Level-headed moderation needed now in The Birthplace of America

Philadelphia is a great place to live. It has so much, so close-by: history, museums, sports. It’s walkable, livable, has green space. No, it didn’t get Amazon’s HQ2 and yes, it’s often overshadowed by New York and Washington. Too bad it has people in charge who don’t care about serving the public.

This goes along well with what I’ve recently written about liberalism turning so far left, it’s often becoming extremism. (See here, here, here and here.) Of course, Philadelphia is more to the left than the nation as a whole. Let’s see how much.mazzoni center logo

Here is the deal:

Mazzoni Center is the oldest AIDS-service organization in Pennsylvania, and has been “providing innovative and compassionate care and services for people living with HIV since 1981.” That’s according to director of communications Larry Benjamin in a recent column in the newspaper, Philadelphia Gay News (PGN), which is the main source of news for Philadelphia’s LGBTQI+ community.

For decades, Mazzoni’s CEO was Nurit Shein, an Israeli woman no longer mentioned on the center’s history page but who undoubtably oversaw the “steady and continued growth” listed on that page:

  • The first HIV testing site in Pennsylvania in 1985.
  • The first sponsored housing for individuals living with HIV in 1986.
  • Opening the region’s first HIV-related food bank in 1989.
  • Opening its primary care medical practice, which has since become a cornerstone of the organization’s services, in 2003.
  • “Today, with more than 35,000 individuals benefiting annually from its services, Mazzoni Center is a leader among community-based organizations in the greater Philadelphia area.”

According to PGN,

“The center has 35,000 clients and an annual budget of $16.5 million, $6 million of which is comprised of federal grants. The balance comes from revenue generated through the health center and private-development funding.”

In other words, the nonprofit gets government money and asks for donations, since it can’t come close to surviving by simply charging its clients or patients fees. This affects all of us.

For example, in Sept. 2010, Mazzoni reported,

“Thanks to a newly created HIV-prevention funding opportunity from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Mazzoni Center will receive $337,248 annually over the next five years to help continue three of our key intervention projects: HIV counseling, testing and referral services for MSM of color, for which we collaborate with GALAEI (Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative); comprehensive risk-counseling services for HIV-positive or high-risk men to cut down on the risk of future transmission or infection; and our community-outreach program ‘Get Real.’”

In Nov. 2016, it reported,

“Mazzoni Center is pleased to announce it has received an award of $1.5 million through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP). The funds are designated to support the purchase and renovation of a Center City building at Broad and Bainbridge Streets, where the agency will relocate and consolidate its core programs and services in summer 2017. …

“The grant demonstrates the growing commitment and collaboration between the State of Pennsylvania and the LGBTQ community,”

and both of these examples of public funding happened, like so much else, under CEO Shein.

But despite so many successes over a generation, not all has been going well at Mazzoni for the past few years.

According to PGN’s Nov. 15 article “Another Mazzoni CEO out — What’s next?”

“Last year, Mazzoni Center was plagued by published reports of systemic racism, mismanagement and dysfunction. In April 2017, Robert Winn resigned as medical director amid charges of sexual misconduct. CEO Nurit Shein was asked by the board of directors to resign later that month, following accusations of delayed action on Winn’s alleged misconduct.”

Then,

“Stephen Glassman stepped in to fill the interim CEO job in July 2017. During his tenure until March, he hired consultants with far-right ties to discourage employees from unionizing, which sparked another controversy. Last September, Mazzoni Center employees nevertheless voted 51-34 to unionize.”

Then, the board of directors hired an executive-search firm which spent five months conducting a nationwide search for the right leader.

Lydia Gonzalez Sciarrino was hired as Mazzoni’s third CEO in less than two years – moving up here from Florida – but she recently resigned after just seven months. It wasn’t due to the heat, weather-wise. The former Floridian was probably used to our mostly warm weather during her short tenure.

No. PGN reported the trouble started right away because Gonzalez Sciarrino is a straight woman! Yes! You read correctly. These are the details you’ll probably find disturbing:

“At the time her hiring was announced in March, she was attacked on social media by Mazzoni Center employees and others demanding her resignation, at least partly due to her non-LGBT status.

“The Black and Brown Workers Cooperative (BBWC), who say they represent nearly 400 workers in Philadelphia, told PGN in a statement in early April, just days after Gonzalez Sciarrino took over as CEO: ‘The days of people who are not from our communities coming in to take up a considerable amount of power in our communities is over,’ said BBWC cofounder Shani Akilah. ‘A white, straight cis woman is not fit to lead Mazzoni, no matter how much experience she claims to have,’ said Akilah. ‘The one thing she does not have and will never be able to have is lived experience.’”

Can you believe that?

Such an outrageous statement about an accomplished woman who the board of directors chose to lead their troubled agency after a long search!

Talk about discrimination, and it happened this year – not just in America, but in The Birthplace of America!

Besides, who gets to pick their boss?

Click here for more of the article including why Gonzalez Sciarrino had to stop driving and start walking to work, always changing her route.

For now, three people will lead.

And days after Gonzalez Sciarrino’s resignation, PGN reported Mazzoni Center fired its Senior Health and Sexuality Educator for violating its harassment policy. According to the paper,

sloan

“The move follows a series of social-media postings on Sloan’s personal Facebook page since the announcement of CEO Lydia Gonzalez-Sciarrino’s resignation earlier this week. In one public post on Monday, Sloan wrote: ‘This is what happens when you cross me. HAPPY MONDAY BITCHES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! #WEWILLNOTLGBTQUIET’ over a shared article of PGN’s coverage of the CEO’s resignation.

congratulations

“A commenter questioned whether Sloan should be congratulated, to which she replied: ‘Congratulations is absolutely the word. THANK YOU … IM [sic] SO HAPPYYYY.’

will not be quiet

“In another, Sloan shared a second article written about Gonzalez Sciarrino resigning with the hashtags ‘WeWillNotLGBTQuiet’ and ‘#Bih,’ internet slang for bitch.’

