Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ community is filled with nonprofit leaders, activists, politicians, judges, media professionals and other movers and shakers who have both broken barriers and changed the narrative by fighting for equality, either directly through their work or by simply being out and visible in the workplace. City & State’s Pride Power 100 – compiled by freelance writer Jeremy Rodriguez – recognizes the people in the state who are making strides to create safe spaces and remove the limits for current and future generations.
A number of people on this list were instrumental in its construction, including City & State PA advisory board members Paul Steinke and Lauren Vidas, as well as the ad hoc committee members assembled specifically for this issue: Ron Hicks, Jon Lovitz, Sean Meloy, Maria Montaño, Celena Morrison, Michael Newmuis, Alex Reber and Anne Wakabayashi. And thank you to Mark Segal, who provided invaluable advice.
We would love to hear your thoughts on this list. Do you agree or disagree with our rankings? Is there anyone you think we missed? Let us know at email@example.com.
Since 1976, the Philadelphia Gay News has served as a platform for the LGBTQ community to communicate with each other and distribute news pertinent to it. This is thanks to the efforts of Mark Segal, who conceived it initially as a monthly newspaper before it evolved into a weekly publication and website. Segal is one of the founders and the former president of both the National Gay Press Association and the National Gay Newspaper Guild. Additionally, he is the president of the dmhFund, which helps create affordable housing for LGBTQ seniors.
Nearly every LGBTQ organization in Philadelphia can thank Mel Heifetz for his generosity. His gifts include paying off the mortgage of the William Way LGBT Community Center in 2005; a $16 million donation to the Philadelphia Foundation to support LGBTQ organizations like Galaei, The Attic Youth Center and The Trevor Project; and a $20,000 donation to the Democratic National Committee in the name of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community. He is also known for contributing to LGBTQ-friendly political candidates and keeping HIV/AIDS nonprofits afloat.
As the secretary-treasurer of UFCW Local 1776, Michele Kessler organizes and represents 35,000 members in fields ranging from supermarkets and drugstores to state liquor stores and nursing homes. Other leadership positions she has held include the international chair for the UFCW International Union’s constituency group for LGBTQ members and allies, and serving as the acting chair of the IUF Global Union LGBTI and Allies Group.
In 2018, Malcolm Kenyatta was elected to represent the 181st Legislative District in Philadelphia County, becoming the first Black gay man elected to the state House. During his tenure, Kenyatta addressed generational poverty, workers’ rights, gun violence, access to mental health care, and the city’s digital infrastructure. Kenyatta, who is the vice-chair of the Philadelphia House Delegation and is a member of the Wolf administration’s Suicide Prevention Task Force, recently fell short in his historic bid for U.S. Senate.
Jessica Benham became the first bisexual candidate and queer woman elected to the legislature in 2020. This breakthrough follows in the footsteps of state Rep. Brian Sims, who, in 2012, became one of the first openly gay members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly. In her freshman term, Benham has focused on addressing her constituents’ lack of access to economic opportunity and quality health care, poor air and water quality, and failing infrastructure. Meanwhile, Sims penned open letters to U.S. senators in the state urging them to support the Employment Nondiscrimination Act.
Rafael Álvarez Febo serves as the executive director for the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, which advises Gov. Tom Wolf and state agencies about issues impacting the LGBTQ community. Álvarez Febo, who is a community relations liaison for the City of Philadelphia, previously worked as the community and economic development coordinator for Philadelphia City Council member Maria Quiñones Sánchez. His previous community involvement includes work with the Philadelphia Latino Film Festival and Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club.
After experiencing constant bullying during his days in elementary and secondary school, Rich Askey is motivated by young children in marginalized populations. Today, as the Pennsylvania State Education Association’s president, he strives to give these students all of the resources and support they need to be successful in school and beyond. Before taking the helm at PSEA, Askey was the organization’s treasurer and chair of its Financial Recovery Task Force. Askey is also a member of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs.
Matthew Yarnell’s work with SEIU Healthcare PA began in 2001 as an organizer – and he has since worked with thousands of health care workers to improve their working conditions and build their unions. Additionally, he helped launch the SEIU Training and Education Fund – now the second-largest nursing home fund in the country – and advocated for the inclusion of transgender benefits for members of the SEIU Health and Welfare fund.
In 2021, Ronald Hicks, who has practiced law for more than 30 years, helped launch the law firm Porter Wright’s LGBTQ+ Business Practice Group, where he represents LGBTQ business owners and clients across multiple industries. Hicks is also a founding member and president of the Three Rivers Business Alliance, Pittsburgh and greater Allegheny’s LGBTQIA+ Chamber of Commerce. With Hicks leading the way, Pittsburgh passed LGBTQ procurement inclusion legislation in 2021 – the first of its kind in Pennsylvania.
Earlier this year, Lia Thomas became the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship. During her career as a swimmer for the University of Pennsylvania, Thomas set program records in the 100 free, 200 free, 500 free, 1,000 free and 1,650 free. She did all of this while simultaneously battling against transphobia both online and from multiple media outlets, which questioned her place on a woman’s swim team.
