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Left to right: Cherelle Parker, Helen Gym, Maria Quiñones Sánchez, Rebecca Rhynhart.
Left to right: Cherelle Parker, Helen Gym, Maria Quiñones Sánchez, Rebecca Rhynhart. Photos: Alan Nunez / AL DÍA News

Philly’s mayoral candidates stress public safety, political resume in LGBT+ forum

While there was no LGBT+ representation on stage, candidates likened their experience and record to address the crowd.

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On Monday, Jan. 23, the William Way LGBT Community Center invited Philly’s 10 mayoral candidates to attend a meet and greet to connect with the city’s LGBT+ residents in a unique opportunity to address their concerns.

Although none of the candidates identified as members of the LGBT+ community, they summoned their experiences and record to draw familiarity with the crowd and stressed public safety as a top concern. 

Each candidate received a two-minute allotment to pitch, in no particular order, their platform to a crowd eager to hear ideas, followed by an informal meet and greet. 

From the pulpit

The two-minute intros were the only chance in the night to speak widely and to the crowd, as opposed to individual conversations. Here’s what every candidate had to say:

Warren Bloom and Jeff Brown mentioned respect toward the community. Bloom, specifically, said that “everybody deserves to be respected and show their dignity” while Brown — who began by outlining part of his resume — said that “nobody is showing the people who live here the respect they deserve.” 

“This cis, straight, chubby, white jewish guy is going to be an ally to the LGBTQ community,” Brown continued. 

Retired Judge James DeLeon, who told the crowd, “you are me and I am you” cited his court record during his tenure as Supervising Judge of Philadelphia Municipal Court, and pitched the Local Incident Management System proposal to tackle gun violence. 

Continuing the conversation on crime, Allan Domb said “the number one issue in our city is public safety,” and added some of his proposals, which are outlined on his website. 

Former City Councilmember Derek Green told the crowd that “we all know the number one issue in our city, no matter what community, no matter what background, no matter what gender or orientation you express, is public safety and gun violence.” 

Green, previously an Assistant District Attorney, recalled an instance when he was racially profiled while exiting the District Attorney’s Office, likening the discriminatory treatment to that of the city’s LGBT+ community. 

And Cherelle Parker, who served as City Council’s Majority Leader during her tenure at District 9, said that while she doesn’t identify as a member of the LGBT+ community, “I am a product of a community as a Black woman who knows what it's like for my inhumanity by folks who could not see me as human.”

“I’m also happy to tell you tonight that I’m happy I’m no ‘Johnny Come Lately’ supporter of the [LGBTQIA+] community,” and noted her record in City Council when, according to Parker, it was unpopular to support issues with respect to Philly’s LGBT+ community. 

Parker, citing her political record, said she advocated for marriage equality before 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all states shall recognize same-sex unions. 

Speaking after Parker, Helen Gym said she’s “wanting to make Philadelphia the loudest, proudest city in America,” and was also the first nominee in the forum to raise the issue of vitriol toward the transgender community. 

“I want to talk violence in this city. Absolutely,” Gym said. “We’re going to deal with violence in this city, especially when it deals with trans women of color, especially when it deals with institutions who treat trans folks differently, whether that be by our policing or by our prisons.” 

If her message feels familiar, it’s because in the summer of 2022, Gym — in partnership with the city’s Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations — enacted expanded regulations with respect to trans youth. 

Maria Quiñones Sánchez, in turn, began by thanking the LGBT+ community, because “they stood up with the Puerto Rican Latino community when no one else did.” 

She said Philly needs a mayor “that can manage the difficult conversations we need to have about race and equity.” 

“We can’t move forward if we don’t own our data, our segregation, the historical discrimination that has existed in government,” she said, and emphasized previous points she’s made about community disinvestment as the root of violence. 

“[The next mayor] has to have the lived experience, as someone like I have,” she remarked.

And Rebecca Rhynhart, who served as Philly’s fiscal watchdog for several administrations, also recalled her record as Controller. 

“I’ve made thoughtful recommendations but that’s where the power of my office ended. I couldn’t make the mayor take action. As mayor I can, and will make those changes happen,” and mentioned gun violence as the first issue of her speech. 

Last to speak was former Pennsylvania  Lt. Governor Mike Stack, who arrived late to the forum. Stack touted his campaigning efforts for marriage equality before the Supreme Court issued its decision in 2015. 

In 2014, when Stack served as a State Senator, he urged former PA Gov. Tom Corbett to back legislation that would have enshrined same-sex marriage, and installed added protections from discrimination for members of the LGBT+ community seeking housing and employment.

What the audience thought

While many attendees were glad to hear out candidates, the reception among the audience was overall mixed.

Zane Knight, a Kensington-based activist and organizer, told AL DÍA he’d been looking forward to hearing out ideas for the LGBT+ community. 

“Nothing completely stuck out to me any more than I was already thinking. I’m a bit involved so I knew some of the people going into it,” Knight thought. “But I appreciated some of the things [Helen Gym] and some of the other candidates had to say,” he added. 

Asked about his impression of the event, Kevin Levy — chair of the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association and a gay man — said it was “a good opportunity to hear, at the very least, the main priorities.”

“I think I would have liked a bit more substance as opposed to the high level priorities but we got what we did,” Levy said, but emphasized there was an enthusiasm from the candidates, toward the community itself. 

Still, Levy thought, it was a good strategy for candidates to empathize with concerns specific to the LGBT+ community while not necessarily identifying as part of it. 

“I think that it works,” he said. “I think that it makes sense, to show ‘I’m here, I’m willing to learn.’ I think every candidate put themselves out there tonight and showed at the very least that they’re willing to learn and willing to be an ally for the community.”

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