Celebrating the Life of Gloria Casarez

BY: LAUREN ZUMPANO & ANGELA THOMAS

On October 19, the world lost a truly remarkable woman when Gloria Casarez passed away at the age of 42 after a valiant battle with cancer. Gloria was the city’s director of LGBT affairs, founding member of the Philadelphia Dyke March, and a long-time community activist for marginalized communities, but she was so much more than that to so many people.

Below are various reflections from friends, colleagues and associates of Gloria:

eliciaandgloria

Gloria & Elicia Gonzales

“When I think of Gloria, I think of her amazing Biggie Smalls karaoke rendition of “Juicy.” I think of her dancing her ass off at New Year’s Eve – both at Stimulus and at the little dance party at my house for 2014. I think of her stubbornness in thinking SHE would be the one to conquer the hammock at our friend’s house (only to flip around and land on her ass).

I think of us taking smack about all that is fucked up in the LGBT community. I remember the advice she gave me when I first became ED about learning to say “no” “cause people will pick the skin right off your bones.” I remember her rocking out to rock band at her house. I remember her helping me through my breakup. I remember singing along to freestyle songs. I remember her “arresting” me when I was a chola gangster and she was kojak. I remember bum rushing the stage with her to get as close as possible to Lauryn Hill. I remember her laugh, her fire, her seriousness, her goofiness, her kindness, and her friendship. I can’t believe she is gone, but am happy she is at peace.

One last thing – Gloria totally appreciated and celebrated my love for cured meat and made sure she served it whenever I was going over.” – Elicia Gonzales, Executive Director, GALAEI

 

We worked together on the 2012 Transgender Day of Remembrance proclamation. I approached Gloria about doing a mayoral proclamation for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. She was more than eager to make it happen, and even let me aid in the drafting, and she was able to turn it around in a really short time. She gave credit where it was due, she never played respectability politics, and she always involved the most marginalized in important tasks. She never forgot where she came from, and to continue to strive to make this city better would be the ultimate tribute.” – Jordan Gwendolyn Davis, Philadelphia Transgender Activist

 

Gloria with members of the Philadelphia Dyke March

Gloria with members of the Philadelphia Dyke March

“In the years that I’ve know Gloria, we shared many moments together, many conversations, many rooms, and many stages. My favorite by far, was always the Philadelphia Dyke March. Every year I managed the Philly Dyke March performance stage, the most important spot was held for Gloria. As a dynamic speaker, she could electrify any part of the lineup but for years, I put her as my anchor right before step-off. Her familiar voice recalled the history and purpose of the march and served as the galvanizing call to action we needed. She was in charge of rallying of the troops..sending out the battle cry. For all intents and purposes, Gloria Casarez was our warrior and she led like no one else. That stage will never be the same without her.

To be honest, it can be intimidating to plan an event when the original organizers did such a beautiful and thorough job in the first place. But Gloria never made the current organizers feel insecure or inferior about our vision. She supported us with steadfast reassurance, offered advice when we asked and lent her voice to the cause year in and year out. At the end of each march, it was Gloria I’d look to and I’d always find the ultimate comfort in her wide smile and glistening eyes as she’d say “Amber, this was the best one yet.” Every year. I don’t even know if she understood how much those few small words meant. Her support, her approval…it was everything in the world to us.

Today, the thought of next June is terrifying. It feels impossible to imagine marching on without her by our sides. I don’t know how we’ll do it, but I do know that when we do find the willpower to march, it will be Gloria’s strength in our steps, her words in our mouths, and her passion in our hearts. She will fuel our purpose as she always has and at the end of each year, I know we’ll hear her in the wind whispering, “This was the best one yet.” – Amber Hikes, Co-Founder, Stimulus Productions & Dyke March Organizer

 

“I met Gloria when I was a student, and meeting her encouraged me to continue my activist work beyond college. The fact that our City had an LGBT liaison and that, she was amazing, helped reinforce my desire to stay here in Philadelphia. Gloria may not have realized how many people watched and admired her from afar as I did, from the time I was at Penn, my first job at CHOP, and now working for Rep. Sims.