Zach Wilcha is the first-ever executive director of the Independence Business Alliance, a nonprofit organization that serves as the Philadelphia region’s LGBTQ+ chamber of commerce. Under Wilcha’s leadership, the alliance has experienced membership growth, an increase in membership and board diversity, and award-winning programming – including the Intersections D&I initiative and the TransWork program, both of which aim to increase representation in the organization and the region. Wilcha is a founding member of Philadelphia’s Community Leadership Pipeline Initiative and the Diverse Chambers Coalition of Philadelphia.
This year, Michael Newmuis provided interim leadership for Visit Philadelphia, the destination marketing agency of southeastern Pennsylvania, and helped steer the region’s ongoing economic recovery. As a champion of economic growth and civic pride, Newmuis drives inclusive growth strategies to support workforce development, small businesses and commercial corridors. Outside of Visit Philadelphia, Newmuis is a board member of the Global Philadelphia Association and serves on advisory committees for the Philadelphia International Airport, the Pennsylvania Convention Center, PIDC and the city’s UNCF Mayor’s Masked Ball.
In 2020, Celena Morrison became the first openly transgender person to lead a government office in Philadelphia. Among her duties, Morrison has worked with District Attorney Larry Krasner’s office on cases involving violence against trans people. She previously served on the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and as the director of Programs at the William Way LGBT Community Center, where she was instrumental in opening the Arcila-Adams Trans Resource Center.
David Bubas leads efforts at health care powerhouse UPMC to sustain diversity and inclusion while meeting the evolving needs of the organization and surrounding community. Bubas’ efforts center around enhancing the diversity and cultural competency skill set of the UPMC workforce, ensuring culturally and linguistically competent care, and enriching the health status of communities. Bubas also teaches Human Resources at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health.
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As executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, Preston Heldibridle is the first transgender person to serve in this type of role for a statewide LGBTQ organization in Pennsylvania. Before taking the reins in 2021, Heldibridle was the organization’s state policy director. During that time, he played a role in defeating a bill that would have removed health care coverage for transgender youth enrolled in the Children’s Healthcare Insurance Program.
Jonathan Lovitz has always been a legislative and political advocate. As a former senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce and current contracted advisor, he helped write and pass more than 25 state and local laws and opened up billions of dollars in contracts and economic development for small business owners. Additionally, Lovitz volunteers his time to various organizations throughout Philadelphia.
As a human resources consultant, Ben Allatt’s expertise centers around human capital management, training and development and DEI initiatives. His proficiency in the field has led to numerous speaking and panelist opportunities on such topics. Prior to joining Alternative HR, Allatt served in leadership roles on Harrisburg City Council from 2013 to 2021. He is currently in his second term as a member of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, and earlier this year, Keystone Business Alliance honored him with their Advocate of the Year award.
Anne Wakabayashi currently creates ads for political candidates at The Win Company and serves as chair for Pennsylvania’s Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, but her involvement with politics goes back more than a decade. Her recent work includes training women to run for political office as Emerge PA’s founding executive director and later as Emerge’s national political director. She has also managed numerous political campaigns, including working as Pennsylvania senior strategist for U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 presidential campaign.
Corey Buckner has advocated for marginalized communities for years. Prior to his role as the Western Pennsylvania political coordinator for the SEIU 32BJ labor union, Buckner managed Pittsburgh’s Office of Community Affairs and coordinated then-Mayor Bill Peduto’s LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council. His accomplishments include helping Pittsburgh gain its first 100% score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipality Index Scorecard, helping to roll out gender-affirmation health benefits for city employees and assisting City Council in introducing a ban on conversion therapy.
Sean Meloy has been a fixture in the state’s political world for years. Meloy, who just wrapped up his ultimately unsuccessful campaign to become Pennsylvania’s first openly gay member of Congress, has a wealth of previous political experience that includes working for U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle and serving on the Allegheny County Democratic Committee. He is a former director of LGBTQ engagement at the Democratic National Committee and vice president at the LGBTQ Victory Fund.
Malcolm Lazin has worn many hats throughout his career: attorney, entrepreneur, community organizer and civil-rights activist. He is the founding executive director of Equality Forum, which coordinates LGBT History Month, and has chaired various groups like the Society Hill Civic Association, Philadelphia Waterfront Developers Corporation, Washington Square Committee, and the Pennsylvania Crime Commission. Throughout his leadership efforts, Lazin founded the Philadelphia Waterfront Developers Council, where he was also elected chair – and conceived the idea of lighting the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.
Ismail Smith-Wade-El coordinates services and support for Lancaster’s housing-insecure community as program specialist for the Lancaster County Coalition to End Homelessness. Additionally, he serves as Lancaster City Council president, where he has helped secure the city’s largest-ever investments in affordable housing and lead removal. Smith-Wade-El’s legislative priorities have included the decriminalization of cannabis, a revamped use-of-force policy, and police accountability. Smith-Wade-El, who has fought for workers’ rights, fair funding for public schools, and abortion access, won this month’s Democratic primary for the state House’s 49th District.
