LGBTQ+ Voter’s Guide: The fight for Philadelphia Mayor. The issues, the candidates

The primary election is May 16. Here’s what you need to know to cast your ballot

By: - May 1, 2023 6:30 am
Philadelphia City Hall

Philadelphia City Hall (Adobe Stock/The Philadelphia Gay News)

By Jeremy Rodriguez

PHILADELPHIA — In the race to elect Philadelphia’s next mayor, the Philadelphia Gay News has previously interviewed all the main Democratic candidates: Warren BloomAmen BrownJeff BrownJames DeLeonAllan DombHelen GymCherelle Parker, and Rebecca Rhynhart.

In addition, PGN co-hosted a mayoral candidate meet and greet at William Way LGBT Community Center and put together a photo op in support of the drag community, both of which were attended by a majority of candidates. PGN has also profiled LGBTQ+ staff members of the mayoral candidates.

To further clarify where candidates stand on LGBTQ+ issues, PGN has put together an LGBTQ+ voters guide to the mayor’s race, including candidates’ past involvement in the LGBTQ+ community, public statements and voting records on the LGBTQ+ community, as well as LGBTQ+ policies or legislation they have suggested.

Warren Bloom

According to his campaign website, Bloom will fight for issues such as strong public schools, fair and competitive wages, women’s health rights and better access to healthcare, the rights of private property owners and property renters, veterans’ health, public safety, equal rights for all groups, environmental excellence, criminal-justice excellence, spiritual excellence, and ministerial leadership for a better city.

Involvement in the LGBTQ+ Community:

Bloom told PGN he previously worked with William Way LGBT Community Center but said he has not had many opportunities to work with the community due to him not being an elected official.

“I can only do so much, but in general, as a minister and a pastor, I continue to serve the greater Philadelphia community at large, like I’ve always been doing over the past 20 years,” he said.

Suggested LGBTQ+ Policies:

In his interview with PGN, Bloom said the LGBTQ+ community has a right to legally “be protected from discrimination and violence.” Additionally, he plans to leverage faith leaders in promoting equality.

“I’m going to be asking all churches, regardless of their religion, or faiths, or denominations to also help in this matter, to offer support and counseling to not only victims, but to preach and to teach their congregations to be more sensitive to other members of our community,” he said. “Everybody may not agree with somebody’s sexual orientation but they have to accept the fact that we’re all created equal and everybody should have a right to love whoever you want to. And especially, I want to offer protection to families and children who have single parents or parents that are [LGBTQ+].”

Amen Brown

Amen Brown, a State Representative representing West Philadelphia since 2021, has worked on several issues during his tenure in Harrisburg. These include supporting affordable housing, halting sheriff sales for Philadelphians at risk of losing their homes, and creating economic opportunities for low-income individuals. Brown’s campaign website outlines his intent to focus on public safety and gun violence, economic and job opportunities, housing, education and improving overall quality of life for Philadelphia residents.

Past statements on the LGBTQ+ Community:

A targeted search of Amen Brown’s Twitter feed shows messages in support of the LGBTQ+ community, including a post on Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2020.

“Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance & I must honor the lives of every transgender and gender-nonconforming person who lost their lives 2 violence,” he posted alongside an ACLU Pennsylvania graphic listing the trans people who died that year. “It’s important 2 [sic] fight for the lives & rights of our trans and gender-nonconforming neighbors and friends. #translivesmatter”.

Brown also posted a message for Pride Month in 2021, writing “It’s June and we’ve stepped into Pride Month! We all must play our part in fighting for and protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community. We ALL deserve respect and just treatment! #PrideMonth2021.”

Outside of social media, Brown issued a statement speaking out against the people who sent threats to the trans patients and the medical and mental-health providers who provide gender-affirming care at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“These are young people and their families who go to this center to access resources for quality care,” he said last October. “Not to mention the threats to the providers who are there to help them. This is disgusting behavior that comes from pure hatred. It has no place in Philadelphia, the commonwealth, or the country.”

Voting record on the LGBTQ+ Community:

Amen Brown previously voted no on House Bill 972, which would have prevented transgender athletes from participating in the sports corresponding to their gender.