“As she left the building on Thursday, witnesses told PGN Sloan shouted out: ‘I got fired by y’all — tell your friends.’

raise hell

“Shortly thereafter, she wrote on her Facebook page, ‘They went and fired me for no reason get ready to raise hell everybody.’”

Makes me wonder what kind of people work at Mazzoni!

A PGN editorial, “Social media and public officials,” said,

“Amber Hikes, the executive director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, had opinions on the resignation of its executive director, Lydia Gonzalez Sciarrino, and posted those opinions on social media.

“When we called her for a clarification and asked whether she was representing her own views or the views in her capacity as a representative for the mayor, she stated: ‘This is a trip. It’s weird that it’s a slow day at PGN, especially with everything going on, but I’ll give you a quote to explain what’s going on.’”

That PGN editorial concluded, “The issue boils down to whether a non-LGBT person can run an organization that serves primarily LGBT people,” and the newspaper has spoken out against discrimination like that before.

In this particular case, it wondered based on Hikes’ social media posts, “Is her view personal or administration policy?”

That’s the question I – as a Philadelphia citizen – wanted answered. I even asked about public officials using their own social media accounts while supposedly working for the public, developing policy for the mayor.

Remember the name Amber Hikes, because this post is mostly about her. Shortly, you’ll read the Facebook faceoff we engaged in, and the letter she asked me to send – containing a bunch of questions – she never bothered to answer. You’ll also see several of her tweets containing profanities, and how her support of certain people – and disregard of others – are a prime example of the left gone too far.

PGN reported in March, 2017, Mayor Jim Kenney appointed her executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs.

mazzoni on hikes job
I’ll bet Mazzoni Center management changed its tune on Hikes not long after the mayor hired her!

Therefore, she works for the city but you’ll find no brotherly love coming from her (except for her boss, the mayor) and little sisterly affection.

Hikes had lived in Philadelphia for more than a decade but moved to California more than a year before her appointment at City Hall. That’s when she told PGN,

“‘When I arrived in Philadelphia about 11 years ago, I was a young, black queer woman seeking people who looked like me who loved like me and frankly, the next decade of my life, [I was] just living, studying, working and trying to build that community that I was seeking,’ Hikes said. ‘I noticed these multiple identities that were reflected in the intersections of so many of our underserved citizens.’”

And apparently those are the only people Hikes cares about.

For example, on Aug. 20, Gonzalez Sciarrino fired Kay Martinez, who was Mazzoni Center’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion. That caused an estimated 50 people to walk out to protest the firing. Among those protesters was no other than Amber Hikes, the executive director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs. I’ll get into the contradiction shortly.

According to a written statement from the Mazzoni Center that PGN published Aug. 30,

“‘The reason for Kay Martinez’s termination was disagreement with the Mazzoni Center management team that resulted in unprofessional conduct that was inconsistent for someone in their role,’ according to Mazzoni’s written statement. ‘We believe the facts, when communicated in the appropriate forum, will be obvious proof that we could not continue the employment of Martinez, a high-level director.’”

In the same article, PGN reported Martinez “filed a complaint with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and publicly accused Mazzoni Center of wrongful termination, retaliation and discrimination,” and accused Gonzalez-Sciarrino of lacking “LGBTQ and trans competency.”

“Gonzalez-Sciarrino took on an ally role once she became the leader of an LGBTQ organization. There needs to be a demonstration of a high level of LGBTQ competency, no matter who it is,” said Martinez. “I’m not saying this heterosexual, cisgendered Latina person has no business being there — it’s about her level of LGBTQ competency. I had to educate the CEO on what my pronouns were and how to properly use the they/them pronouns, and that displayed a very significant trans incompetency.”

I wasn’t there, don’t know what really happened and have not heard about a resolution. Besides, most of us use he/him pronouns for someone who looks male, and she/her for someone who looks female. With so much diversity in the LGBTQI+ community, how could someone look at someone else and automatically know which pronouns they prefer? Even Harry Houdini wouldn’t be able to get out of that one!

But we know Hikes walked out over the firing.

PGN’s editorial stated,

“She (Hikes) injected herself into this latest firestorm (Gonzalez Sciarrino’s resignation), as she has with others on social media.”

So the executive director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs has had problems on social media before.

The editorial ended,

“Right before presstime, Hikes did clarify that the statements are ‘on my personal Facebook so yes, I’m speaking personally.’”

Of course, I got interested and looked at her Facebook page. That was last Tuesday, Nov. 20. This is what I found:

ashley love

So at least one of her Facebook friends, apparently not from Philadelphia, was very interested in Gonzalez Sciarrino’s three replacements, and wanted to make sure at least one was of what she considered the proper race, and trans, rather than cis.

Remember, the Mazzoni Center survives on public, taxpayer money – plus the generosity of some individual members of the public. Tens of thousands of people’s health, and other people’s jobs, depend on the place running smoothly. Otherwise, it’s a waste of money and a huge shame after so many people worked for so long, so Mazzoni could offer groundbreaking programs.

See that Facebook friend’s response before my question, which I decided should be about a large group of individuals never once mentioned in the resignation matter: men!

Amber Hikes

You can see I was attacked and also who her Facebook friends are by the number of thumbs-up quickly praising her for acting strong and attacking me. (Who your friends are tells a lot about you.) But I thought this public servant was out of line and didn’t give up, explaining myself further, using her tone against her, and then mentioning the mayor.

all lives matter

My letter makes a good point about her sentence starting with “Yes my boss.” So before going to bed, she made a more disgraceful assumptions and remarks, but invited me to send an email to her office, which I did.