In addition to being the mayor of Milford, Sean Strub is a longtime activist and writer. The HIV-positive leader is frequently cited in the media as an expert on HIV/AIDS and empowers other HIV-positive individuals to combat stigma, criminalization and discrimination. He also founded POZ, an award-winning publication for people living with and affected by HIV/AIDS, and served as its executive editor from 1994 to 2004. Currently, Strub serves as executive director for the Sero Project and as treasurer of the U.S. Caucus of PWHA Organizations.
During Harvey Hurdle’s tenure as executive director of the Philadelphia Bar Association, which began in 2019, he has led the organization to a budget surplus and spearheaded a rebranding, website redesign and strategic planning process. Prior to taking on his role with PBA, he served as chief operating officer of the Human Rights Campaign and was on the LGBTQ Victory Fund’s board of directors, as well as the boards of Equality PA and the AIDS Information Network.
When he was elected as the state Democratic Party’s treasurer in 2018, Alex Reber made history as its first LGBTQ elected officer. Reber, a certified public accountant who is the managing partner of the Harrisburg-based accounting firm Miller Dixon Drake, also serves on the Harrisburg Redevelopment Authority and on the legislation committee of the Pennsylvania Institute for Certified Public Accountants, and is a board member for Planned Parenthood Keystone.
Michael R. Komo is no stranger to being recognized for his work dedicated to the LGBTQ community, with accolades such as Pittsburgh Magazine’s 2021 40 under 40 honorees. The LGBTQ advocate has co-founded the LGBTQIA+ Anti-Human Trafficking Initiative with the FBI, started the Pride Night Series for Pittsburgh’s professional sports teams, and serves as the chair of the LGBT Rights Committee of the Allegheny County Bar Association.
Capital Blue Cross has provided health care options for people in Central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley for more than 80 years. Since 2007, David Skerpon has been spreading the message far and wide about the company as its senior vice president of enterprise marketing, where he leads the team responsible for brand and market strategy. Skerpon volunteers with Capital Region Arts and Education, Joshua Group and PA STEAM Academy.
Kevin Lessard serves as a strategic advisor for Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and spearheads communication efforts across nearly 50 departments, making him the city’s highest-ranking spokesperson. Lessard is leading the city’s crisis communications for everything from COVID-19 recovery efforts to violence prevention and other issues crucial to the city and its residents. He also collaborates with city leadership to create and implement comprehensive communications strategies to keep everyone informed about government programs, services and resources.
In this complex role, Eric Gutshall helps to provide tax-exempt bonds on behalf of various educational facilities. Gutshall has spent much of his career working in state and national politics, including stints with state Rep. Patty Kim, then-U.S. Rep. Todd Platts, and as the Wolf administration’s director of constituent services and secretary of intergovernmental affairs. He also serves as vice president of The League Foundation, a national scholarship organization for LGBTQ students.
Last year, Brian Patchcoski transitioned from his role as director of Penn State’s Center for Sexual and Gender Diversity to become the assistant vice president for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Student Affairs. In this position, Patchcoski supports 24 Penn State campuses and empowers students and community members in those places to create change. Before joining Penn State, Patchcoski served as Cornell University’s associate dean of students and as the founding director of Dickinson College’s Office of LGBTQ Services.
As the founding executive director of nonprofit Philadelphia 3.0, Alison Perelman is committed to reforming local politics. During the 2019 election cycle, the organization supported Jamie Gauthier, the 3rd District Philadelphia City Council candidate who became the first challenger to beat a district incumbent since 1995. Additionally, Perelman is a Democratic committee person in the 2nd Ward and serves on the boards for Habitat for Humanity, The Forum of Executive Women, The Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement and the Bella Vista Neighbors Association.
John Brady serves as director of the Philadelphia Democratic Party and assistant to Party Chair Robert A. Brady (no relation), and as president of the Philadelphia Young Democrats. His previous work includes serving as a committee person for the 21st Ward in Manayunk since he was 19. Brady also holds leadership roles with the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee, the Young Democrats of America, the Pennsylvania Young Democrats, Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club, Leadership Philadelphia and Roman Catholic High School.
Mazzoni Center President and Executive Officer Sultan Shakir brings with him years of experience as a community organizer. Prior to starting at Mazzoni earlier this year, Shakir was the executive director of SMYAL, an LGBTQ-youth-services organization in Washington, D.C., and worked for the Human Rights Campaign as a regional field director on the D.C. and Maryland marriage equality campaigns, and as program director of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Project.
Maria Montaño is a communications professional with more than 15 years of experience. Earlier this year, she made history when she became the first openly transgender woman to serve as a mayoral spokesperson in Pittsburgh. Prior to joining the City-County Building, Montaño spent eight years working as a communications specialist for SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, and she has helped workers across the state form unions of their own.
Message Agency is a Philadelphia-based communications specialist that provides strategies and resources for nonprofits, governments, foundations, universities and mission-driven enterprises. Marcus Iannozzi, the company’s founder and principal, grew Message from a solo practice to a thriving social enterprise. In addition to his work at Message, Iannozzi is the founder and co-chair of TransWork, a program of the Independence Business Alliance that aims to increase professional opportunities for transgender people in Philadelphia.
