By Michele Zipkin
PHILADELPHIA — Mayor Jim Kenney’s Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion has welcomed Erik Larson as the new deputy director of LGBT Affairs. Larson started working for the City of Philadelphia in 2018 as a part-time policy fellow, and previously worked as a coordinator in the Office of LGBT Affairs. He holds a Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania.
“I’ve just been feeling really appreciative of everyone who’s been so supportive, not just since the announcement but over the years,” Larson said. “My colleagues in the Mayor’s Office have been so great and supportive to me, and even previous leadership in the LGBT Affairs Office who I had the opportunity to work with have been such a support. I would not have been able to be here without them.”
Throughout his past work for the Office of LGBT Affairs, Larson contributed to LGBTQ-centric policy reform, the annual State of the Union address and the Leadership Pipeline, a recruitment and enrichment initiative that serves to diversify the board leadership positions in local LGBTQ organizations to include more queer people of color, transgender people, youth and elders.
“We are thrilled to have Erik on board in this role,” LGBT Affairs Executive Director Celena Morrison said in a written statement. “He brings a fresh perspective and approach to local relationship development and community engagement. During his time as coordinator for the Office of LGBT Affairs, he demonstrated an ability to provide invaluable support and guidance for our office’s initiatives and I look forward to working alongside Erik in his role as Deputy.”
During the pandemic, Larson developed and maintained the digital resource guide geared toward helping Philadelphia LGBTQ communities navigate life during COVID-19. The guide provides resources for accessing healthcare, housing and food.
As deputy director, Larson plans to expand the capacity of the LGBT Affairs team in order to accommodate the challenges facing LGBTQ Philadelphians, especially in terms of pandemic recovery. To that end, the LGBT Affairs team hopes to obtain the temporary support of Philadelphia Vista, a member of Americorps who works with city officials to tackle issues related to poverty. Larson also looks forward to gaining support from social work master’s students from the University of Pennsylvania and West Chester University.
Additionally, Larson and Morrison plan to expand the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs, a body of people that advise the mayor on “policies that support the lives of LGBT individuals in the city and support and amplify the work of the Office of LGBT Affairs,” according to the City’s website. Larson and Morrison plan to make sure the new members are “diverse in terms of people bringing unique skill sets, their lived experiences and their own ideas to the commission,” Larson said. “Between scaling up the in-house staff and also working with our volunteer commission we’re really going to be able to increase the capacity of what the office is able to do in terms of engaging with our community more broadly. I think that’s going to be more critical as we move forward with this year and as the pandemic starts to wind down.”
A large-scale vaccination effort is another endeavor that the Office of LGBT Affairs has up its sleeve.
“It’s going to start with the community conversation later this month,” Larson said. “Our initial goal is that we want to convene some trusted voices from community [members] in conversation with some experts from the City’s public health department in order to address some of the community’s questions about the vaccine.”
The ultimate goal of the vaccine initiative is to organize a series of vaccination clinics for Philly’s LGBTQ communities, Larson said. These clinics will be collaborations between the Office of LGBT Affairs and several community organizations, with direction from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. The timeline of the clinics is set to coincide with the timeline of federal vaccine eligibility later in April, Larson said.
“We’re really making sure that we are putting intentional focus on making sure that there’s equitable access for our communities, so we’re going to be holding these in neighborhoods across the city,” Larson told PGN. “In addition to utilizing existing sites like Mazzoni Center or Philadelphia FIGHT, we’re also looking to hold what we’re considering pop-up vaccinations, similar to the efforts that just took place at William Way.”
The LGBT Affairs office has been in talks with other agencies in Philadelphia to ensure that they extend this effort to all pockets of Philadelphia in addition to Center City and the Gayborhood.
The team hopes to set up an outdoor vaccine clinic to coincide with Pride month, “to really make sure we’re getting out to the community and getting people vaccinated,” Larson said.
He acknowledged that many folks in Philly’s LGBTQ communities still have a lot of questions and hesitancy toward the vaccine effort.
“As we’re starting to turn the corner in all of this, it is going to be critical that we [make sure] we’re being affirming to community, that we’re meeting people where they’re at and being targeted in our response to this,” Larson said. “I’m just looking forward to being one of the trusted voices that is going to help inform these recovery efforts as we move forward.”
Michele Zipkin is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared.