For Women’s History Month, GO is celebrating LGBTQ women we wish we could have learned about in high school history class.
Gloria Casarez was the first-ever director of the Mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs in Philadelphia, Pa., and an activist in both the LGBTQ and Latino communities. A Philly native, Casarez was heavily involved in local politics and was a founding member of the Philadelphia Dyke March, as well as having served as the executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative.
While in college at West Chester University, Casarez studied political science and criminal justice. “At the time, I thought I was going to be a lawyer,” she told EPGN in 2010. “But I got really active in student government and activism on campus. I started learning about cities and how they worked and didn’t work and wanted to connect back to Philadelphia and do some community organizing.”
In 2009, Casarez was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and began blogging about her experiences with chemo. Two years later, she married her partner, Tricia Dressel, in Manhattan in 2011 three weeks after same-sex marriage became legal in New York State, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter oversaw the commitment ceremony at their 10-year anniversary party that September, the first same-sex ceremony he would ever perform.
Despite her health issues, Casarez continued her community organizing efforts. She led the Philadelphia Latino community in saving La Milagrosa, Philly’s first Spanish-speaking church that Casarez’s great grandparents had helped to establish in the early 1900s. Before passing away in 2014, she spoke at the fifth annual City of Philadelphia LGBT History Month Celebration and Flag Raising Ceremony at City Hall. After her death, Mayor Nutter hosted a flag-lowering at the same location in her honor.