In their role as vice president of project management and customer experience, DeShane Hambrick leads initiatives for Comcast’s Keystone Region, which encompasses swaths of Pennsylvania as well as parts of Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland. Their team manages product launches, retail store openings, construction projects and the overall Xfinity customer experience. Prior to this role, Hambrick oversaw the management of the region’s Xfinity stores and indirect sales team as the senior director of the retail sales channel for the company’s Keystone region.
Bruce Kraus became Pittsburgh’s first LGBTQ elected official when he first won his City Council race in 2008. During his time in office, he has been a strong proponent of civil-rights issues and has sponsored diverse packages of legislation such as the city’s Social Host Ordinance, which aims to prevent underage partying and protect individuals from unsafe conditions created by parties. Kraus, who served with the Allegheny County Human Relations Commission and the city’s Domestic Partner Registry, has most recently been a vocal advocate for gun control.
Steve Rosen has more than 30 years of experience in public relations and marketing. In Rosen’s current role as managing director of Aloysius Butler Clark, he works with clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to health care and hospitality. Clients Rosen has worked with include Arco Chemical, Caron Treatment Centers, DuPont, Fox Rothschild, General Mills, ING Direct, McDonald's, Montefiore Medical Center, the National Museum of American Jewish History, Reed Smith, SCA Americas, Sprint PCS, Sungard and United Healthcare.
When she took office as Montgomery County Clerk of Courts in November 2019, Lori Schreiber became the first lesbian in Pennsylvania to hold a countywide, non-judicial position. In 2005, she became the first openly LGBTQ person to win an election in Montgomery County when she defeated a 24-year incumbent to become an Abington Township commissioner. As commissioner, Schreiber spearheaded the passage of an anti-discrimination ordinance; she is currently sponsoring a township resolution to ban conversion therapy.
Erin Cross’ career with the University of Pennsylvania’s LGBT Center began almost 20 years ago when she was hired as the center’s first full-time program coordinator, and culminated in her being named the center’s director in 2017. Cross, who led the effort to get gender identity added to the university’s nondiscrimination policy, is frequently invited to present at national conferences and consults with Penn and outside K-12 schools, universities and nonprofit and for-profit organizations about LGBTQ issues.
Rue Landau has a lifelong passion for civil rights and social justice as shown by her accomplishments in her previous position. As executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and the Fair Housing Commission, Landau was the first lesbian to lead a civil-rights agency in the city. Under Landau’s leadership, PCHR added significant protections for marginalized communities. Landau recently taught housing law as the Beck Chair at Temple Beasley School of Law until last year.
Before becoming executive director of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, Paul Steinke served on the organization’s board of directors for nearly two decades. Through his work, Steinke has cultivated the public’s interest in appreciating and saving the Philadelphia region’s historic structures. Among Steinke’s other public-private ventures in Philadelphia, he was the general manager of Reading Terminal Market, finance director for the Center City District, and the first executive director of the University City District.
A hallmark of Lauren Vidas’ work is trying to make the inner workings of Philadelphia City Council and the legislative process more accessible and understandable to the general public. Vidas has years of experience navigating state and local politics, making her a trusted adviser to clients across a variety of sectors and a regular contributor to media outlets throughout the state. Vidas, founder of the full-service public strategies firm Enact Strategies, previously held a number of positions in the administration of then-Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.
Terry Mutchler is a champion for access and transparency. As chair of Obermayer’s Transparency and Public Data Practice, she represents hedge funds, pharmaceutical companies, life-sciences companies, medical-marijuana companies and defense contractors. Her practice also helps journalists obtain public records and assists multinational corporations in protecting their information from competitors. Through her work, she helps agencies and corporations comply with transparency law while educating them on the process.\
Prior to taking on his current role with the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, Todd Snovel worked as the vice president for student affairs and community engagement at Pennsylvania College of Art and Design. Prior to that, he was the first executive director for the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, where he served as a bridge between lawmakers and the LGBTQ community. Thanks to his expertise on inclusion and LGBTQ advocacy, Snovel is often sought out for speaking engagements.
Naiymah Sanchez has been active in community advocacy since 2010 – a career and commitment that includes appointments to both the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs and the City of Philadelphia Police Advisory Commission. Sanchez, a trans Philadelphian, is currently the trans justice coordinator for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, where she focuses on ensuring trans and nonbinary voices are part of the conversation about reform and human rights.
Jason Landau Goodman’s LGBTQ activism stretches back for more than a decade. Through his previous work as executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress, Goodman organized statewide campaigns, presented at conferences, delivered testimonies to various government committees and drafted policies to advance welfare for the state’s LGBTQ youth. He currently serves as the organization’s president and as assistant counsel for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
When Jessica Rothchild was elected to Scranton City Council in 2019, she became the first openly gay person to hold such a position in the city. When not addressing the myriad of issues facing Scranton, Rothchild works as a physical therapist and serves in the Pennsylvania Commission for Women and the Scranton Human Relations Commission. She is also vice-chair of the LGBTQ Caucus for the PA Democratic Party.
