Apr. 27, 2017 12:55 pm

Meet Sharron Cooks, activist and chair of the new Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs

Says Cooks, the first transgender person to chair a city commission in Philly, on her new role: It's “complicated, but good complicated.”

Sharron Cooks speaking on Facebook Live at counter protests for the Free Speech Bus in Center City on Saturday, April 1.

(Photo by Danielle Corcione)

Editor's note: This story has been updated to more accurately reflect why the Mayor's Commission on LGBT Affairs was created. (4/28, 11:25 a.m.)
Sharron Cooks has been the first and only in a few leadership positions: the first transgender person to chair a city commission in Philadelphia, the only transgender woman of color to participate as a delegate in last year’s Democratic National Convention.

But her goal is to expand access for all. That includes opening doors for transgender women of color that will later become the seconds, thirds, fourths and so forth.

Cooks described her experience as the new chair of the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs as “complicated, but good complicated.”

In addition to working on new legislation, she’s charged with helping city government enforce protections for Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community and likewise, has to navigate that local bureaucracy while staying true to social justice values.

The new commission was created by Mayor Jim Kenney to “advise the Mayor on policies that support the lives of LGBT individuals in the city and support and amplify the work of the Office of LGBT Affairs,” including ways to address racism within the LGBT community.

Particularly, the Black and Brown Workers Collective (BBWC) has been persistent and vocal about racism through Gayborhood demonstrations and boycotts against specific Gayborhood bars, and more recently, the Mazzoni Center.

“The issue of race relations is bigger than the Gayborhood and Philadelphia, but my hope is everyone can come to a better understanding so we can have civil and respectful relationships between one another,” Cooks said.

A recent victory for the commission was the passing of a City Council resolution acknowledging March 31 as Transgender Visibility Day. The legislation’s text commemorates the eight Black trans women who were killed in the United States in 2017: Mesha Caldwell, Jaquarius Holland, Ciara McElveen, Chyna Gibson, Keke Collier, JoJo Striker, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow and Alphonza Watson. (Unfortunately, another Black trans woman — Chay Reed — has been killed since the passing of the bill, according to the Human Rights Campaign.)

Cooks has also navigated her social justice values as an entrepreneur. As an activist serving the local LGBTQ community for the past five years, she created Making Our Lives Easier LLC, a consulting firm that provides resources to marginalized communities and educates those who serve them.

“Education, whether it’s in the classroom or in the street, is power,” she said. “Information is tied to relationships. When you build relationships with people and those relationships are positive, people share things with you like things you should and should not do.”

Since starting her own business, Cooks has consulted with some of the same organizations she volunteered for to increase accessibility for community members. Her other services include speaking engagements, community organizing and political advising.

“I come from a family who has always given to and be of service to charitable organizations, so it’s something I’ve learned from my upbringing and gives me gratification,” she said. “I believe what you put out there, you get back. The more people I help, the more that I will grow, develop, and reach my full potential.”


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