Suggested LGBTQ+ Policies:

During his interview with PGN, Amen Brown addressed the issue of violence against trans women of color.

“If people think that it’s OK to attack trans women, they’re going to have a serious problem with me,” he said. “I have a zero tolerance policy for crime. I have trans friends and we respect each other. I’m going to protect each and every individual, no matter who you are. And one of the main differences between me and the other candidates, is that I’m for everybody. And I’m going to be a mayor for everybody. I’m a state rep for everybody.”

Jeff Brown

Jeff Brown is the founder of Brown’s Super Stores, Inc., a twelve-store supermarket chain trading under the ShopRite and The Fresh Grocer supermarket brands. His campaign includes plans to address issues surrounding generational poverty, community safety, economic opportunities, public education and returning citizens.

Involvement in the LGBTQ+ Community:

Jeff Brown worked with PGN publisher Mark Segal when he worked as a volunteer under former District Attorney Seth Williams around diversity and inclusion issues. The candidate said he worked “on that effort to make sure we included people in the right way. And that was a very good experience many years ago.” He also said he is a “fan” of William Way LGBT Community Center.

Past statements on the LGBTQ+ Community:

A targeted search of Jeff Brown’s Twitter feed shows a message honoring Trans Day of Visibility this year, which included his campaign’s branding. He also posted a message on Facebook in support of Pride Month in 2022.

“While June has been officially established as Pride Month, we should acknowledge, celebrate and support our LGBTQIA+ communities every day. Despite the major strides made over the last several years, we know the struggle for equal rights and opportunity for our LGBTQIA+ community continues, and it’s a fight that we must win,” Brown wrote.

Suggested LGBTQ Policies:

In a written statement to PGN, Jeff Brown said he will be a “fierce defender and advocate for Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ community.” He intends to offer assistance to LGBTQ+ young people and seniors and ensure that his leadership team is representative of the LGBTQ+ community. In addition, he aims to work closely with city agencies and organizations that have successfully bridged the gap between the needs of the LGBTQ+ community and the services provided by the municipal government.

“We must find ways to ensure better collaboration/partnership, and innovative ways to direct resources for the organizations that do critical work in the LGBTQ+ community,” Brown told PGN.

James DeLeon

Prior to announcing his mayoral candidacy, DeLeon served as a municipal court judge for 34 years. The candidate plans to combat gun violence, reform the criminal justice system, fight homelessness, and provide overall improvements to municipal services, education, health care, youth services and the economy.

Involvement in the LGBTQ+ Community:

DeLeon said in his interview with PGN that he has attended fundraising events for HIV/AIDS awareness in the past. Additionally, he said his campaign manager from when he ran for retention was a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

Suggested LGBTQ+ Policies:

In his interview with PGN, DeLeon said he plans to onboard a commissioner for the LGBTQ+ community. Although the city already has an Office of LGBTQ Affairs and a commission that collaborates with the mayor, DeLeon envisions this new position to hold even greater authority. This includes the commissioner having regular meetings with him to discuss concerns and matters specifically affecting the LGBTQ+ community.

Additionally, DeLeon plans to implement LIMS, a Local Incident Management System. This would combat gun violence by establishing processes and procedures the city government could use and enable responders to work together and manage the root causes of the issue. DeLeon elaborated that this system could be extended to further assist the LGBTQ+ community.

“If there was an issue in a neighborhood that would mostly affect [LGBTQ+] community members [and] if my commissioner of [LGBTQ+] affairs tells me that there’s an issue going on there, I can enact that issue as a dramatic incident, and bring all the resources of the city to alleviate that particular problem within the [LGBTQ+] community, so that the community can feel comfortable and just continue as the individuals as they so choose to be.”

Allan Domb 

Domb previously served for six years as City Councilmember at-Large before announcing his run for mayor. During his tenure, he focused on cutting taxes for lower-income taxpayers, creating job-training and education opportunities for incarcerated people, and pushing for term limits and oversight on how City Council members spend taxpayer money.

According to his campaign website, he plans to pursue similar causes as mayor. This includes fighting for community safety, transparency in the government and improving city services.