Iveliz Crespo aids the Reed Smith company in making the legal community more inclusive. Crespo has experience in leading and facilitating training for a wide range of audiences. Previously, Crespo held adjunct roles at Villanova and Temple Law universities and served as the City of Philadelphia Law Department’s director of professional development for diversity and inclusion. Prior to entering the world of diversity and inclusion, they represented marginalized communities as a civil litigator.
As the City of Philadelphia’s chief integrity officer, Sarah Stevenson facilitates transparency and accountability throughout the executive branch – just her latest leadership position in city government. Among Stevenson’s previous postings: the Philadelphia Water Department, where she held numerous positions, including as Acting Water Commissioner in 2019. She also worked for the good-government nonprofit Committee of Seventy, where she focused on municipal policy and election law.
Harry Young has served as the Keystone Business Alliance’s executive director since 2018. Prior to that, Young was the president and CEO of the organization when it was called the Central Pennsylvania Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. The organization rebranded itself in 2018 to signify its growth. In addition to this role, Young works as association services manager at Association Independent Management and sits on the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs.
Through his company, Kory Aversa provides communications services for companies in Philadelphia and South Jersey. The award-winning public relations pro is also very active in the nonprofit community. He has worked with, among others, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, Plays & Players Theatre and People-Pet Partnership. He was the chair and founder of the Nonprofit Resource Committee for Philadelphia’s chapter of the Public Relations Society of America in 2012 and was elected to the board of directors a year later.
Chris Bartlett and Darius McLean have coordinated various efforts to make the William Way LGBT Community Center a thriving center for diversity and community in Philadelphia. Bartlett, the center’s executive director, helped secure a $1 million grant from Gov. Tom Wolf to renovate the center. Meanwhile, as the center’s director of empowerment programs, McLean actively coordinated the center’s senior programming, peer counseling, a wellness initiative and the Arcila-Adams Trans Resource Center.
Joanne M. Carroll serves as executive director of Trans Advocacy Pennsylvania, which provides research, education and advocacy for LGBTQ people in the state. Carroll also serves as a commissioner for the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs; a co-chair of the Keystone Conference, “A Celebration of Gender Diversity”; and as a consultant for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Furthermore, the U.S. Air Force veteran is a member of the Transgender American Veterans Association and the Millersville University President’s Commission on Gender and Sexual Diversity.
University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing Director of Innovation Marion Leary educates nurses to be leaders in health and health-care innovation. Leary, who hosts the Penn Nursing podcast, Amplify Nursing, contributes health-related articles to American Nurse, The Philadelphia Inquirer and other publications. She is a member of the American Nurses Association’s Innovation Advisory Committee and is a founding member of the Society of Nurse Scientists, Innovators, Entrepreneurs and Leaders.
Prior to becoming the interim executive director for The Attic Youth Center, Philadelphia’s only center for LGBTQ youth and young adults, Jasper Liem – an LGBTQ advocate for the past 25 years – had served on the center’s board of directors since 2013 and took on the role of board president in 2020. They also worked in behavioral health consultation at Philadelphia FIGHT’s Y-HEP Adolescent and Young Adult Health Center and also helped develop the center’s gender-affirming health care program.
Deja Lynn Alvarez is no stranger to community organizing. She currently serves as director of community engagement at World Healthcare Infrastructures, LGBTQ Care Coordinator for the Department of Public Health and chair of the Philadelphia Police LGBT Liaison Committee. She is a founding member of various LGBTQ advocacy projects, including the Trans Wellness Program at Philadelphia’s Mazzoni Center, Sisterly Love and the LGBTQ Home for Hope. Alvarez entered the political realm by running for both Philadelphia City Council and the state House in recent years.
As the first openly gay president of The Philadelphia Musicians’ Union, Ellen Trainer had to lead a membership that was forced to completely shut down for crushingly long stretches during the pandemic. With Trainer at the helm, Philadelphia was one of the only locales in the American Federation of Musicians in the U.S. and Canada to grow its membership during the pandemic. She also helped establish the IDEAS (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access and Solidarity) Council for the musician’s union – the first of its kind in the organization.
As the director for faith-based and interfaith affairs for the City of Philadelphia, the Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart serves as a resource for the Mayor’s Office on matters that impact communities of faith. Washington-Leapheart also serves as the manager of the Mayor’s Commission on Interfaith Affairs and is an adjunct professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University. Most recently, she worked as the National LGBTQ Task Force’s faith work director, where she coordinated messaging, leadership development and advocacy for faith communities.
Stephen Kulp, who specializes in complex civil litigation for the Philadelphia-based Tucker Law Group, couldn’t wait to embark on a legal career, as evidenced by his taking part in Drexel University’s BS/JD accelerated degree program so he could matriculate into Drexel’s law school in three years. In addition to his duties for Tucker, Kulp is the chair of the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association – the first Asian American to do so – and co-chair of the Adoptee Committee for the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.
