This week is Lesbian Visibility Week, which raises awareness about the issues facing lesbians and celebrates their achievements. We’ll be publishing articles throughout the week to bring more attention to the people who put the “L” in LGBTQ Nation.
At just 54 years old, Rue Landau is already a living, breathing piece of LGBTQ+ history.
As a member of ACT UP during the height of the AIDS epidemic, she fought on the frontlines for better access to health care for people with HIV and AIDS. In 2014, while serving as executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, Landau and her wife, Kerry, became the first same-sex couple in Pennsylvania to get a marriage license.
Now, Landau could further embed herself in the fabric of Pennsylvania’s LGBTQ+ history as she seeks to become the first out LGBTQ+ person elected to the Philadelphia City Council.
“I’ve been working my whole career, fighting for social justice and equity,” Landau, a Democrat, told LGBTQ Nation. “All of the work I’ve done has naturally led up to this point. We’re facing tremendous challenges here in the city of Philadelphia, and I believe that I have the vision, the track record, and the relationships to get things done.”
Landau began her career as a civil rights attorney at Community Legal Services, where she defended low-income renters against evictions. She then spent 12 years directing Philadelphia’s Commission on Human Relations as well as the Fair Housing Commission, where she focused on advancing the city’s civil rights laws.
During her tenure, she helped create laws to advance wage equity, create reasonable accommodations for pregnant people, and strengthen anti-discrimination protections, including specifically for LGBTQ+ people.
Landau said her experiences working for the city taught her the importance of having an LGBTQ+ leader who is also trusted by other communities.
“It enabled me to be able to build coalitions across communities that did not happen before… To me, creating coalitions with our LGBTQ community and other communities throughout Philadelphia is going to make us all stronger and safer and make for a stronger city, and that is how we will build Philadelphia back post-pandemic and create the brighter better Philadelphia that we need.”
If elected to City Council, Landau’s priorities would be public safety (namely, tackling the gun violence epidemic), neighborhood investment, and affordable housing.
“I believe with more investments in our neighborhoods, in our schools, our rec centers, our libraries, our people, our cleaning and greening spaces, that’s the first start to helping with issues of public safety,” she said.
“And I want to increase community policing, increase de-escalation tactics, get far more mobile health crisis units on the street and active, and connected to all of that is the fact that we are the poorest large city in America. We must tackle our poverty crisis in order for people to feel hope and to thrive. For me, one of the big measures there is affordable housing.”
Landau certainly has her work cut out for her in the race. More than 20 candidates are running in the May 16 Democratic primary for the council’s seven available at-large seats.
Landau said it would be “incredible” to be the council’s first out member, but she also acknowledged the closeted leaders – like the late John C. Anderson – who have served before her.
“I stand on the shoulders of their greatness,” she said, adding that her victory “would mean that we finally had a seat at the table.”
“It would mean that our community didn’t just have advisory roles for legislation and policy, but that we really had a hand in crafting it with a seat at the table. It would also mean that I was a role model to other people. And as a parent, I can tell you that our young people need role models.”
Landau said Philadelphia is more or less a safe space for LGBTQ+ people, but that areas near the city – like Bucks County – have become caught up in the right-wing’s relentless vendetta against LGBTQ+ people.
Last year, the ACLU issued a 72-page complaint accusing Bucks County’s Central Bucks School District – one of the state’s largest – of creating a hostile environment for LGBTQ+ students. The complaint alleged that the district had propagated the removal of Pride flags, instructed teachers not to honor a student’s pronouns, and advocated for censorship of books with LGBTQ+ themes.
If elected, Landau vowed to reach across city lines to speak up for the surrounding LGBTQ+ community.
“It’s wonderful if we can maintain our safe borders here in Philadelphia,” Landau said. “But I think that we need to be the strongest voice in the state. We often are, but [we need to be] now more than ever… And we need to reach over to our counties and across the state and help them lift up all of their LGBTQ communities as well, to reach out to their elected officials, and to make sure that those areas remain safe for our communities as well.”
Above all else, Landau wants voters to see her as a coalition builder.
“I’ve been a fighter for social justice and equity my entire career… I bring people together. I have resolved conflicts. I’m a coalition builder, and I am working to make stronger communities and a stronger Philadelphia.”