(It appears since then, Hikes made her personal Facebook account private, and after that shut it down. Good move for somebody who was documented as having injected herself into multiple firestorms on social media!)

I spent the next morning crafting this exact letter to Hikes, emailed it midday, and cc’ed Mayor Kenney, whom Hikes spoke for and answers to:

email header 1

Hi, Ms. Hikes! I’m a citizen of Philadelphia, on and off for 20 years on Thanksgiving (tomorrow, by coincidence).

You’ll no doubt remember last night, I wrote, asking you a question. I had just finishing reading PGN‘s latest article on the saga of the Mazzoni Center, and you said to “Feel free to shoot an email … with your grievances.”

Here it is.

I don’t expect detailed answers to every question I’m putting forth here, but would appreciate general explanations about some of the things you’ve said, and some of the ways I feel.

You were quoted in the front-page article “Another Mazzoni CEO Out — What’s Next?” (Nov. 16 edition, https://www.epgn.com/news/breaking-news/13993-another-mazzoni-ceo-out-what-s-next) as saying:

·       “lived experience” qualifies a leader for an organization that deals with marginalized communities.

·       “I think that personal, lived experience with those communities is essential to be able to serve them appropriately” … “In the same way that I think it is appropriate for a black person to lead Black Lives Matter, it is appropriate for a woman to lead the National Organization of Women, I think it’s appropriate for an LGBT person to lead an LGBTQ center.”

Actually, while proofreading before publishing this post, I realized she must’ve meant the The National Organization for Women, not of Women, and she should know better.

I also just realized the NAACP was formed in 1909 as a bi-racial endeavor – not a black organization – to advance justice for African-Americans.

Seems I know more than Ms. Hikes on some aspects of women and African-Americans! It also disproves her last point. But as you may have imagined, there’s plenty more…

That first statement leads me to wonder what qualifications the leader of an organization that deals with marginalized communities should have? If “lived experience” is a requirement, then are there others? If not, then how does “lived experience” qualify compared to other qualifications? Could it simply be a tie-breaker?

That second statement, dealing with demographics, leads me to wonder, “Do you think it was appropriate for President Obama to lead (what was) a majority white nation?” Also, do you feel that’s OK when it comes to labor laws?

Then, the newspaper’s editorial (https://www.epgn.com/opinion/editorials/14003-social-media-and-public-officials) quoted you when they contacted you as saying, “This is a trip. It’s weird that it’s a slow day at PGN, especially with everything going on, but I’ll give you a quote to explain what’s going on.”

That statement sounds to me like something President Trump would say to the media, not “the executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs for the City of Philadelphia,” as it says in your biography (https://www.phila.gov/departments/office-of-lgbt-affairs/). Would you mind sharing what else was going on the day PGN contacted you? (I’ll be happy to help clear things up with them by forwarding your answer, if you’d like.)

(I don’t agree with PGN’s opinion 100 percent and don’t think anybody in the world can, since it tries to give opposing points of view and make us think. I would suggest a few changes to the newspaper but will not question its original reporting. As for any agenda, after decades as a reader, I will suggest it’s the betterment of the LGBTQI+ community in every way, in Philadelphia and around the world. I take that to mean equality and peace.)

Your use of personal social media while serving the public made news, and it was also news to me that it had made news before. (Editorial: “She injected herself into this latest firestorm, as she has with others on social media.”) Therefore, I became curious.

Also, you chose to have your Facebook account’s privacy setting open to the public (or did not pay attention) which has apparently led to some news and definitely led me to read, which was my right. This morning, I saw that setting had changed and I’m sure you understand the consequences of libel, should that be the case, considering your response to me last night. You know what’s on the Internet tends to stay there. You should also know I always jealously protect my good name, with legal counsel on hand for a situation exactly two weeks ago (Nov. 7). I’ll ask you to make sure any defamatory reference to me on your Facebook timeline is gone, after you respond to me.

I don’t think you treated my questions, and definitely my point, fairly. I was intrigued when I read this comment to your post on Mazzoni, and the probing answers and replies that followed.

ashley love

When I saw the response that followed, from somebody whose Facebook profile says she is “based in Washington DC and California” rather than any mention of Philadelphia, and considering how you answered her, I decided to ask you about this story making news.

I decided to use gender as the basis of my question, because it had not been brought up, and because PGN reported in its news article, “The three new leaders are Medical Director Dr. Nancy Brisbon, Care Services Director Alicia Manley and Chief Financial Officer Racquel Assaye” – all women.

I even called out my own questions as among the “knit-picking” ones! I wanted to make a point.

Let’s say your response to me was different than above, not so nice, and falsely accusatory.

Amber Hikes

I’ll point out, right off the bat, your response to me was absolutely rude. You tried to make it clear you don’t work for Mazzoni, using emojis between every word. Of course not. You’re “the executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs for the City of Philadelphia.”

Then, you used the phrases “is exactly what we need” and “is moving us in that direction.” Does that sound like a politician with an interest in the center, or something more that may cross a line? It definitely makes your relationship sound different than your first sentence (“I don’t work for Mazzoni,” emoji, emoji, emoji).

But you were one of the people who “participated in a walk-out to protest the firing” (according to the PGN article) of Mazzoni Center’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion. How could you walk out if you don’t work there, and how could you protest as a city official? I don’t get it, either way.

If you say you were simply standing by the non-management workers there, please realize I’ve been a member of two unions and shop steward at one. I have absolutely no problems with unions, and in fact encourage workers to unionize. Collective bargaining is probably the only way for them to have a voice in working conditions and we are lucky Pennsylvania has not turned the way of Michigan under previous gubernatorial leadership here.

However, the treatment of the patients is the reason Mazzoni exists, and the reason members of the public donate money to keep it running and more. I completely understand the workers walking out if they were ordered to do something morally wrong or illegal. (I chose to leave one job under similar circumstances.) Otherwise, they were probably putting their jobs and even the treatment of their patients on the line.