As a past president of Equality Pennsylvania, Michael J. Testa has been recognized by the Pittsburgh Business Times as having one of the top 25 information-technology consulting firms in the city. Testa, author of the book, “When Opposites No Longer Attract,” is secretary of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce’s Three Rivers Business Alliance, and is a founding member and chair of the Gay and Lesbian Executive Committee.
In 2005, Kathy Cameron founded the Washington County Gay-Straight Alliance to provide a safe space for Southwestern Pennyslvania’s LGBTQ community. The organization – which now offers more than 70 days of programming for all ages – was formally founded as a 501 (C)(3) organization in 2012. Cameron currently serves on the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs and has held previous positions as an adviser to a community GSA and as a board member for GLSEN Pittsburgh.
Jim DePoe works to advance the rights of LGBTQ people and elect Democratic candidates who support LGBTQ individuals. DePoe holds positions with the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, PA 250 Commission and IBEW Local Union 29, where he serves as the union’s political director and is primarily responsible for political-program functions.
John “Dez” Easter and Duane “Naheen” Binion founded True T PGH in 2010. The organization provides a platform for LGBTQ resources, arts, activism and entertainment, and builds relationships with individuals and organizations through volunteer work and collaboration. Since 2012, True T PGH has organized the Annual Galaxy Ball series – which has invested more than $50,000 back into Pittsburgh’s local ballroom community – to provide a safe space for LGBTQ people of color.
As the vice president and lead product manager at PNC Bank, Bryan Jeffers is responsible for the product management and client implementation of the bank’s Healthcare Revenue Cycle Automation and the PNC Payment Gateway and Patient Self-Service. Additionally, Jeffers serves as a board member for Three Rivers Business Alliance, which is a chamber and foundation dedicated to making the Pittsburgh and Allegheny region a more welcoming, inclusive and successful business community for LGBTQ people.
Aneesah Smith’s work in social-justice education extends well beyond her title. Smith previously served as director of LGBTQA services at West Chester University, as a health educator at Temple University and as peer mentor coordinator at Community College of Philadelphia. She is often sought out for speaking engagements for local and national conferences. She also advocates for small and Black-owned businesses through her Black Food & Dessert Expo.
Since 2017, Elicia Gonzales has served as the Abortion Liberation Fund of PA’s executive director, where she has led fundraising, administration and programming while spearheading racial- and economic-justice efforts regarding abortion funding. Previously, Gonzales served as executive director of Galaei, as an adjunct professor for Widener University’s Center for Human Sexuality Studies, and as a commissioner for the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs. She currently serves on the Bread and Roses Community Fund board and as a member of Philly Pride Collective.
Carrie Santoro, the interim executive director of Pennsylvania Stands Up, a statewide volunteer advocacy organization, can trace the birth of her activism to the 2016 presidential election. In response to her growing frustration with what she saw as a lack of responsiveness from elected officials in her area, Santoro began her own chapter of the activist group “Tuesdays with Toomey” – which hosts weekly demonstrations outside U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s office – in the Lehigh Valley area.
Bill McGlinn was appointed as interim executive director for Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center in March but his work with the center began well before that. After retiring from his position as director of corporate, foundation and government relations at Muhlenberg College, McGlinn became a key volunteer at the Allentown organization. His work includes serving as chair of the center’s gala committee and the Campaign for Equity, which ultimately retired its mortgage.
DaVona Pacley is a trained birth doula and a co-founder and board member of Erie’s Black Wall Street, whose stated mission is “to create a culture of Black Excellence and Wealth in Erie that serves as an inspiration for generations to come.” She is a member of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs and co-founder of Hearth Folk Collective, which creates spaces for healers of all backgrounds. She also launched the Our Erie Series podcast, which brings together citizens and leaders to discuss the societal issues facing Erie and the country at large.
Brittany Kohler’s trajectory with the Montgomery County LGBT Business Council has been nothing short of dizzying. Shortly after moving to North Wales last September, Kohler was voted in as a board member before getting elected president this past March. As president, Kohler aims to expand the council’s membership base, promote LGBTQ and ally businesses in the area, and be the gateway to LGBTQ commerce in Montgomery County and beyond.
In addition to providing writing, communications and media-consulting services through his company, Ernest Owens holds many leadership positions in the Philadelphia media world. The award-winning journalist is the editor-at-large for Philadelphia Magazine, president of the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists, host of the podcast Ernestly Speaking!, and author of the upcoming book, “The Case for Cancel Culture.” He has made headlines for speaking frankly about issues on race, the LGBTQ community and popular culture.
As chair of the PGH Equality Center, Patrick Zbašnik provides education, advocacy and social justice for LGBTQ people and allies in western Pennsylvania. He also serves as program director for Penn Residential, Inc., which delivers residential and community resources to people with intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders and other needs related to behavioral health. Zbašnik also facilitates a monthly cancer support group through Cancer Bridges.
Bryan Tate oversees proceedings of the Orphans’ Court, administers estates and collects inheritance taxes. In addition to his work for the county, Tate helps community foundations across the country grow their discretionary assets through his firm, Building Unrestricted. Prior to becoming Register of Wills, Bryan Tate worked with the York County Community Foundation, the York County Estate Planning Council, Leave a Legacy York, and as chief of staff for Common Pleas Judge Todd R. Platts.
