Philly liaison to LGBTQ community talks about her worst fear and big goals

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Amber Hikes is the executive director of the Mayor's Office of LGBT Affairs for the City of Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Amber Hikes is the executive director of the Mayor's Office of LGBT Affairs for the City of Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

In a “23 Questions” interview with Philadelphia Magazine earlier this year, Amber Hikes — director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs — said she grew up in a military family. She can play five instruments: clarinet, drums, piano, sax, and the recorder — in fact, she played in the 2000 Olympic Band in Sydney. And she confessed the one thing she’s deathly afraid of is failure.

Hikes will be dashing around the city to attend just about every LGBTQ Pride Month event in June. She ducked into the WHYY studios to speak with Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn about Pride Month events and some other things, like her fear of failure.

Lynn asked her what failure could look like within the community she cares about so much.

Failure looks like true divisiveness. And I mean that in the sense of folks not recognizing the challenges that so many of us that have different identities within the community face in focusing only on their own issues and not seeing how we can be in solidarity with one another. If we’re not united in that way, then we certainly will fail.

So what can success and a strong quality of life look like?

It truly looks like uniting around on the celebration of what makes us different, what makes us diverse, what makes us strong, especially here in Philadelphia where we do just have such a vibrant and incredible LGBTQ population. We’ve done a lot of work around that specifically here in the city, but I think that’s exactly what success looks like.

Well, lots of events are coming up as you said. This year’s Pride Month has celebratory events tying in with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York. You know many say that led to the gay liberation movement. I was thinking if people were in those riots they might be in their 70s on the youngest side these days.

Yes. Well, what’s great that the New York pride is doing this year is some of their grand marshals for Stonewall 50th are some of the pioneers that were there that night in 1969. But here in the city, we have Mark Siegel who’s the owner of the Philadelphia Gay News, you know, who was part of that Stonewall movement. We’re really fortunate to have some of those elders that are still with us today, and still fighting and paving the way for us. And I think that’s really important in terms of our history.

Do you have to explain to younger people what Stonewall actually was?

I think that used to be the case. I think with the 50th anniversary and leading up to this anniversary folks are talking more about that history and specifically highlighting the history around black and brown trans folks who really led that movement and making sure that we recognize that marginalized communities were the ones that were standing in those front lines even back then and of course still today.

Your office this year wants to explore something that I really haven’t heard you explore before: the intersectionality between Philly’s LGBTQ and immigrant communities. Tell me about that.

We’re so fortunate to share June with Immigrant Heritage Month. So it’s LGBTQ Pride Month. It’s Immigrant Heritage Month. It’s also Disability Pride. So what our office always looks at is the intersectionality of identities. So specifically this month, we’re teaming up with the Office of Immigrant Affairs and we’re really looking into the idea of belonging — as a queer person, as an immigrant, as an immigrant who may be queer. And so we have a few events that we’re doing with the Office of Immigrant Affairs around what those identities look like for us, and how do we move through this country when all of those identities intersect.

You know, there’s this growing chorus of Democratic presidential candidates. They’re talking about LGBTQ issues. Now in my memory, that has happened before, but not to the magnitude as this round. Are these candidates kind of coming out being able to speak about these things more freely?

I think they absolutely are. There’s a few things that play into why that’s the case. I believe it really helps to have an openly gay presidential candidate. And so that’s definitely pushing these issues more to the top of the priority list.

And that is the Mayor Buttigieg.

Yes, that’s right. Mayor Pete. And then in addition to Mayor Pete, I mean, if we’re going to be frank, LGBTQ people have been under attack from this federal administration. And it’s incumbent upon these presidential candidates to talk about what they would do with their platform to defend marginalized communities and specifically LGBTQ ones.

We had a trans woman candidate for City Council at large.

Deja Lynn Alvarez.

Deja Lynn Alvarez.

Deja’s candidacy was obviously just monumental historic for the community. And it was really beautiful to be able to see a longtime community member and advocate really be able to have a citywide platform. We know and love Deja in our community, but it was wonderful to be able to see people outside of our community connect with the message that Deja has. She has really blazed a trail in so many different ways way before her candidacy in City Council. And I’m excited to see what comes next.

The LGBTQ State of the Union just happened earlier this week. It has breakout sessions. It has folks coming forth and putting out their goals for the next year. Let’s backtrack for a second. What was your goal last year? Did you meet it?

Absolutely, the goal was to be able to increase transparency and accessibility between our LGBTQ nonprofit leaders and the communities that they served. We absolutely exceeded that.

Okay. And what’s your goal this year?

The goal this year was really around some of the challenges that specific nonprofits have had being able to provide a platform for them to speak candidly about those challenges and be accountable to community about the path forward. And so people came wanting to know more about the scandals and the controversies, but they left being truly inspired by the great work that all of these organizations are doing even in the face of some significant challenges.

Well, good luck this month with all that you’ll be doing. And I think to view a full list of events during LGBTQ Pride Month folks can visit Pride Month event spotlight page at phila.gov.

That’s exactly right. The biggest thing that we have going on is on Thursday we’re doing our flag raising at City Hall. We raise the More Color More Pride Flag. We’re the only city in the country to do that. And then we have a big party it’s our inaugural Pride in the Park celebration. So we’re going over to Love Park and having a big party with drag queens and vogue performances and food trucks and youth space. It’s going to be a great time, and everything’s free.

All right, good luck.

Thank you. Happy Pride.

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