You also accused me of being sexist, but that is not true in any way. There are women I turn to as mentors for advice, including whether I could be considered one for something I said, did, or believed. Again, I was simply adding one more facet of humanity to the discussion that had not been mentioned: gender. If instead, I had mentioned religion, age or national origin, would you have accused me of “ageist nonsense” and the like?

I don’t know the three Mazzoni leaders’ religions, ages or national origins, and unlike so many others, I’m not asking. It should really be nobody’s concern (except possibly for government employment forms), unless the people involved choose to share that information. Anything else sounds like a quota system and that’s wrong, whether it’s aiming for a number higher or lower than the current number – especially on employment issues where there may be legal concerns and you represent the city of Philadelphia.

Right now, I’m doing as you suggested and emailing you with the address you gave. If you didn’t notice on top, I’m also taking this moment to make sure you know this email is not private since I’m cc’ing your boss, Mayor Jim Kenney, because you called All Lives Matter (a phrase I never used) “nonsense.”

all lives matter

Thanks, but I don’t need you to put words in my mouth.

Mr. Mayor, Would you agree it’s “nonsense” that All Lives Matter, realizing I never brought up that phrase to Ms. Hikes?

Also, should your appointee be answering a constituent as a “black, queer woman” or as a public servant? If you do think she answered appropriately, then do you answer constituents as a “straight white male of Irish descent?”

Ms. Hikes, considering your statement it’s “nonsense” that All Lives Matter, please put in order the amount that these people’s lives matter (in general, not a specific person, and feel free to add any I may have forgotten, or combine any):

white
black
different race
male
female
different gender
lesbian
gay
bisexual
transgender
queer
questioning
intersex
allies

I don’t know about you but I think there is too much division in this country, and a lot of it comes from people treating their fellow Americans as less than them. But on the other hand, others like the ones you responded to cling to very, very specific classifications – and caused me to write.

Right now, our country is divided over so many personal issues. I think concentrating on very, very specific classifications for a job (or three specific jobs) – three of the four (Black, Latina, trans and woman) written by your Facebook friend in the comment, and brown written by you in your first reply to that person – adds to the divisiveness.

The LGBT community is already a minority of the population. Labeling more and more differences separates us, and makes us a tiny minority of a minority of the population. How many people will qualify if you add in religion, age and national origin (oh, and “lived experience”)?

All people are created in the image of God, and automatically entitled to equal human and civil rights. That should be practiced by everyone including the Office of LGBT Affairs for the City of Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, your biography on your city office’s website https://www.phila.gov/departments/office-of-lgbt-affairs/ says you set your “sights on fighting and advocating for the most vulnerable populations within the LGBTQ community—specifically youth, transgender people, and people of color.” I take that to mean not the LGBT community as in your city office’s title, but only certain subsets. Correct me if I’m wrong.

Then, a few paragraphs later: “Hikes believes in employing an intersectional lens in all aspects of community work.” Does that mean filtering people and deciding how worthy they are of the city’s help, using the words from your Facebook post above?

Office of LGBT Affairs

Remember, the top of the page which sounds like a job description reads, “City of Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs: Serving the LGBTQ residents of Philadelphia through advocacy and inclusion.” I take that to mean the city’s goal for the office. “The LGBTQ residents of Philadelphia,” from the city, sounds quite different than your quote, “most vulnerable populations within the LGBTQ community.” Again, correct me if I’m wrong with this distinction.

And does the city’s use of the word “inclusion” regarding the office you lead refer to all elements of the LGBTQ residents of Philadelphia or just the ones mentioned in your biography?

You know none of us chose the circumstances in which we were born, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” I spent years teaching that quote to elementary schoolchildren. I think that concise quote best describes what all of us should want for the future of the world, and these days can go beyond “the color of their skin.”

We, collectively, have vastly different experiences. Much of it is due, as I said, to the fact none of us chose the circumstances in which we were born. But then to read what you wrote last night, “that we need to see more black and brown trans women in leadership in our organizations,” has me questioning your devotion to all members of the LGBTQI+ community in your role as “executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs for the City of Philadelphia … serving the LGBTQ residents of Philadelphia through advocacy and inclusion.”

As a city resident, homeowner, and taxpayer – as well as member of the LGBTQI+ community – I want to know how you represent me.

Am I wrong for asking?

Also, do you feel the demographic issue taking such a major role in the Mazzoni saga is turning moderates such as myself to the right, which would probably be the last thing you want politically?

Thank you in advance for your more thoughtful answers this time around.

Lenny Cohen
Philadelphia

I hope you thought the letter was well-written, informative and asked good questions. I don’t know whether Mayor Jim Kenney or his hand-picked executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs for the City of Philadelphia, Amber Hikes, feel that way.

Neither of them bothered to respond!

That’s ironic since when Hikes was hired, PGN reported a city spokesperson had said,

“There was a very vocal need for someone to be more outward-facing and more community-engagement-based.”

So Tuesday, I forwarded them this second email:

email header 2

Ms. Hikes and Mr. Mayor,

Tomorrow will be one week since I wrote to both of you and I have not received any sort of answer, much less acknowledgement, to my questions and concerns from either of you.

Public servants need to be available to be effective, kind of like journalists. I’ve been one of those for a couple of decades.

Furthermore, I’m wondering if I’m the first person to ask you these questions because if not, then you could’ve probably given me canned answers you’ve already given others.

I plan to blog on this disgrace (at least so far) so thousands around the world know what I consider the craziness and favoritism that goes on in Philadelphia, and how my inquiry has been ignored (so far). It’s all unfortunate.

I’ll include your entire, unedited answers in my post tomorrow, especially from Ms. Hikes, who had time to immediately respond to her personal-but-public (but last I checked, private) Facebook account at odd hours last Tuesday, Nov. 20. I’ll also include my letter.