Before accepting the role as executive director for the LGBT Center of Greater Reading, Michelle Dech volunteered with the nonprofit and worked as secretary of the board of directors and assistant to the executive director. Before joining the center, Dech worked as a regional manager with Kitchen Collection, a home-goods store. While in that role, Dech also helped develop training sessions, panel discussions and cultural competency with the company’s diversity and inclusion task force.
Greg DeShields is the executive director of Tourism Diversity Matters, which advocates for an inclusive workforce and guest experience in the tourism and events industry. He is a Qualified Tourism/Hospitality and Academic Professional Certified Hospitality Educator, and an Experienced Certified Diversity Executive. Prior to his work with Tourism Diversity Matters, DeShields held positions with the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, the City of Philadelphia and Temple University.
For more than 10 years, Ashley L. Coleman has been a fixture in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community. Coleman, a former high school educator in North Philadelphia and owner of the community-forward nonprofit event company, Bash Events, was the general conference coordinator for the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference, the world’s largest trans-specific conference, from 2016 to 2019. Since last year, she has served as the executive director of Galaei, a social justice organization for queer and trans, Black, indigenous and people of color.
Sergio Cea works as the electoral organizer for Reclaim Philadelphia, which claims to aim to restore political power back to the people through supporting progressive candidates and policies. During his time at Reclaim, Cea helped found the organization’s Queer and POC Caucuses and co-hosted the first season of Reclaim’s podcast, Our Political Moment. Cea previously served as a Democratic committee person in the 46th ward and as a pledged PLEO (Party Leader and Elected Officials) delegate for the 2020 Democratic National Convention.
As the CEO of HRT Solutions, Jessica Eberley, who founded the company in 2016, has leveraged her experience in talent acquisition to help build the business, which provides recruitment process outsourcing, human resources outsourcing and university relations outsourcing. The Penn State University graduate has worked in a wide array of fields throughout her career, including retail, consumer packaged goods and hospitality.
As vice president of people technology for Avalara, Jamar Johnson-Thompson oversees all technology supporting the software company’s People & Culture organization. Prior to taking on this role, Johnson-Thompson was the vice president and global head of human resources technology for AmerisourceBergen, where he coordinated technology supporting human resources, learning and development, recruitment, payroll and benefits. He is a member of the boards of Arena Analytics and Uplift: The Center for Grieving Children.
Dr. Tyler Titus is a licensed professional counselor, advocate, trauma specialist and elected school-board director. When Titus was elected to a school board seat in 2017, they became the first elected transgender official in Pennsylvania. Titus founded Compton’s Table, an Erie-based nonprofit providing resources to queer youth. They also serve as co-vice chair of the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs and as the president of the Erie School Board. Titus was also the Democratic nominee for Erie County Executive in 2021.
Steve Preston works as the chief program officer at Share Food Program, which delivers food to those in need across southeastern Pennsylvania. He balances his work responsibilities with being a board member for the Clean Air Council, Liberty City LGBTQ Democratic Club, and FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter Program. Preston’s previous work includes multiple roles in Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration, where he helped lead efforts to pass Philadelphia’s beverage tax, and with former President Barack Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.
Sarah Rosso is the executive director of Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation, a Pittsburgh nonprofit that provides services and support to LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS communities. Rosso has served the LGBTQ community for nearly two decades in professional and volunteer roles, including currently serving on the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs as co-chair of the Youth and Young Adult Committee, and as co-chair for Pittsburgh’s LGBTQIA+ Commission. This year, Rosso was instrumental in establishing and implementing groundbreaking foster parent training requirements in Allegheny County.
Ted Martin, who currently serves as the director of economic development marketing for the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development, has spent more than 30 years in communications, nonprofit management, public service and advocacy. His previous roles include working as a legislative staffer for the Committee on Education and Labor of the U.S. House of Representatives and as the executive director of the statewide LGBTQ-advocacy organization, Equality Pennsylvania.
Since 1990, Nora Lichtash has served as executive director of the Women’s Community Revitalization Project, the multi-racial community development organization committed to providing economic and social equity for low-income women and their families. Most recently, the group has been organizing to ensure that long-term residents have the ability to not be pushed out of housing due to high costs. As part of this work, they have created the Community Justice Land Trust.
Jim Sheppard and Jeff Freedman founded Pittsburgh’s online-only LGBTQ newspaper, QBurgh, in 2020. The publication provides LGBTQ news and community resources for readers in Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania. As the website’s “About” page states, QBurgh is “always by the LGBTQ Community and always for the LGBTQ Community. We strive to bring diverse voices to the table and celebrate the community that we love.” Freedman, who was one of the founders of the Steel City Softball League in the 1980s, has served as chair of the Pride Parade in Pittsburgh as well as of Pride in Salt Lake City, while Sheppard served on the city’s Human Relations Commission during the Peduto administration.
