Friends and family are mourning a local pioneer in LGBT civil rights. Gloria Casarez died over the weekend after battling cancer. She was 42-years-old.
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 2008, Casarez became the city’s LGBT Office director and played an important role in the creation of Mayor Michael Nutter’s Advisory Board on LGBT Affairs. During her time as director, Casarez focused on health, city services, civil rights and other policies for the administration.
In 2012, Philadelphia was named the second best city in the country for LGBT equality by the Human Rights Campaign Municipal Equality Index, largely because of Casarez’s efforts.
Casarez received several honors for her civil rights work, including a Community Service Award from the NAACP, the Cheryl Ingram Advocate for Justice Award from the Philadelphia Bar Association and the Kiyoshi Kuromiya Award for Justice from Philadelphia FIGHT.
"Gloria was a fun, serious, strong and kind person who always wanted to do more for others and who fought for equality of rights for all people. She was a clear, strong voice to the LGBTQ community in Philadelphia and across America,” wrote Mayor Nutter in a released statement.
“We all loved Gloria's commitment and spirit. She was a fighter and champion, personally and professionally. I knew when I met her that I had found the right person to serve as the Director of the LGBT Office, but more importantly, that I had met a great person. Her judgment and influence were felt throughout the Administration on a broad range of issues.
Casarez is survived by her wife Tricia Dressel.