I remember one moment in particular that showed me humility despite her high profile leadership role. At a William Way event, I approached her to thank her for her for her remarks and work in the community. She flipped it back on me and said “no, thank YOU for all the work you’re doing.” I had just graduated, still in search of what my new identify post being a student, and her words meant the world to me. She would always pivot from a compliment given to her and share credit with a team, or flip it, and tell you how much she appreciated you. Gloria was one of the few I’ve met who balanced her confident leadership with a brave humility. She is loved and is already very missed.” – Anna Aagenes, Deputy Chief of Staff for Rep. Brian Sims and GO!Athletes Executive Director

 

Gloria & Kate Hinchey

Gloria & Kate Hinchey

I don’t know that I have one story because Gloria made sure that every experience I, and so many others in the community, had with her felt like a growing experience. She took the time to call people out on their privilege and she took the time to make sure no one was left behind.

Luckily for me, she also took the time to make sure that every community leader that she came in contact with felt supported and special. Even just in that moment, she made me feel like my work mattered, even though it is only a speck on the face of the queer community of Philadelphia. She always asked what was going on and never hesitated to offer help or recount a story of how she had overcome a similar challenge. I not only feel safe in this city because of Gloria’s work but I feel like I am a part of what makes that happen, which is exactly what she wanted.” – Kate Hinchey, Dyke March Organizer, Communications & Development Associate at the William Way LGBT Community Center

 

“Upon being appointed LGBT Liaison to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, Gloria Casarez was the very first person I met with. That first meeting was filled with optimism, shared vision, laughter, and insight. As the trains rumbled below City Hall, Gloria graciously and openly shared her history, goals, and hopes for the city we both love so much. In that first meeting I knew how lucky I was to have met this incredible person.

I will be forever grateful for the life and work of Gloria Casarez – a fierce advocate, consummate professional, fellow dyke, colleague, and friend. For Gloria, the legacy of advocating for equality that she leaves behind will forever touch the lives of the citizens of Philadelphia and beyond. The changes she fought for, her life’s work, is all around us: from the laws and ordinances that protect us to the rallies and marches that bring us together. As we all move forward and continue to organize, grow, build community, fight for those who are marginalized and/or stigmatized, foster safety, demand accountability, push for true equality, and create a better world for everyone, I know that Gloria will be there with us.

‘Everyone must leave something behind when he dies,’ my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.” ― Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 – Nellie Fitzpatrick, Assistant District Attorney, Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office & LGBT Liason 

 

Gloria, Nikki (back row, second fro left) and friends

Gloria, Nikki (back row, second from left) and friends

“I first met Gloria in the spring of 2011 when we both sat on a panel at my alma mater. The panel was meant to showcase latin@s working in the social justice field in Philadelphia. After hearing her story and of her work, I knew I was in the presence of a legend. Gloria embodied everything that is embodied of a revolutionary leader- she was forthright, fair, always seeking justice, humble, down to earth and had an amazing sense of humor. She was one who truly lived and thrived in the realm of all her border identities as Anzaldua wrote- from a working class background, queer, woman, latina. She knew all her identities matter, all were worth fighting for.

She lived every day of her life, showing that we exist, that our communities exist, that we are powerful. Her passing feels like the passing of a great leader in a revolution. Because this was our leader in our fight for social justice for all people who live in on the margins. We continue our fight for Gloria, we continue our revolution for her.” – Nikki Lopez, writer, & former Youth Program at GALAEI

Gloria is survived by her wife, Tricia; their families and close friends; and the entire LGBT community in Philadelphia, whose lives she made better with her passion, hard-work, and enthusiasm, and her light will live on through her legacy.

 

Public funeral service will be held 10:30 a.m., Friday, October 24 at Arch Street United Methodist Church, 55 N. Broad St. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions are graciously being accepted by the WCU Foundation in support of the Gloria Casarez Leadership Scholarship. Please make checks payable to “WCU Foundation,” Memo: In Memory of Gloria Casarez, and mail to PO Box 541 West Chester, PA 19381.

One Comment

  1. Sue Pozniak says:

    I was honored to know Gloria for most if not all of her life…she was an amazing woman and will be deeply missed by MANY!!!

    Reply

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