With their perspective as a somatic trauma therapist and LGBTQ advocate, K. Foley observed deficiencies in support available to Lancaster’s LGBTQ community. This led them to co-found Lancaster LGBTQ+ Coalition – Lancaster’s first LGBTQ community center – in 2019, where they are now the executive director. The center now provides an LGBTQ subsidized housing program, a health consortium, a low-cost LGBTQ health clinic, and legal services along with a community hub and performance venue.
When she was appointed as executive director of the LGBT Center of Central PA in 2017, Amanda Arbour brought a wealth of experience to the role. She previously worked as the racial-justice program coordinator at the YWCA Greater Harrisburg, as legislative liaison for the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, and as interim coordinator of local community service for the Agape Center for Service and Learning at Messiah College.
Stephanie Haynes’ career with Philadelphia Family Pride began 14 years ago with a stint as a part-time community coordinator. Since then, Haynes worked with the board to organize and promote events for LGBTQ parents and their children, including family zones at Pride events, picnics, potlucks and the organization’s annual conference. Haynes, who became PFP’s executive director in 2014, volunteers with the Philadelphia Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs.
As Comcast’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, Klayton Fennell is responsible for oversight of local government affairs operations in the communities the company serves and provides local regulatory, political and policy guidance to corporate-based teams. He was one of the first out LGBTQ+ leaders when he joined Comcast in 2001, and is the Principal for LGBTQ+ External Affairs as well as being actively involved in Comcast’s Internal Diversity Council, and OUT, Comcast’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group.
Mary Catherine Roper has dedicated her career to helping people through practicing law. Before joining Langer Grogan & Diver P.C., where she is of counsel, Roper was the longtime deputy legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, where she led the organization’s efforts to protect civil liberties. Roper has also focused on engaging the next generation of public interest lawyers by teaching trial skills at Temple University and mentoring students pursuing such a career.
As the founder and executive director of SisTers PGH, Ciora Thomas advocates for the social and economic rights of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County’s transgender community. The longtime activist led the organization to open Pittsburgh’s only trans-owned-and-operated community center and housing program. Since 2017, she has also led People’s Pride PGH, an alternative Pride event dedicated to spotlighting the city’s marginalized voices. Thomas’ work within the LGBTQ community also includes chair positions on the Pittsburgh Mayor's LGBTQIA+ Advisory Council and the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs.
Since its December 1992 founding, Michael Mahler has served as co-editor of Erie Gay News and was one of the first openly gay voices in Erie County when he came out months earlier while appearing on local TV coverage. When not editing his publication, Mahler is a programmer and analyst for Erie Custom Computer Applications and serves on the Erie Mayor’s LGBTQ Advisory Council, as well as on the boards for Community Health Net and Drenched Fur, and is a founding member of NW PA Pride Alliance.
Martin J. Healey serves as the CEO of Persad Center, which provides resources and support for the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS communities in western Pennsylvania. Healey has a wealth of experience serving on numerous boards, committees and organizations. These include serving on the Lupus Foundation and Allies for Health + Wellbeing. Additionally, he served as vice president of the Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh, an LGBTQ advocacy organization.
After spending time in jail on false charges, LaTonya “T” Myers has since dedicated herself to reforming the justice system. She was the first-ever Bail Navigator for the Defender Association of Philadelphia, which provides free legal representation to 70% of the people arrested in the city; worked for the Philadelphia Bail Fund; and founded the nonprofit Above All Odds, which helps returning citizens address the root causes of incarceration, such as housing and financial literacy.
Kira Kinsman has more than 35 years of architectural-design experience, which she has put to good use both at Williams Kinsman Lewis Architecture and with nonprofit organizations. Kinsman, who has been on the Pennsylvania State Architect’s Licensure Board and the Northeastern PA Chapter of the American Institute of Architects, has been honored for her work by, among others, the Northeast Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Institute of Architects Design Awards Program and the Sustainable Energy Fund of Central Eastern Pennsylvania.
He may currently reside in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but Stephen P. Carlino continues to make an impact in Pennsylvania. After careers working with adolescents and then in title insurance, the Philadelphia native followed his dream of becoming the proprietor of a bar and restaurant serving the LGBTQ community. In 2004, Carlino purchased the Philadelphia LGBTQ bar Tavern on Camac before expanding his operations in the city to include UBar, as well as partnerships in Tabu Sports Bar & Lounge and Otto’s Taproom & Grille.
Prior to becoming a stay-at-home parent for his two children, Nathaniel Yap spent 17 years in the investment management industry. Yap has sought opportunities to influence Pennsylvania and the country through political activism. This includes serving as the Pennsylvania State Director for Ascend PAC, now part of Run for Something. Currently, Yap is focusing on voter engagement, volunteer recruitment and campaign fundraising for Democratic candidates.
Tony Brooks has served as the director and curator for the Wilkes-Barré Preservation Society since 2018. A Wilkes-Barre City Council member since 2015, Brooks is also well-known for his tours of downtown Wilkes-Barre, the Luzerne County Court House and Hollenback Cemetery. In addition to these roles, Brooks serves as a board member of the Diamond City Partnership and as treasurer of the Downtown Residents’ Association.
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