LGBT Affairs Commission ousts chair for 'attacks' on members

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Sharron Cooks, who was elected chair of the 23-person Commission on LGBT Affairs in April, had called an emergency meeting Tuesday night to discuss commission concerns and complaints raised over several weeks. The board voted her out at the meeting.

The chair of Philadelphia’s Commission on LGBT Affairs was ousted from her post Tuesday night by fellow commissioners after making offensive comments about race, gender, and sexual orientation, city officials said Thursday.

Sharron Cooks, who was elected chair of the 23-person commission in April, had called an emergency meeting to discuss commission concerns and complaints raised over several weeks, city spokeswoman Ajeenah Amir said. The board voted, 13-3 with three abstentions, to remove Cooks as chair. Cooks then  decided to resign from the commission. The news of her resignation was first reported by Philadelphia Magazine's web channel G Philly.

Cooks, a consultant and community organizer, was a delegate from Pennsylvania at the 2016 Democratic National Convention and the first transgender woman to chair a city commission. She did not return calls for comment but told G Philly that her “entire career in activism and leadership was narrowed down by several social media posts some commission members described as ‘the worst thing they have ever seen.' "

“I was accused of ‘attacking' the white race and accused of ‘attacking’ the bisexual community,” she said.

Some of the comments related to a white, bisexual female board member. Screenshots of Facebook messages obtained by the Inquirer and Daily News show Cooks questioned whether the woman should be on the commission.

“Truth be told white girl you only got your slot because you used to be an Assistant City Solicitor,” one post reads.

“We have people out here ‘claiming’ LGBTQ identities to further their own personal self interest which takes opportunities away from those who have always lived in their truth, are most vulnerable and marginalized," another post reads. "And no, that time You kissed a girl in college during a Katy Perry concert doesn’t count."

Amber Hikes, the city’s director of LGBT Affairs, said Thursday that the woman targeted was doing outreach work at her behest. 

“I tasked the community outreach committee with beginning the conversations, and she was trying to carry out that work, and that was the impetus for some of these attacks,” she said.

This is not the first time Cooks’ social media posts have been questioned. In March, a since-deleted Facebook post prompted James Duggan, a blogger for QUEERtimes, to call for Cooks' resignation from the commission.

“If you take 'one drop' of any person of color’s blood and combined that with blood of non people of color, you’ll always be able to tell. Which illustrates our superior genetics,” the post read.

Hikes said the commission, created this year, would discuss creating social media guidelines at its next meeting in June.

“We really shouldn’t have to have a policy around attacking people in our community. That isn’t something that should have to be in our guidelines,” Hikes said. “No one’s interested in tone policing or telling people how they can approach these systems, but if we're going to dismantle things, we’re going to dismantle systems, we’re not attacking people.”

A new chair may be elected at the commission’s June 6 meeting. The change at the helm comes three months after the city’s director of LGBT Affairs, Nellie Fitzpatrick, was fired. Fitzpatrick was replaced after complaints that she was slow to respond to issues of racism and discrimination in the Gayborhood.

Hikes was named in February to replace Fitzpatrick. Since then, City Council has passed a bill that allows the Human Rights Commission to shut down businesses that discriminate.

“Racism and discrimination have been present in the LGBTQ community as long as they’ve been present, period,” Hikes said. “We’re finally combating these issues, but there’s no blueprint for how this conversation can happen, and it is as ugly and messy as conversations on race always are.”