Involvement in the LGBTQ+ Community:

During his run for City Council, Domb spoke at a Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club forum, where the club ultimately endorsed him. Then, during his tenure on City Council, he hosted a hearing with Gym where LGBTQ+ young people shared their stories. Additionally, Domb noted in his PGN interview that he attended several Gayborhood fundraisers and worked with the Gay Officers Action League. He has also noted how he worked with LGBTQ+ chambers of commerce along with other chambers from marginalized groups to cut taxes for workers and small businesses.

Past statements on the LGBTQ+ Community:

Domb posted a message on Facebook for Pride month in 2022: “In June, we uplift & celebrate the stories of LGBTQ+ trailblazers. While great progress has been made, the fight for equality is far from finished. We all must focus on creating a world accepting of everyone’s authentic selves.”

In January, Domb noted issues of violence against the trans community in a tweet: “The biggest issue facing the LGBTQIA+ community is trans violence. In the last few years there have been 7 targeted deaths against trans people. We’ve got to do more. As your mayor, I will do anything possible to make community safety our #1 issue.”

Voting record on the LGBTQ+ Community:

Domb co-sponsored a resolution — along with Parker — to oppose Pa. House Bill 972, which would prohibit transgender students from participating in sports corresponding to their gender.

Additionally, he voted in favor of LGBTQ+-inclusive city bills including Bill 190558, which requires youth-serving organizations to protect trans and nonbinary young people from discrimination; Bill 190559, which requires gender-neutral bathrooms in City Hall and other City-owned buildings; and Bill 190651, which expands the city’s anti-discrimination law to be more inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Suggested LGBTQ +Policies:

If elected mayor, Domb plans to introduce a comprehensive public safety plan, which he said would expand programs to “protect against violence based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity.” Additionally, he said he plans to work with several offices to address violence against trans people.

“As mayor, I’ll work with the Office of LGBT Affairs, our public-safety leaders, human-service leaders, and the [LGBTQ+] outreach organizations to provide increased protection and community resources to help protect members of the trans community.”

Helen Gym

Gym served six years as an at-Large City Councilmember before announcing her mayoral run. Her campaign website includes initiatives such as taking illegal firearms off the streets, uplifting youth, creating a vibrant economy, increasing mental-health first responders, and expanding affordable housing.

Involvement in the LGBTQ+ Community:

Gym’s involvement in the LGBTQ+ community has been significant for years. During her first month in office as city councilmember, she served as the chairperson for the then newly created Committee on Children and Youth in 2016. That year, Gym participated in Valley Youth House’s youth count and invited her council colleagues to the count, where the youth-services organization counted the young people experiencing homelessness. At the time, Gym told PGN that  “it’s important to care for the needs of communities we don’t often hear from,” noting that some LGBT young people often do not feel safe coming out. Months later, Gym — along with Domb — hosted a hearing where LGBTQ+ young people shared their stories.

Additionally, Gym has participated in other LGBTQ+-related events. This includes serving as a guest bartender at a Gayborhood fundraiser for the victims of the 2016 Pulse massacre in Orlando and speaking as a guest at events for LGBTQ+ organizations. She has also attended protests and flag-raising ceremonies for LGBTQ+ causes.

LGBTQ+ organizations have also noted Gym’s work with the community. In 2017, Philly Pride Presents honored her as Friend of Pride and a year later, DVLF recognized her as a straight ally.

Past statements on the LGBTQ+ Community:

Last year, Gym and Philadelphia-based English teacher Maddie Luebbert wrote an op-ed for PGN about how other states should look to Philadelphia schools as a role model for trans inclusivity. Gym and Luebbert wrote on how the City Council pushes for trans-inclusive legislation and how schools can further push for inclusion.

“The way we protect and affirm queer students is not by reflexively condemning hate — it’s by striving to be a model of what a fully inclusive school system looks like,” they wrote. “As our city officially recognizes Trans Day of Visibility on March 31, our youth deserve more than just a day of words. They deserve a school system and city that is on the move and actively investing in and supporting their boundless potential to change the world.”

Gym has frequently posted supportive messages about the LGBTQ+ community on social media.

“Philly Trans March is everything I need right now. @galaeiphilly,” she tweeted in 2018 along with a photo of GALAEI staff marching.

