Friends and family and the LGBTQ community at large are mourning the loss of a pioneer in LGBTQ civil rights. Gloria Casarez passed away this weekend after battling a long bout with an aggressive form of cancer. She was 42-years-old and is survived by her strong and compassionate wife, Tricia Dressel.
In 2008, Casarez became Philadelphia’s LGBT Office director and played an important role in the creation of Mayor Michael Nutter’s Advisory Board on LGBT Affairs. During her tenure, Casarez focused on health, city services, civil rights and other policies for the administration.
Born in Philadelphia and raised in Kensington, Casarez graduated from West Chester University with degrees in criminal justice and political science.
She was the founding member and community organizer of Empty the Shelters, a national housing rights and economic justice organization. Casarez served as the coordinator for the LGBT Center at the University of Pennsylvania. She was also executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative (GALAEI) in Philadelphia from 1999 to 2008. During her time with GALAEI, Casarez increased resources and developed programs serving men of color and the transgender community.
In 2012, Philadelphia was named the second best city in the country for LGBT equality by the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, largely because of Casarez’s efforts. Philadelphia originally scored a 90 on the MEI but after a conference call with Gloria, Philadelphia had a perfect score of 100! And in 2013, Philadelphia was named the No. 1 city in the country for LGBT equality by the HRC, and again, mainly because of Casarez’s efforts.
In her words, “[o]ur ranking in the Municipal Equality Index reflects this work and demonstrates the ways in which Philadelphia leads on LGBT rights.”
Gloria’s great accomplishment, however, cannot be honored with a plaque or a medal — it is not tangible. It is in the community she bred wherever she went. It is in the camaraderie she garnered with whomever she met. It is in the love that she spread with not only the entire LGBTQ community but society at large.
Gloria was one of the humblest people I had the pleasure of knowing — a true “civil servant.” She served at the behest of her values and beliefs and for the betterment of all, not her own. In these endeavors, she never wavered.
Gloria Casarez was a force to be reckoned with. She never backed down from opposition or challenges and lived consistently according to her principles. She taught people without making them feel like students and she led people without making them feel like followers; she exemplified the truest definition of a leader.
She will be missed physically but as she wanted, her life’s work, legacy and spirit will live on in each of us.