Passionate and Full of Life: Remembering Gloria Casarez
The early days of Project HOME were a time of much ferment in the struggle against homelessness in Philadelphia. The numbers of persons on the streets were very high, city and private services were stretched to the limit, and public antagonism was growing. Many groups were involved in creative efforts of advocacy and political action to raise the issue and push for justice.
One of these groups was a motley band of students from around the country and region who came together to form “Empty the Shelters.” With great zeal and energy, these students engaged in creative acts to push for solutions to homelessness – including marches and protests, voter registration, and helping to develop a street newspaper. Working closely with groups like the Committee for Dignity and Fairness for the Homeless and the Union of the Homeless, they were clear that a key component of their efforts was to highlight the empowerment and leadership of persons who had experienced homelessness and to support their work.
The Empty the Shelters students were valuable partners in the early work and advocacy efforts of Project HOME. In fact, at our 1515 Fairmount residence, there is a marker beside the door of room 207 honoring their work (and the specific work of Kathy Sullivan, one of the leaders of Empty the Shelters, who was tragically killed when struck on her bike by a drunk driver).
That history comes back to us this week, with great reverence and sadness, as the city of Philadelphia mourns one of its most dynamic advocates for human rights, Gloria Casarez, who died on Sunday at the age of 42 after a long bout with cancer. Gloria was the City of Philadelphia’s first director of the LGBT office and a long-time and highly honored witness for justice and equality in our city.
As a student those many years ago, Gloria began her amazing vocation as one of the founders of Empty the Shelters. (She was also a close friend and roommate of Kathleen Sullivan.) So, with immense gratitude, we count her as part of the community that was formative in the early years of Project HOME.
And in later years, she was again connected to us, as the beloved spouse of our Director of Human Resources, Tricia Dressel. So, we join with the thousands of people in Philadelphia who celebrate her life and grieve at her passing. We are blessed to feel we are part of the large family of her loved ones and fellow advocates for justice and human dignity.
Project HOME has also been working with Gloria for the past several months as part of a LGBTQ homeless youth committee, which is seeking to develop effective solutions to the struggles of LGBTQ youth who are experiencing homelessness. As part of our work on that committee, we will be dedicating some of the units at our next residential facility at 810 Arch Street to LGBTQ youth who are seeking to break free of homelessness or avoid becoming homelessness. it has been an honor to work with her on that important effort.
Several articles this week convey the amazing accomplishments of this gifted and passionate woman:
“She was an awesome woman,” said Tricia, her partner of 13 years (they were legally married in New York in 2011). “She was incredibly passionate and full of life. She was a warm, fierce leader who knew how to bring people together to work for a cause.”
Mayor Nutter, who appointed Gloria as the first director of the Mayor's Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Affairs, spoke highly of her: "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. We all loved Gloria's commitment and spirit. She was a fighter and champion, personally and professionally. I knew when I met her 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."
All of us in the Project HOME community hold Tricia and all of Gloria’s family and friends in our thoughts and prayers. Empowered and inspired by Gloria’s life, we deepen our commitment to working for a world of justice, compassion, and human dignity.
Gloria will be remembered at a memorial service this Friday, October 24, at 10:30 at Arch Street United Methodist Church.