Drexel Panelists Discuss State of LGBT Philadelphians
Drexel University’s new LGBT graduate student group held a panel discussion on Wednesday, May 18, that focused on the state of LGBTs in greater Philadelphia.
Panelists at the OUT Grads event included Chris Bartlett, executive director of the William Way LGBT Community Center; Gloria Casarez, director of LGBT Affairs for Mayor Michael Nutter; Brian Sims, president of Equality Pennsylvania and Seth Welles, associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel School of Public Health. Rose Corrigan, director of women’s studies in the College of Arts and Sciences, moderated.
The panelists began the discussion by sharing their coming out experiences professionally.
"I was not out at the first law firm I worked for in Philadelphia," noted Sims. "About a year in, I thought my co-workers were the stupidest people on the planet that they hadn’t figured out I was gay. It really irked me for the longest time... Everyone here is going to graduate from Drexel or Drexel Law - you need those things to distinguish you, and being an out LGBT person in college and law school is something you should be proud of... it makes you competent in a couple more areas that employers will recognize."
Sims further said corporations understand pro-gay policies are good for business. "I regrettably did not come out when I joined my first law firm," he said. "I thought I laid enough clues that I shouldn’t have had to, but I think you should be as out as you can be in your regular lives. It makes you better employees. It makes you better workers. It makes you better at work."
The panelists also discussed those who mentored them, and what they feel is their role in mentoring and educating the next generation of LGBT youth.
"I was really lucky to come into a generation of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered activist who were committed to end the AIDS epidemic, which was such a huge goal," said Bartlett. "I had a series of mentors both men and women who taught me what gay liberation was. I was also taught to respect the wisdom of all ages... there is a great respect given regardless of age."
Bartlett said he often has to remind people that the movement in the 70s was "run by men and women in their 20s."
"Most of the folks who were older were - not exclusively - but most of them were still in the closet because that was the lives they had lived, either as married or as closeted folk," he said. "For the first time we have an out generation of LGBT seniors who can be mentors and advisors, and I think they also have a lot to learn from the youth. I see it as a two-way street, and I see it not as a hierarchy, but as a sharing of resources across generations."
Panelists also discussed the May 17 primary. And Casarez further discussed how she feels city officials can better serve LGBT Philadelphians.
"The most glaring examples of where we go wrong with LGBT issues is in terms of city services around transgendered issues," she said. "We’re talking about schools. We don’t control the schools, but when talking about schools, a young person is going to be identified by gender presentation, or by not fitting someone’s gender expectation-a sissy, a butch, let’s target him."
Casarez also pointed out the gender-based shelter system.
"The biggest thing that I’m trying to communicate to these departments that I’m working with is, LGBT issues are every issue," she said.
With the multitude of issues facing LGBT Philadelphians, the question of whether fighting every issue spreads resources too thin. Sims often faces this dilemma at Equality Pennsylvania.
"I don’t focus on marriage because it is not in the cards for the state of Pennsylvania, legislatively for at least eight or nine years," he said. "It will happen federally almost before it happens in the state. Sometimes it’s looking to where there is a need; but the T in LGBT, there is always a need at every level no matter where we are."
Casarez also confronts this issue.
"Rarely if ever will I say LGBT community," she said. "It’s linguistically awkward, we are communities. I always on a language level say LGBT communities. Because unless we are using the kind of language that acknowledges that we are not a monolith, we’re not this block, we will continue to be seen as this block."
Bartlett concluded that AIDS was the monolithic issue, and people are once again looking to get involved in this fight.