The board of directors and staff of Bread & Roses Community Fund are deeply saddened by the passing of Bread & Roses board member Gloria Casarez. Gloria died on Sunday, October 19, at the age of 42 after a long battle with breast cancer.
Bread & Roses executive director Casey Cook recalled Gloria as a fierce agent for real change. “Bread & Roses is just one among many communities enriched by Gloria’s leadership, courage, and strength,” said Casey.
A lifelong activist, Gloria was a leader for several Bread & Roses grantees during the 1990s and early 2000s, including Kensington Welfare Rights Union and ACT UP Philadelphia.
In 2001, Gloria joined the Jonathan Lax Scholarship Committee — providing scholarships to gay men — at Bread & Roses and served on that committee each year since. “Gloria enhanced the Lax Scholarship Committee with her dynamic energy, inquisitive mind, and deep commitment to the LGBT community,” recalled Polly Hill O’Keefe, chair of the committee. “She was an astute discussant, often pushing us to make difficult choices so that the strongest candidates received the greatest recognition and reward.” Polly said. “To say she will be sorely missed is a vast understatement. We can only hope to honor her memory by choosing future Lax scholars who reflect her passion for life and her deep commitment to the LGBT community.”
Gloria joined the Bread & Roses board of directors in 2003. “Gloria was the embodiment of everything Bread & Roses stands for: community organizing led by the most affected, cutting-edge activism, and dogged pursuit of social justice,” said Arun Prabhakaran, who served with her on the board. “As a board member, she brought these insights and talents to the organization as well as her tremendous conscience and compassion,” Arun added.
Outside of Bread & Roses, Gloria was known as a tireless advocate for LGBT rights in Philadelphia. She was the executive director of GALAEI, a queer Latino social justice organization, for 10 years before being appointed the first director of the Mayor’s Office of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Affairs, a position she held from 2008 until her passing. She also served as board co-chair of Prevention Point Philadelphia, Philadelphia’s only syringe exchange program, and was a founder of the Philadelphia Dyke March and Empty the Shelters.
“Gloria will be remembered at Bread & Roses as an extraordinary organizer, a brilliant strategist, and a committed board member,” said Denise Brown, Bread & Roses board co-chair. “Gloria embodied the mission and intention of this organization with equal parts fierceness and humility.”
Our thoughts are with Gloria’s wife, Tricia Dressel, her mother, Elisa Gonzalez, her great-aunt Theresa Rodriguez, and her many, many friends. She was an inspiration to us all and will be dearly missed.
Gloria’s life will be celebrated at a funeral service on Friday, October 24, at 10:30 a.m. at Arch Street United Methodist Church, 55 N. Broad St., Philadelphia. All are welcome. In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions are graciously being accepted by the West Chester University Foundation in support of the Gloria Casarez Leadership Scholarship. Checks can be made payable to “WCU Foundation,” memo: In memory of Gloria Casarez, and sent to P.O. Box 541, West Chester, PA 19381.