Women Forward: Philadelphia director of LGBT affairs is making history

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- When Celena Morrison took office as the director of LGBT affairs in Philadelphia, she didn't know she was making history.

"I had a 'me' moment. Like, me? These people are looking up to me?" said Morrison. "Growing up, I didn't see anyone who represented me, who I was as a kid."

She came out to her family as transgender at age 12. When she was 16, "I was told that I would be, my only option of making money would be sex work, and that is something that I've carried with me throughout this whole journey."

In 2020, she became the first openly transgender person to ever lead an office in the city. Her appointment came days before the city shut down due to COVID-19.

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"I had only been in the office maybe a week and a half at the most, I didn't have anything to compare it to," she said.

Morrison says her community, already marginalized in health care, needed help.

"The LGBTQ community already faces so many disparities and COVID only made that worse," she said.

She spent her first year in office trying to reach those struggling from the pandemic, with virtual events and food drives.

One of Morrison's focuses going forward is addressing trans murder rates in the city and country. 2020 was the deadliest year in America for trans people since the Human Rights Campaign began tracking, with 44 murders nationwide.

"In the Black community there's so much stigma around being trans and around walking around and being authentic and who you are," said Tatyana Woodward, who works at the Mazzoni Center and is a colleague of Morrison's.

She says Morrison's appointment gives hope to their community.

"I think it's a great accomplishment for the city, I think it's a great accomplishment for Black trans women to finally have a seat in City Hall," Woodward said.

"But I think that the most important thing is that I'm not the last," said Morrison.
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