In a political climate where racism and hate incidents are on the rise, we at the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (PCHR) and the Office of LGBT Affairs believe that progress continues in the fight to dismantle racism, bias, and discrimination in the Gayborhood community. We remain convinced it is impossible for one person, one office, or one group to address this longstanding issue alone. Sustained change requires a team effort and community input.
Today marks one year since the PCHR held our historic hearing to assess racism and discrimination in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community. Although advocacy groups had been doing the work for more than 30 years to identify and fight discrimination within the LGBTQ community, complaints of racism in Gayborhood establishments and organizations that serve LGBTQ individuals reached a boiling point last year.
PCHR’s hearing on racism and discrimination in the Gayborhood last October was envisioned as a listening session and intended to provide an opportunity for community members and stakeholders to share their experiences. Owners of 11 bars in the Gayborhood were subpoenaed by the PCHR. The leadership of Mazzoni Center and Philadelphia FIGHT participated as well. More than 300 members of the community attended the hearing, and PCHR received written and verbal testimony from more than 50 individuals and organizations. Following the hearing, PCHR could better understand the community’s experiences of marginalization in the Gayborhood based on race, class, and gender identity, and was able to take action envisioned to institute long-lasting change.
In January, PCHR released a report containing recommendations for bars and nonprofit institutions, including requiring training on the Fair Practice Ordinance and implicit bias. The commission also required the display of the PCHR’s informational posters on discrimination. A monitoring process and enforcement consequences accompanied the requirements. Since issuing this report, all of the bars and establishments that were subpoenaed have followed the Commission’s recommendations and participated in the PCHR-led trainings.
The Office of LGBT Affairs, with the support of the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs, furthers this important work by continuing intense and focused outreach efforts with an eye and heart toward inclusion and racial and ethnic diversity, and elevating and honoring the voices and lives of those most marginalized in our community. The Office of LGBT Affairs and Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs together pioneered Community Conversations in May, an initiative to cultivate an interactive community forum and specifically address the concerns of the Philadelphia LGBTQIA community. Through discussion, breakout groups, and Q & A sessions, the Community Conversations seek to engage the insight and expertise of the community in addressing pertinent issues and working collaboratively to identify solutions.
This year the Office also unveiled a new LGBTQ pride rainbow flag that includes the colors brown and black. The Office and the Commission are intentional in supporting and giving voice to those who are too often left out of narratives about the LGBTQ experience, particularly persons or color, youth and elders, and trans and gender-nonconforming individuals. In these revolutionary spaces, we are creating the community we want to live in and the community we deserve.
This evening our offices are co-hosting a conversation revisiting this vitally critical issue. We’re still examining and discussing these issues, and we need your help. Tonight, we want to know if you think things are better one year later. We’re providing breakout group space where community members can work collaboratively together. What are your ideas on what the City can do to further empower community members and make all feel supported and welcome in our LGBTQIA community? What can businesses and organizations do? What can the community do? Ensuring continued progress is urgent, and it must be a collaborative community effort. We hope you join us.
Make no mistake, while we recognize that change has happened, our optimism is tempered with caution. In the current political climate, we need to hold strong to the progress we’ve made against racism and discrimination in the Gayborhood and throughout the city. The reality is that we didn’t come this far to only come this far. We are again calling on the community to help us work together as LGBTQIA+ Philadelphians to identify solutions moving forward.
Community Conversation: Race & Inclusion in LGBTQ Community, Thursday, October 26th, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., at the Gershman Y, 401 South Broad Street.
Rue Landau is executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations. Amber Hikes is executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs.