Mel Heifetz

Alice Bast
2017

Mel Heifetz is the 97th recipient of the Philadelphia Award. Mr. Heifetz, a native of South Philadelphia, began his commitment to, activism for, and financial support of LGBTQ people in his early 20s, and is today regarded as a generous supporter of organizations serving Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community as well as civil rights causes.


 
V irtually every LGBTQ organization in Philadelphia has benefited from Heifetz’s generosity, including the William Way LGBT Center whose mortgage he paid off in 2005. He is the founder and benefactor of the Philadelphia Foundation’s multimillion-dollar GLBT Fund of America. In 2017, Heifetz announced a $16 million endowed gift to the Philadelphia Foundation to support LGBTQ-serving organizations, including the Attic Youth Center, GALAEI, and the Trevor Project.

Heifetz was key to identifying the need and providing early philanthropic support to address the problem of LGBTQ youth homelessness. An instrumental early supporter, he helped to break ground on Project HOME’s new Gloria Casarez Residence, which will provide 30 LGBTQ-friendly affordable homes for young adults who are homeless, have experienced, or are at risk of homelessness, including those aging out of foster care.


H eifetz is also renowned for his public policy activism, and has been a major political contributor to candidates supportive of LGBTQ rights. His contributions have kept several HIV/AIDS nonprofits afloat, and at the peak of the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s, he put countless uninsured people with the virus on his company’s health insurance plan.

Additionally, he formed a sustaining relationship with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which stems from a time when a coffeehouse owned by Heifetz – known for welcoming all people, including interracial and gay couples – was shut down by local police; ACLU attorneys defended Heifetz.

Born to working class Jewish parents, he began cleaning his parents’ hair salon and selling household products door-to-door with his father at age 9. An Eagle Scout, he later offered to buy the Boy Scouts of America’s Philadelphia headquarters for $1.5 million, at a time when the national Scouting organization excluded gays, so that the building could be given to a nonprofit that does not discriminate. Heifetz joined the Army at age 18 and was stationed in Germany; upon his return, he studied real estate for one year at Temple University.

Over his professional career, Heifetz has built several successful hospitality and residential businesses. He opened the city’s first gay hotel, The Alexander Inn, and owned three of the most prominent gay and lesbian bars in Philadelphia, as well as hotel and bar properties in Key West, Florida.

Among numerous community honors, he received the 2015 Humanitarian of the Year award from the William Way Center and the 2008 Equality Award from the Philadelphia Human Rights Campaign.