North Philadelphia: Malcolm Kenyatta Promotes LGBT Representation in Government

Malcolm Kenyatta grew up in North Philadelphia and graduated from Temple University. He is now the member engagement coordinator for the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce and the youngest member of the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club. He described himself as North Philly’s biggest fan. Kenyatta’s work has reached a higher level of importance and urgency with the introduction of the new presidential administration.

How is the current political climate affecting your work?

There are inflection points in history and I’m sure people in those moments had no idea people would go back and think about that moment in time. I think that this is one of those inflection points.

We all have a big duty and responsibility to figure out what we can do to help push back against an administration that, in my view, is anti-American. Mike Pence is not only a disaster, he is the most anti-LGBT vice president we’ve ever had.

That’s really scary because what we’ve seen is that Trump doesn’t know what’s going on in his administration. He’s sort of just signing stuff that’s being given to him, and just going along with it.  Hopefully we can keep the consistent resistance going, because it’s born some fruits.

What do you see as the current goals for Philly’s LGBT community?

I think we have to start thinking more specifically about getting LGBT candidates in office. Public policy ultimately reflects those that are implementing it. When most of those people are 60-plus-year-old white straight men, we get 60-plus-year-old white straight men’s policies that aren’t reflective of our country and how our country continues to change. So, that has to be a priority.

We’re lucky that our city is the most LGBT-friendly city in the state but there still aren’t LGBT protections statewide. There’s the Pennsylvania Fairness Act, which was just reintroduced, which hopefully will lead to some of those protections. But being protected in Philadelphia County, and then walking across the street and not being protected, that’s not good.

So, as the economic engine of the state, as the population mecca of the state, we have a lot of responsibility in trying to push initiatives like that statewide and trying to expand some of the protections that we have to the broader commonwealth.

You are an advocate and an activist for both North Philadelphia and the LGBT community. How do these two areas of your work interact or intersect?

I think we have to start thinking about all issues from a space of intersectionality. I come to every table as a Black, gay, Christian guy from a poor neighborhood in North Philly. I’m all of those things all of the time. When you look for the intersections you find them, because they naturally exist.

North Philadelphia is the heart of our city. A lot of people live here, and a lot of those people are gay. When you think of LGBT issues, that’s really, in a lot of cases, as intersectional as you get.

The LGBT community represents every religious tradition, every age, every ethnicity, every race, every gender identity. There’s a lot of overlap.

What changes have you seen in Philadelphia’s LGBT community?

At the Chamber of Commerce, I run all of our diversity inclusion initiatives and I’ve been very proud of the work we’ve been doing to expand our definition of diversity. It’s not enough to have a room of straight white guys, throw in some Black guys, and – boom – done.

We have to constantly be asking ourselves, “Who is not at the table?” And that is what we did at the Chamber this year in a variety of different programs. I’m going to continue to push us to do that even more.

Was it a conscious decision to become an advocate for North Philly and the LGBT community?

I don’t remember a time where I wasn’t interested or engaged. My grandfather, Muhammad Kenyatta, was a civil rights activist, and he ran for mayor of Philly in 1975. So, I feel like I come from a family of people who are engaged – and have been engaged, so I’ve always just been interested.

Mother Teresa has a quote that I love where she says, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.”

That’s what I try to do every day. I try to do what I can and start as close as possible.

Text and images by Taylor Andrews-Spicer and Emily MacMullen.

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