When the Mayor’s Office announced that Amber Hikes, a black queer woman, would take the reins as the new executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, a collective sigh could be heard throughout gay Philadelphia. The office’s first director, Nellie Fitzpatrick, resigned in the wake of accusations that she lacked forcefulness in dealing with racism within the gay community. Hikes comes with a dream resume: fundraising for the Attic Youth Center, serving as a board member at the William Way LGBT Community Center and directing the Philadelphia Dyke March. She is leaving her position as director of Upward Bound Director at California State University Long Beach to begin her new job on March 6.
What do you think of Ms. Fitzpatrick or the job she did?
I know Nellie and consider her a friend. I heard all about the issues, the meetings the protests and the boycotts when I was in California. Look, Nellie got to this position — a new one at that — at a challenging time. Many things exploded while she was in office; things that quite frankly, caught all of us off guard. She has done a lot for the LGBT community, and I, for one, am grateful for her leadership.
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Were you surprised how quickly and forcefully black and brown LGBT Philly went into action in response to the reported racist actions of the ICandy bar and its owner?
I was surprised, not by the quickness of black and brown LGBT Philly, but rather, how many allies the movement and the protest had; how much they knew and were angered about issues people of color were experiencing in the Gayborhood. Without naming names, I was saddened too by some of the gas-lighting that was going on; people denying that racist things were happening because “that’s never been my experience.” That’s not how racism works.
What’s your take on Mayor Jim Kenney? He was praised for creating the Office of LGBT Affairs post, yet criticized for being slow to racial issues affecting the LGBT community.
I think highly of him and endorsed him when he ran for mayor. He’s been an ally to the LGBT community for God knows how long. He talks the talk and walks the walk. I wish I could always work with someone who puts himself on the front line as he does; not just for LGBT issues but immigration, education, pot legislation. He gets it. The recent racial issues confronting the LGBT community knocked us all for a loop. I’m inspired by how he and his teams address issues and push solutions forward.
You’re clearly familiar with LGBT issues in Philadelphia, but are you ready to jump back in to that which you left?
I never really left it all, and what is fortunate about having those Philly roots is that I have those connections; that my hands will happily be in those pies and if I need advice and favors — or have to give advice and do favors—I can. I have a social working background and what is best about that is that I am really great at listening.