More recently, Gym expressed support for President Joe Biden signing the Respect for Marriage Act, which mandated federal recognition of same-sex marriage.

“Same-sex marriage protections have been signed into law!” Gym tweeted with a Pride flag emoji. “We can never waver in our support for LGBTQ+ equality and justice.”

She also expressed support for protecting trans youth earlier this year.

“As I said at today’s panel on LGBTQ+ protections, cities must set the blueprint for the nation and provide a pathway to stronger rights for all,” she tweeted. “Our bold laws to protect trans youth make Philadelphia a model. I want every LGBTQ+ resident to feel safe and be able to thrive here.”

Voting record on the LGBTQ+ Community:

Gym has introduced several bills in City Council promoting LGBTQ+ inclusivity. This includes a gender-inclusive bathroom bill and a resolution honoring Rita Addessa, a civil-rights activist and the first executive director of the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force (PLGTF). She also introduced three LGBTQ+-related bills in 2019, which fortified protections for trans and nonbinary people by strengthening gender-neutral bathroom requirements, expanded anti-discrimination policies for those working with queer youth, and updated language in the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance to be more inclusive.

Gym was also the lead sponsor of the first Trans Day of Visibility resolution in City Council and co-sponsor of a resolution opposing a bill that would prohibit transgender athletes in Pennsylvania from participating in high school and college sports that correspond to their gender.

Her other support included backing former City Councilmember Derek S. Green’s bill outlawing public-accommodation discrimination in the city, which stemmed from a hearing on racism in Gayborhood establishments. She was also a main sponsor for Councilmember Cindy Bass’ resolution calling for an investigation into two faith-based agencies that refused to accept same-sex couples as foster parents.

Suggested LGBTQ+ Policies:

Gym is the only candidate to specifically mention LGBTQ+ people on her campaign website, noting how she has previously addressed LGBTQ+ youth homelessness and hopes to continue similar fights. In an interview with PGN, she said she would “double down and invest and expand on that dramatically.”

Additionally, Gym said that she would like to make sure LGBTQ+-serving healthcare organizations are “as strong as can be,” in particular around services for the HIV/AIDS community.

“Philadelphia is the largest city in the country without a public hospital and we do not have a public-hospital network,” she said. “So that is why health-care delivery and the strength of LGBTQ+ health-care organizations is so important to me and one of the areas that I’ll lean into as mayor.”

Cherelle Parker

Parker resigned from her position as 9th District City Councilperson last September to run for mayor. Parker has a lengthy history of public service, having worked in the office of former City Councilperson Marian Tasco for 15 years and as a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 2005 to 2015. According to her campaign website, Parker’s platform includes a focus on improving education, investing in public safety, providing economic opportunities, and addressing the issue of city street cleanliness.

Involvement in the LGBTQ+ Community:

In 2009, Parker spoke at a rally in Harrisburg to show support for legislation that would ban discrimination against LGBTQ+ people in Pennsylvania. Liberty City also endorsed her for state representative in 2012 and 2014 and gave her a high score on their LGBT Legislative Scorecard.

Past statements on the LGBTQ+ Community:

During her time as a state representative in 2014, Parker spoke at a rally where more than 300 people gathered to demand hate-crimes protections for LGBTQ+ people.

“It was Dr. King who stated, ‘Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly,’ and all acts of violence in Philadelphia directly and indirectly impact our city’s 1.5-million residents and the more-than 12-million residents of our commonwealth,” she said. “Every citizen, regardless of their ethnic background, religious affiliation, sexual orientation or gender identity has the right to feel safe in this city and state. We can no longer excuse nor ignore the behavior of violence in our communities or discriminatory targeting of any Pennsylvanian. Crimes against our friends, family and neighbors of the LGBT community solely committed because of a hatred for a natural difference must be deemed what they truly are — a hate crime. Our General Assembly must set an example and take the necessary actions to properly protect each and every one of our constituents.”

Voting record on the LGBTQ+ Community:

During her time as a state representative, Parker co-sponsored bills in support of Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ+ community. This includes House Bill 177, which aimed to reinstate protections for LGBTQ+ people against hate crimes. She also co-sponsored a civil-union bill in 2011.

