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Photo from Amber Hikes

Philadelphia is currently one of the only cities in the nation to have an LGBTQ office. And for years the city has received a perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign's Municipal Equality Index. But amid recent divisions drawn over racial discrimination in Philadelphia's gay community, Amber Hikes, the new executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, wants to unite and reignite the city's advocacy for LGBTQ residents.

Hikes, 2008 School of Social Policy & Practice graduate, said her experience as a social worker is rooted in her education in University City. 

After receiving her master's degree in social work, Hikes worked in Philadelphia as a community organizer at an LGBTQ health service provider and Attic Youth, which does programming for queer youth, before becoming executive director of the city's office in March. 

Credit: Julia McGurk

“The real focus of my particular tenure in this administration,” Hikes said, “has been to shift the office, from primarily and pretty explicitly policy [advising] to be more outward facing.”

On Oct. 10, the Office of Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity Programs at Penn hosted a discussion event with Hikes for LGBT History Month. 

Ralph DeLucia, the office's associate director, said they invited Hikes to discuss the challenges within the LGBTQ community as she was “just a natural.” 

“It’s a way to highlight Penn’s role in furthering LGBT rights,” DeLucia said. “What better way than to have a cabinet member person from the city of Philadelphia to basically raise awareness around some of the issues in terms of civil rights?”

Hikes laid out several various plans set in motion for engaging LGBTQ residents and advancing relevant policy proposals. She also highlighted some of her office's recent initiative, like a series of recruitment events targeted toward LGBTQ foster parents in an attempt to recruit more people to foster LGBTQ youth.

One of the main challenges she wishes to address as director is intersectionality, or the overlap between different identities like gender, race and sexual orientation.

Multiple accusations of racial discrimination at gay bars in Center City prompted Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney to establish a Commission on LGBT Affairs in February. A month later, Hikes formerly replaced former executive director Nellie Fitzpatrick, who was ousted after critics said she did not advocate enough for queer people of color. 

Moving forward, Hikes said she hopes to collaborate more closely with Penn students and LGBT Center. Both Hikes and director of Penn's LGBT Center Erin Cross expressed interest in strengthening their existing relationship.

"It could look like Penn students getting involved with some of the institutes that we have," Hikes said. "Making sure there's a Penn presence, whether it be at flag raisings or community conversations, would be really important."

As a Penn alumna, Hikes highlighted the progressive leadership and thought that comes from places of higher education.

"I would ask Penn students specifically not to take that opportunity for granted and to use that time to step outside of their bubbles," Hikes said. "But you need to do a little bit more than that. It's asking difficult questions, listening to people's answers, believing their stories and experiences and doing what you can to help."

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