Hikes has also served on the board of the William Way LGBT Community Center from 2011 through 2015, and was an organizer for the Philadelphia Dyke March from 2007-2015. Most recently, she was the director of Upward Bound, a federally funded student service program at California State Long Beach.
Last month, the Kenney administration announced that Hikes would take over as executive director after the departure of former director, Nellie Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick was fired from the position following strong disapproval among Philly’s LGBT community of how the office approaches racial tension and discrimination in the city’s Gayborhood.
“I did not initiate this move but I’m happy to move on,” Fitzpatrick said in an interview with Philly.com. “I was looking to return to the practice of law anyway. It was an honor to serve the city in this capacity for two years.”
In September of last year, a YouTube video titled “ICandy Philadelphia Owner Uses the N-Word” started circulating in the media. Club owner Darryl DePiano can repeatedly be heard calling people niggers in an exchange he said took place three years ago.
In response, the office of LGBT affairs held a public meeting in the Gayborhood in October to discuss racism.
“The video … is every bit as repulsive as the practices we are seeing and the experiences people are having,” Fitzpatrick told the Associated Press. “Whether happening at the front door, at the bar, or behind closed doors, none of it is acceptable. If there’s one place that should be a sanctuary, it’s the Gayborhood, and it isn’t right now.”
“It’s a pleasure for me to be here and to say that we have an authentic partnership with the members of the LGBT community,” Reynolds Brown said at Thursday’s event. “We are excited about working with the Philadelphia Commission of LGBT Affairs and city government as we welcome its newest leader, Amber Hikes.”
Hikes noted that there is still much work to be done, and that the task before her and the Commission is tremendous.
Since the presidential election, there has been a rise in hate crimes across the country. According to ThinkProgress in a story published last month, there have been 261 documented hate crimes since Election Day, 13.7 percent of those being targeted were LGBT.