In City Council, Parker co-sponsored a resolution to oppose Pa. House Bill 972, which would prohibit transgender students from participating in sports corresponding to their gender. Additionally, she sponsored a resolution with Gym that mandated an investigation into faith-based foster agencies that refused same-sex couples as foster parents.

Furthermore, Parker supported bills that are inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community, such as Bill 190558, which mandates that youth-serving organizations safeguard trans and non-binary young people from discrimination; Bill 190559, which stipulates that gender-neutral bathrooms be available in City Hall and other City-owned buildings; and Bill 190651, which broadens the city’s anti-discrimination law to encompass sexual orientation and gender identity.

Suggested LGBTQ+ Policies:

Parker has been an outspoken advocate for community policing and told PGN that the LGBTQ+ community — specifically Black trans women — would be part of that vision.

“A Parker administration will [have] zero tolerance for discrimination against any community and/or constituency,” she said. “We will be knowledgeable enough because we’re going to have officers who understand that cultural competency in their training for every community.”

Rebecca Rhynhart

Rhynhart previously worked as chief administrative officer for outgoing Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration and as city treasurer and budget director under Michael Nutter’s administration. Most recently, she worked as city controller since 2017. According to her campaign website, Rhynhart plans to address gun violence — including signing an executive order to address it — as well as taking on the city’s opioid crisis and economic development issues.

Involvement in the LGBTQ+ Community:

In her PGN mayoral interview, Rhynhart noted a time in 2021 when her office was informed that an employee was requiring a transgender individual to use their dead name.

“Once the information came to my office, we took immediate action, she said. “And the HR person that was involved claimed it was required. It wasn’t required. We elevated the issue to central HR and what ended up happening is the department changed their policy and allowed them to sign in with the name they wanted to sign in as.”

Liberty City previously endorsed Rhynhart for city controller in 2017.

Past statements on the LGBTQ+ Community:

Rhynhart spoke to PGN in 2017 during her run for city controller. She noted her work as chief administrative officer with the Kenney administration around creating an inclusive workforce.

“That’s something that’s very important to me and as city controller, some things that I would evaluate throughout the city and departments [is to] see how inclusive the city is being to all people, including the LGBT community,” she said. “I think full equality, no matter who you are or who you love, is good for the community and is the right thing to do. I’m a strong advocate of LGBT rights. On a personal level, I’ve always grown up with the belief that everyone should be accepted and that a diverse and inclusive community in society makes for a stronger city.”

In a Jan. 24 tweet, she linked to an Inquirer op-ed opposing the Union League of Philadelphia’s decision to honor Florida governor Ron DeSantis.

“Ron DeSantis uses his position to tear down African American and LGBTQ+ communities,” she wrote. “Philadelphia has a rich diversity and this destructive element has no place in our city.”

Additionally, she tweeted a Trans Pride flag on Trans Day of Visibility this year with the following statement: “On Trans Visibility Day and every day, we celebrate the trans and non-binary Philadelphians of the past, present, and future. At a time when the trans community is under attack, we recommit to building a city where everybody can thrive as their full selves – no exceptions.”

Suggested LGBTQ+ Policies:

During her interview with PGN, Rhynhart said she would “convene a diverse group of stakeholders to “examine issues, to take necessary steps to tackle [them], and will overall be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.” She also noted that she would address the issue of violence against Black trans women by designating resources in city departments.

“Those city services may include shelters for survivors of domestic violence, health-care resources and more, Rhynhart said. “I’ll listen to stakeholders and individuals that are directly impacted [regarding] what is needed and how we can use city resources and city services to best support Black transgender women [and] LGBTQ+ residents of color.”

During Liberty City’s candidate forum, she also announced her intentions for a diverse team.

“As City Controller I always put forth my senior leadership team based on having the most diverse viewpoints in the room with me to be able to present views that I might not think of,” Rhynhart said during Liberty City’s candidate forum. “Appointing members of the LGBTQ+ community to senior posts is incredibly important, and I would seek your input in getting the best people from your community to be part of this.”

The primary election is May 16.

Jeremy Rodriguez is a correspondent for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared

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