Amber Hikes has started work as Philadelphia’s new director of the Office of LGBT Affairs. The office has been criticized by activists over its response to reports of racism at businesses in the city’s Gayborhood.
“I can speak to all of those issues,” Hikes said. “I’ve been a business owner in the Gayborhood for the last nine years, so these issues that we’re hearing in terms of racism — specifically in gay bars and also with some of our organizations — these are things I have experienced personally. These are not new issues.”
“They’re issues that have not been discussed with people of color in the community,” she added. “Everybody knows that they’re there. In terms of what needs to change — we’re here on the first step. The first step is having the conversation.”
“I think there was this general idea that if you were a person that experienced discrimination, if you were LGBTQ, then you couldn’t discriminate against others based on other aspects of their identity, and that’s not true.”
Hikes, who most recently directed a program that assists low-income, under-served students in California, was born in Japan and then moved to Atlanta. However, she said, Philadelphia has had a great impact on her.
“While my formative years were spent in Atlanta, when I finished undergrad at the University of Delaware, I came right to Philadelphia to do my graduate work at Penn,” she said. “So, really, all of my adulthood and into my professional career have really been spent in this city.
“I really found my passion for the LGBT community and LGBT youth, specifically, here in Philadelphia at the Attic Youth Center,” she said.
Along with her leadership roles at the Attic Youth Center, she also worked with Equality PA, and William Way Community Center.
In order for racial tension to cease in the Gayborhood, Hikes said, people have to get to a point where they are listening to each other instead of arguing.
“We’re in a rocky place where people are unfortunately yelling at each other as opposed to sitting down and having those conversations,” Hikes said. “But I understand that too.”
“There’s a lot of frustration,” she noted. “We’re here at the first step, and it’s a very pivotal time in our community — and where we’re moving is the most important part.”
To hear Jennifer Lynn’s interview with Amber Hikes, press play at the top.