Amber Hikes has had many a fire to flame or put out since being named by the mayor’s office as the executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs in February. Along with happily filling the leadership ranks of the Commission on LGBT Affairs with people of color, Philly’s Hikes – a black queer woman – has tended to take on issues of racism and bigotry in the Gayborhood from all fronts.
“I’d rather be busy than bored, but setting priorities for the most vulnerable marginalized population within the LGBTQ community has been the most important thing on my agenda,” Hikes said of elevating inclusion, data collection and public safety, and looking after all racially unjust issues. “When we’re talking about discrimination in the LGBT community, it’s not just about black people, but Asian and islander community members as well. That’s a national problem that’s been part of us since this nation was founded. I’m only here three months, but we’re taking steps in the right direction.”
One step is working with the Philadelphia Commission of Human Relations, which has just completed sensitivity training with Gayborhood bar owners, focusing on people of all races, for example. Another happy circumstance comes in time for this weekend’s PrideFest and parade, with the city’s Pride flag getting an addition of black and brown stripes atop the traditional six-color rainbow layout. Originally created by Gilbert Baker in 1978 (who passed this March), the rainbow motif was modified by the graphic designers at Philly’s Tierney Communication.
“During my first few weeks in office in March, Tierney came to me, excited about this agency and my new direction for the office … and had already been working on plans for a flag due to their own vision of inclusivity,” Hikes said. “Their flag wasn’t just about easing racial tensions in the city, but to address a long, overdue conversation here. They thought that this would be a great symbolic measure as part of our commitment to tackling those issues.”
And Hikes’ reaction when she first saw the flag? “Quite frankly, I teared up. I fell in love with it.”
“As an agency, we’re committed and devoted to diversity and inclusion – truly passionate about it,” said Teri Terbec, a creative director with Tierney, who along with the design/advertising firm’s Diane DiCicco, was directly involved in forging the Pride Day flag and working on the “More Color More Pride” campaign with the Mayor’s office. “We didn’t just want to talk about it but do something.”
Last fall, before Hikes came to the Office of LGBT Affairs, they and Tierney’s creatives started a dialogue about new images of inclusivity, and the flag seemed like a great start. “When Hikes saw the flag, she said she saw herself,” said Terbec.
The new Pride flag is wonderfully symbolic and a solid identification of pursuing and maintaining inclusivity – not a solution, but rather a first step. Some in the LGBTQ community, however, say a flag is not enough and are skeptical and angered by the showiness around the display.
“I’ve heard the comments,” said Hikes, who has been an activist since taking her first baby steps. “I don’t understand ‘anger’ as a reaction to a symbol of inclusivity. Does more have to be done? Of course it does. A flag does not solve racism.”
A symbol is only as good as the action behind it – something Hikes is appreciative of hearing from all concerned in the community, LGBTQ or not.
“Anyone who knows there is more to be done is welcome to join our conversation, to be supportive of inclusivity,” she said.