Nellie Fitzpatrick on the Next Steps in Addressing Gayborhood Racism

Following the announcement of a new meeting with community stakeholders later this fall, we check in with the director of the Office of LGBT Affairs.

Gayborhood sign

A month ago, after a number of stories detailing numerous complaints of alleged racism at Gayborhood establishments, I called on the Office of LGBT Affairs to take a more direct and visible stance on combatting the problem.

I made that call after being disappointed with the outcomes of an all-inclusive four-point strategy that came out of a series of town halls Philadelphia Black Pride initiated in the fall of 2015, which everyone in the community — business owners, patrons, government representatives, concerned residents — was supposed to be a part of. In the end, as more reports of alleged institutional racism emerged throughout this year, I felt that Gayborhood institutions had not kept up their end of the agreement and that no public accountability had been placed on those stakeholders, which was one of the four planks of the strategy.

Earlier this month, Philadelphia Gay News reported that Philadelphia Black Pride will convene another meeting this fall with Office of LGBT Affairs director Nellie Fitzpatrick and other stakeholders who have the ability to affect policy. Fitzpatrick told PGN that community members concerned about racial bias “need to be cognizant of the tools we have immediately at our disposal” and that we should “do a better job of educating people how to report instances of racial discrimination.” She added that there are “some things my office doesn’t have the legal authority to do,” and that “we need the community to buy into this self-betterment.”

To assess the current state of progress on the issue, I followed up with Fitzpatrick about her remarks via email last week.

What does the Office of LGBT Affairs plan to do differently after this upcoming meeting?
Continued dialogue between community stakeholders is essential. Specifically, in this meeting, we will be discussing how to support Philly Black Pride’s four-point strategy, which is the product of last year’s town hall meetings. The Office of LGBT Affairs will be there to support Philly Black Pride and the community’s efforts to move this dialogue forward and into practice in our LGBT businesses.

What does “self-betterment” mean?
In the context of this story, self-betterment speaks to businesses in the Gayborhood being active partners in ending racial discrimination within the LGBT community. Based on conversations with business owners that I have been a part of, I believe that Gayborhood business owners genuinely want to address the community’s concerns and to ensure that everyone feels safe and welcome. The adoption of policies and procedures by these businesses to prohibit and address discriminatory conduct and transparency around these efforts are key steps to dealing with these issues head on.

Why hasn’t the Office of LGBT Affairs put out a formal statement to the community about addressing LGBTQ racism in the city?
The office has made many statements, in both formal and informal settings, about the need to address racism and racial discrimination in the LGBTQ community. The statements in the article you’re referring to are one such example. Addressing racism is an ongoing effort that requires changing hearts and minds. Our government, our community and our City all need to be allied in this critical project. Addressing racial discrimination, which will be the subject of the upcoming meeting, requires building awareness around the legal processes and remedies in place to address this illegal conduct.

When you say the community “need[s] to be cognizant of the tools we have immediately at our disposal,” what tools are you referring to? How is the Office making that information freely accessible to the community?
These tools include the legal processes currently in place to address racial discrimination, which is illegal. Anyone who has been subjected to discriminatory treatment may file a complaint with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, which is the governmental entity charged with enforcing our civil rights laws. The Office of LGBT Affairs works closely with PCHR and the leadership of the commission will be also be in attendance at the upcoming meeting to shed light on this process. Further information about reporting discrimination can be found on PCHR’s website.