Please inform me. That shouldn’t be too hard for decision-makers with your titles and powers in such a big city, right? Even Gmail “nudged” me to follow-up, as if I needed to be reminded.

Gmail nudge

Lenny Cohen
Philadelphia citizen and taxpayer

I’m ashamed of the politics that goes on in this great city and sometimes ask myself why I don’t move just over the line, where there is no city wage tax that takes more money from paychecks than the state’s income tax does. Productive people don’t seem to be valued.

As for the Mazzoni Center, its volunteer board of directors is about to become a whole lot different. Five of the 17 will resign. According to PGN, the reason is lack of enough diversity among a board with this membership: “Five are women, six are people of color and eight are white men.”

Board president Chris Pope told the paper,

“Many of our legacy board members have served for 13 years, and now it’s time to make space for new faces, new voices and new perspectives. Diversifying our board has been a major focus for some time now and we are looking for prospective candidates that will bring a fresh outlook as we move the organization forward.”

We’ve been through Facebook. Yesterday, I wondered if Ms. Hikes had a Twitter account, and boy does she!

I hate to say it, but notice the vulgarities from this public servant on this forum. I haven’t published anything like this since my post on the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill hearings.

These were all her personal tweets. None of them were retweeted from somebody else. I’m going in chronological order, starting just over a year ago, and any underlining in red is mine. I chose words I think she should not have used, or used in the way she did. It’s unbecoming for someone in her role. At least I think so.

kenney kicking ass

gloria residences damn

pgn person of year
Hikes was actually PGN’s “Person of the Year” for last year! I hope the paper reviewed its reasoning. I think the “Creep of the Week” column it features in every issue would be more fitting now.
who is left after so many eliminations
Divisive: Is anybody left when you leave out men, white, cis, able-bodied, documented, straight, and economically-privileged? Read into that last category as you want.

old flag iconic symbol

The rainbow flag colors “reflect the diversity of the LGBT community.” That means it’s an abstraction of everybody, and just a skin deep representation because nobody in real life actually looks like any of the colors. It represented ‘pride’ in Philadelphia until June 2017, when Hikes

“officially added black and brown stripes atop the city’s pride flag — making Philadelphia the first city to do so — to recognize people of color who had long felt excluded. … Hikes views the new flag as a way to start conversations about race and identity, particularly with white people who have not experienced the same disparate treatment as people of color — and may be reluctant to believe it exists.”

Talk about pettiness and simple-minded people separating themselves from others when they’re supposed to be coming together, uniting as one!

rainbow with extras

The Philly.com article goes on to say,

“Some people suggested there should be a white stripe, and the New York Post declared that the flag had divided Philadelphia’s gay community.”

And speaking of coming together, uniting as one: Months earlier, in Jan. 2017, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations

“found widespread reports of racial tension and discrimination in the neighborhood (the Gayborhood), which often touts its inclusivity. … The report noted that dress codes, ID policies, bar service and treatment of staff can vary depending on the patron or employee, which perpetuates discrimination.”

Because of that, it forced 11 bars and two nonprofits – the Mazzoni Center and Philadelphia FIGHT – to take part in fair business practice training within 90 days and implicit bias training within 120 days. Did places frequented mostly by straight people face the same requirements? Do you think those establishments, including neighboring ones, are any better?

The Rev. W. Wilson Goode Sr., a black former mayor of Philadelphia who sits on the board of FIGHT, told Philly.com,

“He was shocked to see the organization named in the report. He said he was skeptical about the thoroughness of the vetting process.

“‘Philadelphia FIGHT is probably one of the most diverse organizations in the city,’ Goode said. He called the organization’s CEO, Jane Shull, a champion of equality in the workplace. ‘I do not believe anyone could write that who investigated, who read the personnel plan, who knew what they were talking about.’”

pence hell

trans flag damn

curse at trans event
Cover the top and just show your kids the colorful pictures. Somebody may have forgotten more and more members of the LGBTQI+ community are becoming parents.
tweet on phila lawyer
So high on herself! Can you find Hikes on the cover? Wonder why she doesn’t show herself gracing the cover in her tweet? #exaggeration
phila lawyer cover
https://www.philadelphiabar.org/page/ThePhiladelphiaLawyer

politics after election

So citizens of Philadelphia: Do you think there is any more to this woman than vulgarity, divisiveness and unresponsiveness? Is this appropriate from one of our city leaders? Should Hikes be sent her walking papers?

contact info

This is the contact information for both Ms. Hikes and Mayor Kenney, taken from their pages on the city’s website. Please take a few moments to share your feelings with them (and maybe get a response!), but also the city council member for your district, and don’t forget all seven council members at-large, at the bottom of the webpage.

(Click here if you don’t know who your district’s city council member is. You’ll see a map, where you can type in your address, and their name will come up.)

In Feb. 2017, the city started a Commission on LGBT Affairs, calling it

“a 23-member body that will advise the Mayor on policies that support the lives of LGBT individuals in the city and support and amplify the work of the Office of LGBT Affairs. … The members reflect the diversity of the LGBT community, which includes transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer communities, as well as diversity in ethnicity, religion, race, gender, disability, profession, citizenship status, socioeconomic status, geography, housing status and age.”

Hikes, still the newly-appointed LGBT Affairs executive director back then, said,

“I look forward to serving with this vibrant team as we address the needs of our community and elevate the voices of our most underserved community members.”

But Sharron Cooks, the chair of the newly created commission – and also the first transgender person ever to chair a city commission, according to Philadelphia Magazine – was voted out in May, after just six weeks.

The magazine reported,

G Philly was sent documentation from the meeting that raised concerns surrounding Cooks’s social media interactions with members of one of the commission’s committees.

“‘The emergency meeting was basically centered around complaints that Commissioner Amanda Dougherty made about Sharron targeting her in various social media posts she made this past weekend,’ said a commissioner present during the meeting who asked not to be named. ‘Dougherty provided the commission with multiple screenshots of Facebook posts where Sharron indirectly called her out for being a white bisexual woman taking up space in the community affairs committee.’”

Sounds too much like Amber Hikes with social media. And President Trump.

Like the signing of the Declaration of Independence, there has to be another revolutionary change in leaders here in Philadelphia. Click here for directions on registering to vote.

If you like what you read here, subscribe with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish. Don’t rely on social media with its hacking issues and censoring like thisthis and this. I’m also available for writing/web contract work. LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennycohen

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Cher’s surprise: Stopping by The Cher Show while it gets ready for Broadway

Hi! This is Lenny with the first of what I’m hoping will be regular guest columns. Just use the contact form to let me know if you write up something you’d like to share here. I’ll be happy to post it if the work is all yours and may appeal to the audience. Then, you’ll have something published on the internet! This review was originally written for Cabaret Scenes.

Feature Cher Teal Wicks Stephanie Block Micaela Diamond from Todd
(L-R) Teal Wicks, Stephanie J. Block and Micaela Diamond. Photo: Todd Sussman
Cher Wikipedia
Wikipedia file

I’m not going to lie. After the real Cher made her entrance from the back of the Oriental Theatre to thunderous applause (you see, they forgot to dim the house lights) and took her center orchestra seat, I was a bit distracted as Act II began. Sonny & Cher was the first act I ever saw in concert, and I have followed Cher’s career from the early television days to Las Vegas to the Broadway stage to the Oscar win to the farewell tours. Now this iconic, charismatic, beautiful, compelling presence (who is not only the subject of the show but also its most famous producer) was watching her story unfold just a few rows behind me, and I had to look back to read her face, if only for a few moments. Who wouldn’t look back?

A second device that takes a bit more time to warm up to is the re-imagining of the multitude of Cher’s greatest hits as they are placed in the mouths of other real-life characters. Sometimes this works, for example, when Gregg Allman (Matthew Hydzik) duets with Lady on Just Like Jesse James. Sometimes, it is too much of a stretch, like when Cher’s mother Georgia (Emily Skinner) sings Half-Breed. The audience showed the most love when the hits stayed with their originators. Sonny and Babe singing their signature I Got You Babe was easily an Act I showstopper. Jarrod Spector, who recently played music man Barry Mann in Beautiful – The Carole King Musical, is an instantly winning Sonny and gives a standout performance. Skinner as Georgia is also the perfect sounding board, support system, and moral compass in the mother role.

Sonny Cher Wikipedia 1971
Wikipedia file from 1971

Scenic designers Christine Jones and Brett J. Banakis pay homage to the memorable studio set where Sonny & Cher’s hit TV series first took flight, with the recurring circular logo bearing their faces and bringing us back to the 1970s. Here’s one suggestion that may add some expense to the budget, but would be well worth it. In Cher’s 1975 solo TV outing, she opened each show by strutting down a moving runway that delivered her into the audience. The runway has not been resurrected for this Chicago run. Please bring it back, pronto.

The truly unbeatable eye candy of The Cher Show is the extravagant fashion parade of famous costumes designed by Cher’s long-time designer, Bob Mackie, each one more elaborate and glittery than the next. You can’t have a show about Cher without sequins, feathers and color saturation, and these costumes are surefire crowd-pleasers. By the way, Mackie designed all of this show’s costumes; it isn’t too often that the designer is also a character in the show. Michael Berresse as Mackie has fun one-upping the censor with his daring, sexy, and ratings-boosting creations.

Act II feels a trifle less organic as the three Chers narrate her real life’s second act trials and tribulations – tackling Broadway, finding her audience as a serious film actress, and eulogizing Sonny. However, throughout both acts, Elice and director Jason Moore do an insightful job of capturing Cher’s relationships with her three primary love interests: Bono, Allman, and Rob Camilletti (Michael Campayno). They spotlight the built-in conflicts and drama—the struggles, respectively, of being married to a business partner, married to a drug addict, and dating a much younger man who cannot fathom the fishbowl existence of a megastar.

cher show poster
Poster for The Cher Show in Chicago. Photo: Todd Sussman

With so much story to tell, this glossy production opts to gloss over (or altogether ignore) some of the more personal events that made the headlines. Cher’s early grappling with her daughter Chastity’s sexual orientation and subsequent transgender status is left unaddressed. Similarly, even hints of Cher’s political activism (and frequent tweets) are nowhere to be found.

However, The Cher Show is packed with enough music and storyline to keep an audience absorbed. One Act II keeper is the presentation of chart-topping dance hit Believe as a reflective and melancholy ballad, giving Block another chance to demonstrate her vocal and acting chops. Of course, it’s the full-fledged, feel-good original dance version (appearing for the bows) the audience is clamoring for. This musical’s honest and outspoken subject has already admitted to some needed tinkering prior to the Broadway debut. But I think a large portion is already good to go.

Tickets for The Cher Show are on sale now. Previews at the Neil Simon Theatre (250 W. 52nd Street, New York) will begin Nov. 1, with an opening night slated for Dec. 3.

