Gloria Casarez was born and raised in Philadelphia and graduated from West Chester University with dual degrees in criminal justice and political science. She was the founding member and community organizer of Empty the Shelters, a national housing rights and economic justice organization. Casarez served as the coordinator for the LGBT Center at the University of Pennsylvania. She was executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Latino AIDS Education Initiative (GALAEI) in Philadelphia from 1999 to 2008. During her time with GALAEI, Casarez tripled the organizations funding and developed nationallyrecognized programs serving men of color and the transgender people.
In 2008, Casarez was appointed as the city’s first Director of LGBT Affairs with Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration. In her role, Casarez led efforts around public safety, education, economic development, health and city services and civil rights. During Casarez’s tenure, Philadelphia adopted the broadest LGBT rights protections in the nation and ranked as the number one city nationwide for LGBT equality according to the Human Rights Campaign. In 2011, Casarez married her longtime partner, Tricia Dressel, in New York City. The couple’s marriage was legally recognized in Pennsylvania in 2014. After living and working with metastatic breast cancer for over five years, Casarez died on October 19, 2014 at the age of 42.
The circle surrounding Gloria’s portrait was inspired by Pima Mexican pottery from Chihuahua, Mexico where Gloria's ancestors are from. The circle then pans out to create an echo effect as a symbol of Gloria’s experiences reverberating out into the community where she worked. Around the circle is one of Gloria's quotes ‘Engage, Find Voice, Expand Your Community.’
The leaf patterns on the left side of the design which will be facing St. James Street were inspired by a design on one of Gloria’s notebooks. Each leaf contains images that represent a personal story in Gloria’s life, such as her great grandfather’s immigration papers, or the acronym ‘WWGD’ representing the phrase ‘What would Gloria do?’ The mural is designed as a full color wheel gradient to reflect the rainbow and it's symbolism in the LGBTQ community.”
Over 50 of Casarez’s friends and family, as well as members of the public, helped paint the mural during several paint day opportunities. The partners of this project are The Office of the Mayor, Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, William Way LGBT Community Center, Bread and Roses Community Fund, GALAEI, Leeway Foundation, 12th Street Gym, and Philly Pride Presents. The Gloria Casarez mural is funded by the City ofPhiladelphia – Mayor's Office. The Mayor's Office supported the project in memoriam of Gloria Casarez, the City's first Director of LGBT Affairs.