The city's director of LGBT affairs was fired from her job Monday, the same date a new replacement was named.
Helen L. "Nellie" Fitzpatrick was ousted from her $90,000-a-year job amid heightened criticism over the city’s handling of racial tension and discrimination in the Gayborhood.
Fitzpatrick was fired Monday morning, the same day the administration named her replacement, Amber Hikes, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Social Work Program and a former community organizer in Philadelphia now working in California.
“I did not initiate this move but I’m happy to move on,” Fitzpatrick said. “I was looking to return to the practice of law anyway. It was an honor to serve the city in this capacity for two years.”
Ajeenah Amir, spokeswoman for the mayor’s office, confirmed that Fitzpatrick was fired.
“While we did have a different vision for the office moving forward, we are very appreciative of Nellie’s work,” Amir said. “She has done much in service of the LGBT people of Philadelphia, especially in the area of criminal justice reform and implicit bias training for the successful 2017 Mummers Parade. We wish her well in her future endeavors.”
Fitzpatrick, 36, had led the office since Mayor Michael A. Nutter appointed her in December 2014. Several groups, specifically the Black and Brown Workers Collective, had been calling for Fitzpatrick’s departure since October, when the owner of the bar iCandy was caught on video using a racial slur. The incident sparked more widespread reports of dress codes and bar policies that discriminated against black and transgender people.
Fitzpatrick said she saw her termination as the administration’s response to some of those public calls for her job within the community. “I believe they’re looking to make this more of an outward-facing office, more of a community-facing office,” she said.
Hikes, who will take over the post March 6, is director of Upward Bound, a student service program at California State University-Long Beach, which provides education resources to underserved students.
“My diverse experiences in the vibrant Philadelphia LGBTQ community first as a student, then as a professional, then as a business owner and finally as a community leader, afford me the unique opportunities to view LGBTQ community work in this city from multiple vantage points,” Hikes said in a statement. “I'm eager to serve my community during this pivotal time by increasing the accessibility of the office, listening to community members, and implementing initiatives to serve LGBTQ Philadelphians more efficiently and effectively.”
Hikes previously sat on the board of the William Way LGBT Community Center and was an organizer for the Philadelphia Dyke March. A news release announcing her hiring said she would focus on community organizing and engagement as well as "inward-facing policy work."
Fitzpatrick, who worked as an assistant district attorney prior to coming to City Hall, said her focus was more internal, specifically on policy and legal matters important to the LGBT community but perhaps less visible to her critics. She also noted that the issue of discrimination in the LGBT community goes back decades.
“I’ve known, and I believe the protesters knew and still do know, that a single person in a government job for only two years can’t end racial discrimination, but I certainly was happy to do my job and to bring the attention straight into the mayor’s office,” she said.
Under her tenure, the city passed a gender-neutral bathroom bill and a bill to end conversion therapy, and a charter change enabled the position of the director of the Office of LGBT Affairs to became permanent.
Fitzpatrick will go into private criminal defense and civil rights work with an emphasis on the LGBT community. Her advice for Hikes — whom she knows — is that you can’t please everyone.
“One person in this office that represents such an incredibly complex and diverse community will never be able to meet the needs of the entire community,” she said. “I think it’s most important to always remember you must serve the most vulnerable and the most marginalized amongst us.”