Click here to see the review as written for Cabaret Scenes.

todd pic

Todd Sussman is a graduate of Columbia University, where he studied journalism and film. A longtime entertainment writer, he is the author of the Blockbuster Video books, The Greatest Movies of All Time and The Greatest Movies of All Time, Volume 2. He began his writing career as the film critic for The Miami News and soon became the editor of Blockbuster Video Magazine. For his work on the magazine, Todd received an Addy Award for Best In-House Publication, one of several Addy honors he holds. The Walt Disney Company commissioned him to write an interview promoting the film, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (for which Todd wrote the questions as well as the answers, in character as the beloved Roger Rabbit). More recently, he had the privilege of working on two hit projects for Barbra Streisand: Todd is the Liner Notes Editor for Streisand’s 11th number one album, Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway, and for the tour program from her acclaimed concerts, Barbra: The Music… The Mem’ries… The Magic! He is also a contributing writer and editor for the international fan publication, All About Barbra. In 2016, Todd edited the booklet for Capitol Records’ prestigious compilation CD, A Capitol Christmas. He reprised that role for A Capitol Christmas Volume 2 in 2017.

Click here to see The Chicago Tribune‘s interview with Cher.

cher chicago

More moderation in politics, not so in casting calls

I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. There’s too much going on, between job stuff, the news and that last blog post I wrote.ak1

It was about being attacked on Facebook by someone who was angry I don’t think Barack Obama is my favorite president and made nasty knee-jerk comments when I simply asked my friend who’d made the post, “Favorite? Really?”

I didn’t see or refer to anything this crazy person had written, but she was obviously too thin-skinned and took it as a personal assault, and lazy and dumb because she couldn’t refute anything I wrote. She resorted to claims of “disrespect” and name-calling.

I’m glad someone commented on that Facebook exchange with a radical liberal after I’d already published the post. That’s when I learned about the new group #WalkAway. It’s called #WalkAway Campaign and it’s no more than a few weeks old.

The group describes itself this way:

group description

I wouldn’t go as far as the group describes itself – it was founded by a New York hairdresser – but I hope it becomes a place for moderates to respectfully discuss issues, because I’m so tired of the extremists on both sides and also both political parties. (I have to say I wish money was out of politics.) They seem so dirty to me and I don’t like the idea of politicians having to choose sides, to be aligned with one side and work against the other. We’re all independent with different subjects important to us, and different views on them.

walk away Brandon Straka
https://www.walkawaycampaign.com/

I don’t know if this will lead to a third party, and we know those haven’t worked in America, but I think most of us are sick of holding our noses and voting. That’s not how it should be. Neither should it be voting down either party’s line because there are good people on both sides.

vote voting electionNotice I said “voting” and not staying home because if you stay home, then you have no say. Remember “No taxation without representation?” Americans fought a war for independence. Much later, women and blacks finally got the right to vote, even though blacks had to wait another hundred years to do so without fear of violence or a poll tax.

Voting is not a right to be taken for granted.

i voted
Showing I voted. Yes, in Philadelphia. Not in Miami and definitely not the Tri-Cities!

President Trump may have been elected by people on the left who didn’t like Hillary Clinton. I’m not judging but simply stating what I believe to be fact. (I don’t know if anyone but the insiders know enough about Russian influence to make a firm decision. I’m certainly not.)

hillary clinton donald trump

Tell me, looking back, if all the people who stayed home on the day of the election rather than vote for a flawed candidate (and they were both flawed), would Trump be president? Do those people I’m referring to regret what they did (or didn’t do)?

There is one thing that bothers me about the #WalkAway group and it’s easy to find on Facebook. This group, probably about a week old, has too many rules and regulations, and too many moderators rejecting posts.

rejected comment
This is no way to gain support!

The hand print after a name in the photo above is supposed to mean the person joined the group within the past two weeks. (I had one yesterday but not today, for what it’s worth.) The shield with the check mark means the person is one of 18 who manages the membership and posts. Something doesn’t sit right with me on all that.

I was told to put my story in the “Random Stuff” section, which is already on Part Three, which contains almost a thousand posts like mine.

my comment

My comment was probably not noticed by the rulers of the page but besides my story, I let them know they’re probably shooting themselves in the foot if they’re going to continue being so strict. They’ll alienate possible supporters and there are many, considering how many signed up to join the group and had to be accepted. Hopefully they’ll get that right.

Speaking of radical liberals, there are some in the transgender community and their supporters who didn’t think Scarlett Johansson should play a transgender role in the movie Rub & Tug.

They ought to be pleased – if there’s any way to please them – Johansson has decided to pull out.

The dissenters claimed the role should’ve gone to a transgender actor instead, and said it proved how limited opportunities are for transgender actors (male-to-female or female to male) – as if casting people are allowed to ask.

In early 2016, The Advocate reported,

“A television show inspired by the life of Dan Savage encountered a snafu when it sought to cast a gay actor for the part of a gay teen.

“Todd Holland, a producer of The Real O’Neals, was alarmed to learn that he is prohibited from asking actors about their sexual orientation.”

That’s California law, meant to protect everyone of all genders, gender identities and orientations. Unfortunately, if you can’t ask, there’s also research and word-of-mouth.

Remember, this is acting and there shouldn’t be discrimination in any form. (Actually, it would probably matter in the adult film industry but I’ll leave that to the lawyers.)

the real o'nealsHolland got lucky.

The Advocate reported,

“It was very important to me [to cast a gay actor], and I was in a panic,” Holland said.

“Ultimately, the ABC show … did find a gay actor for the role: the 21-year-old Noah Galvin. The AP reports that Holland had a ‘sense’ that Galvin was gay and that he overheard the young man speaking about coming out to his parents.”

By the way, Galvin is half-Jewish (on his mother’s side, which makes it absolutely certain if you’re Orthodox or Conservative) but his character comes from a strictly Irish Catholic family. And Jay R. Ferguson plays his father, but he’s not, and he plays a police officer, which he’s also not.

But back to reality.

Johansson was cast in Rub & Tug as a mob-connected massage parlor owner who was a woman but lived as a man.

According to the Associated Press,

“Johansson was initially quite defiant and told anyone who had a problem with her casting to speak to the director.

“She said in a statement: ‘Tell them they can be directed to Jeffrey Tambor, Jared Leto, and Felicity Huffman’s reps for comment.’”

