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May 26, 2017 1:18 pm

The Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs is listening

Following Sharron Cook’s removal from chair of the commission, the Office of LGBT Affairs held its first community meeting on Thursday evening and shared its plans for moving forward.

Pride at City Hall.

(Photo via facebook.com/PhillyLGBTGovt/)

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect that Sharron Cooks' website is not a blog, but a site for her business, Making Our Lives Easier LLC. (5/30, 9:55 a.m.)
On Tuesday, May 16, the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs called an emergency meeting.

There, Commissioner Amanda Dougherty presented screenshots of multiple posts on Chair Sharron Cooks’s Facebook account where Cooks “‘indirectly called her out for being a white bisexual woman taking up space in the community affairs committee.’” As a result, Cooks was voted to be removed as chair, but she resigned from the committee altogether. Additionally, Dougherty has since resigned from her position.

Cooks elaborates on the incident in a statement published on the website for her business, Making Our Lives Easier LLC:

“Unfortunately, the Office of LGBT Affairs based my removal from chairperson on a series of social media posts, in which, I was questioning the behaviors of two commission members [including] a white cisgender bisexual woman, who I believe was taking up too much space during meetings, [and] wanted to lead a Community Conversation on racism as the Outreach Committee Chair. …

“I have made attempts to call for accountability of these individuals regarding racism in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ communities and my removal from chair was an act of censorship.”

She also mentioned that, upon her appointment to chair, she received several personal, graphic attacks on social media that weren’t taken seriously by the commission. Additionally, Cooks presented specific calls to action for the office and its commission, including:

  • Appoint a Black transgender woman as a replacement
  • Financially compensate Black and Brown LGBTQIA community members who are advising the office on racism in the Gayborhood
  • Apologize to her for calling her racist, educationally elist and biphobic

The Office of LGBT Affairs and its commission held an open meeting last night, which had been planned weeks in advance independently of the recent events. Shortly after presenting a brief history of the office, Director of LGBT Affairs Amber Hikes was quick to address the elephant in the room, first referring to Cooks as a “friend” and “sister.”

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“The decision that the commission had to make last week was not one that was taken lightly. It was not one that was done hastily, it was done with so much pain and hurt,” Hikes said. “While commissioners did ask the chair to step down, it was never, ever, ever anyone’s expectation that the chair would not continue serving on the commission.

“We value still Sharron’s presence and voice, her ideas, her activism, her leadership,” she continued. “We are heartbroken, but we are prepared to move forward and get to the work of this community.”

Cooks could not be reached for further comment.

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

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)

Following her statement, Hikes took questions from the audience of over 200 attendees. Community members raised concerns about supporting the elderly, disabled, homeless, Latinx and youth within the community as well as addressing white supremacy and racism in the city — even beyond the Gayborhood. Most comments were well-received and applauded.

One community member asked if the chair’s seat would be filled with a transgender woman of color, to which Hikes responded, “Yes, absolutely.” Another proposed an anonymous hotline where LGBTQ people of color can report violence, and Hikes assured a similar idea was already being discussed.

After the Q&A, the office’s committees on community outreach; civil rights, immigration and faith; economic empowerment; race relations; transgender equality; elders; youth; health and wellness; and city relations gave brief presentations about their individual missions and goals.

During the race relations committee’s presentation, Anthony Leon, who serves on the committee and also as a youth education manager at the recently embattled Mazzoni Center, presented a statement:

“We have to acknowledge first privilege does exist on this commission and until we unpack that, there will be no community on this commission. To address race relations, we have to start believing Black and Brown people when discrimination is called out and not after we saw damn videos on the internet. To address race relations, we must demand trans lives matter and Black trans lives matter and not just when someone is murdered. We must always support the development and leadership of trans women, especially Black trans women.”

In addition to finding a new commission chair, the office plans to host regular community meetings across the city, organize anti-oppression workshops centering transgender folks and people of color for both city government and community leaders, and cultivate its leadership to look like the constituents it serves, Hikes said.

On Thursday, June 8, the office will also unveil a new flag at City Hall to celebrate both Pride Month and Disability Awareness Month, which overlap every June.

Hikes also encouraged community members to listen to and share with each other, stay engaged, use an intersectional lens and embrace history in the making. It seems that the office she represents is doing the same — an important step forward in shaping itself to be truly representative of the LGBTQ community in Philadelphia.

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