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Philly's LGBT Affairs Director Is Out, City Announces Replacement

by Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- The Executive Director of Philadelphia's Office of LGBT Affairs is out as of Monday, following months of activists calling for her termination amid controversy over racism in the city's gayborhood.

Now the city has named her replacement.

"It was not my decision, but I am very happy to move on," says Nellie Fitzpatrick, who is finishing out her two-year tenure as head of the one-person Mayor's Office of LGBT affairs.

The former prosecutor focused on criminal justice reform, working with Philadelphia police to ensure fairness for LGBT people. She also spent time on the front lines, bringing attention to transgender issues, fighting for trans inclusion and recognition of attacks and violence against LGBT people of color.

She helped pass the a city council bill requiring gender neutral bathrooms, pushed for fair prosecution of individuals who attacked LGBT people, and much more.

"I brought a level of advocacy that often times went unseen," says Fitzpatrick, "and since much of the work I did behind the scenes certainly could not be live tweeted, I think the administration wanted to go in a direction that would be a lot more outward facing."

Fitzpatrick took over the Office of LGBT affairs after longtime LGBT activist Gloria Casarez, the first to fill the post, passed away in 2014.

Casarez, a lesbian woman of color, had her roots in community activism and was beloved within the LGBT community. Fitzpatrick with her background in law, worked internally for the most part, something many activists saw as non-responsive.

"Nellie continued to say, slow and steady- that was her rallying cry," says Abdul Aliy Muhammad, a co-founder of Black and Brown Workers Collective.

They claimed complaints about racism at gayborhood nightclubs were ignored by Fitzpatrick and began calling for her resignation. Their cries were amplified after a videotape of a bar owner using racial slurs went viral and forced the city to hold a first of its kind hearing on the issue of LGBT racism.

"We'd heard for weeks that she was going to resign," Muhammad told KYW Newsradio last week, "we definitely see this as a win."

Amber Hikes
Amber Hikes will succeed Fitzpatrick in March. (credit: Upward Bound, California State Long Beach)

Amber Hikes is Fitzpatrick's replacement at the helm of the Office of LGBT Affairs. The University of Pennsylvania Social Work Program grad served on the board of the William Way LGBT Community Center, and organized the Philadelphia Dyke March for several years.

She's currently the full-time director of Upward Bound, a program at California State Long Beach. She will begin this post on March 6th.

This change comes just weeks after the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations issued recommendations for ending gayborhood racism, including implicit bias training.

At the press announcement, Mayor Jim Kenney had expressed a reluctance to terminate Fitzpatrick, noting that one person could not end racism in the gayborhood.

The BBWC renewed the call for Fitzpatrick's ouster.

"We are excited to see what comes from this," says Muhammad, "we are cautiously optimistic."

The city of Philadelphia issued the following statement:

"While we did have a different vision for the office moving forward, we are very appreciative of Nellie's work. She has done much in service of the LGBT people of Philadelphia, especially in the area of criminal justice reform and implicit bias training for the successful 2017 Mummers Parade. We wish her well in her future endeavors."

Fitzpatrick says she does not believe her race played a part in invoking the ire of activists or in the city's decision to terminate her.

"I am the one person representing the LGBT community in government," she says, "so I was happy to be the lightning rod, and I am happy to see the government responding."

As for Fitzpatrick's future plans, she's headed back to the full-time practice of law with a focus on criminal defense and civil rights.

"I'm not going anywhere," she says.

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