Philadelphia Selected The First Openly Trans Woman To Lead A City Office or Department

Supermajority Education Fund

February 10, 2020

Celena Morrison was selected to lead Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs at the end of January. Morrison, who previously served as the director of programs at the William Way LGBT Community Center, a community center that supports and advocates for queer people and allies in Philadelphia, will be the first openly trans person to lead the office. She is likely the first openly trans person to lead a city office or department in Philadelphia. The office’s top job has been open since July, and Morrison will start in March.

“I can think of no better place to institute meaningful change than inside City Hall,” Morrison said in a statement to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “As a black trans woman, I have experienced firsthand the transphobia, workplace discrimination, and many other challenges that face our community. All of this motivates me to fight relentlessly for my fellow LGBTQ+ siblings.”

Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs, which was previously led by Amber Hikes, a black queer woman and community advocate, is the leading advocate for queer people in the city’s government. In 2019, the office helped pass legislation to protect trans and nonbinary Philadelphians from discrimination and make the legal definition of “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” more inclusive, among other protections. To this end, Morrison’s predecessor introduced a more inclusive pride flag with black and brown flags.

It’s important to have trans people at the table setting policy, National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling told Supermajority News. “If you don’t have a say in policies that impact you, you can get eaten,” Keisling told Supermajority News. “Trans people have seen that forever.”

For Philadelphia — a city with a thriving LGBTQ population that’s reckoning with racism within the community and striving for better treatment by police — having an advocate at the highest levels of city government will lead to positive outcomes, according to Keisling. “The mayor of Philadelphia having a senior adviser who is a trans person will affect more people. Having [Morrison] there will really impact people across the board,” she said. 

But the appointment of Morrison to run a city office is about more than just the city office. It puts Morrison on the same path of being a “possibility model,” a term used by Emmy Award-winning producer and actress Laverne Cox. 

“This year we’re going to see so many people elected to state legislatures,” Keisling said, citing races in Delaware and North Carolina. “When these things happen, it creates possibility for trans kids who might not have noticed before. They take their role as a possibility model super seriously. They’re kind and generous about it. It helps kids, and it helps adults have hope.”