All three are cisgender but played transgender characters.

cisgender
Definition for the record, since this subject is new to so many people – good people – who just don’t know and it’s not their fault.

Also, it’s not a very old word.

But speaking to Out magazine, Johansson said something diffferent than earlier.

“I’ve learned a lot from the community since making my first statement.

“While I would have loved the opportunity to bring Dante’s story and transition to life, I understand why many feel he should be portrayed by a transgender person.

“I am thankful that this casting debate … has sparked a larger conversation about diversity and representation in film.”

And for the bean-counters out there, Variety reports bisexual actress Evan Rachel Wood (who I never heard of) is in talks to take on a voice actor role for the sequel to 2013’s Disney film Frozen, and some fans hope Wood will play Elsa’s girlfriend.

This scriptwriter (and radical liberal, if you read her Twitter posts) is even demanding it!

movie Frozen 2013She just proved my earlier point, “if there’s any way to please them,” and I suggest she spend a very long time quietly counting the number of LGBTQ+ roles versus the number of LGBTQ+ actors. I want specifics on L, G, B, Y, Q and +, so nobody can say they’re left out. We wouldn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. And if there aren’t enough roles to go around, then she should stop writing on Twitter and do her job.

By the way, “Frozen 2” is supposed to hit theaters Nov. 27, 2019. The original hit nearly $1.3 billion in box offices worldwide and won the Academy Award for best animated film in 2014.

Also, something to think about: The many roles of straight, cisgender characters in TV, the movies and the stage.

What if no sexual minority actors were offered any of those roles because they’re not straight, cisgender people? And you have to admit, numerically, characters without any love interest would probably be assumed to be straight and cisgender, since they’re the majority.

Does anyone have an answer to that?

american flag red white blue stars stripes

gay flag

Just know the earlier issues are being discussed and things are getting better. No whining or demanding necessary.

Please leave your comments in the section below, and don’t miss out. If you like what you read here, subscribe to CohenConnect.com with either your email address or WordPress account, and get a notice whenever I publish. I’m also available for writing/web contract work.

Lots of updates in a few short months

Who cares what Bruce Jenner is doing?

brucejenner.com
http://www.brucejenner.com

I’m so glad I haven’t had to cover this story. Apparently, Bruce Jenner has been looking more and more like a woman, with longer hair, manicured nails, and makeup. The tabloids and some people (not me) have been talking about it for months. But yesterday, it was reported the former Olympic star is transitioning into a woman.

A source close to the family told People magazine, “Bruce is transitioning to a woman .. He is finally happy and his family is accepting of what he’s doing. He’s in such a great space. That’s why it’s the perfect time to do something like this.”

Bruce Jenner Wheaties
General Mills

The attention bestowed, or forced, on Jenner makes absolutely no difference to me. Jenner became famous for running in the 1976 Olympics. His Web site says he broke the world record for the Olympic decathlon and earned the title “World’s Greatest Athlete.” He even appeared on the front of Wheaties breakfast cereal.

Then, it seems we hadn’t heard about him for years. It often happens when people hit their 15 minutes of fame. Jenner’s official bio gives him lots of titles like entrepreneur, TV personality, actor, producer, and author. It also calls him “a devoted husband and father of ten (see below)” who “can be found spending time with his family onscreen on E! Network’s Keeping up with the Kardashians” which was “rated as the #1 show for the first two seasons.”

Robert Kardashian (right) & O.J. Simpson, 1995
Robert Kardashian (right) & O.J. Simpson, 1995

He’s now 65 and was married to his third wife, Kris Jenner, from 1991 to 2014. She was married to and divorced from the late lawyer Robert Kardashian, the only Kardashian I’d even heard of, who helped defend O.J. Simpson. (I covered the defense portion of that trial for WSVN on a daily basis. I’m sure Robert is rolling over in his grave when he looks down and sees what his family has become!)

Bruce Jenner had two kids with his first wife, two more with his second, and two more with Kris. That’s six. Kris had four with Robert Kardashian. That’s ten. They all became famous after Robert Kardashian died. I’m not going to name them because I don’t think they deserve the attention. You could say they’re famous for being famous because I don’t think they’ve done anything.

Back to the “news” of the day. So Bruce Jenner reportedly feels the need to transition into a female?

The GLAAD Media Reference Guide calls transgender a “term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.” It also says “Typically, transgender people seek to make their gender expression align with their gender identity, rather than the sex they were assigned at birth” and “a person’s sex is actually a combination of bodily characteristics including: chromosomes, hormones, internal and external reproductive organs, and secondary sex characteristics.” It’s called Gender Dysphoria and it has nothing to do with sexual orientation, drag, or cross-dressing.

I certainly don’t have any problem with people transitioning, if they feel the need. Live and let live! Heck, in the past two days, The Daily Beast reported the Graduate Center at CUNY is banning the salutations Mr. and Ms. (yeah, that’s a little overboard), and The Advocate reported the U.S. Navy is even allowing a name change! I don’t think public money should go towards prisoners transitioning, but I’m not worried about whoever sees me in the bathroom.

What gets to me slightly is what People also reports: that Jenner is recording his transition and plans to air it! (I guess, once a reality star, always a reality star.) There’s nothing wrong with him going out in the world, regardless of how he looks. In fact, that’s brave. Hopefully his new show, if it airs, will be educational. The public has lots to learn. Bruce Jenner OlympianPerhaps the attention he’s getting is really being bestowed and not forced on him. But I wouldn’t want to draw attention to myself in that way. It’s just not me.

Bruce Jenner was a great Olympian. He was a hero who made Americans feel proud of themselves when they needed it during tough economic conditions and the Cold War. As of now, that’s how he should be remembered. Maybe someday, he’ll also be considered a hero for the transgendered. I hope so. But not looked back on for his other reality TV work.