Video: In 2016, This Shit Still Happens to Gay People in Philly
If you haven’t been to South Philadelphia since the 1990s, a lot has changed.
Yes, there are all sorts of trendy bars serving fancy beers, and you can get award-winning Norwegian and French fare on the same strip where you’ll still find old-school linguini and meatballs. But one of the most noticeable and dramatic differences that this historic neighborhood has seen is an incredible influx of gay residents.
Indeed, South Philadelphia has become its own gay mecca. And that’s why one gay couple was so shocked when their neighbor unleashed a homophobic tirade on Tuesday night.
Philadelphia publicist Jimmy Contreras and his partner Fran Hogan moved onto the 1900 block of South Sartain Street in August 2015. According to Contreras, the couple was immediately welcomed with open arms by the several Italian grandmothers on the street.
“It’s super gay-friendly down here,” says Contreras. “The grandmothers come over for cocktails and coffee talk.”
But Contreras says that one neighbor didn’t seem quite as happy to see the newcomers on his block.
As the couple tells it, 54-year-old Donald Whitfield, who lives just doors away, has repeatedly lobbed homophobic slurs in their direction.
“He’s yelled out ‘faggot’ several times before,” remembers Contreras.
But on Tuesday night, the situation on the block escalated.
Hogan returned home from work around 5:45 p.m., pulling his car into an open spot on the block. Whitfield pulled in directly behind Hogan into the last space at the end of the block.
Hogan claims that Whitfield’s car hit Hogan’s bumper, which seemed odd to Hogan, since there were no cars behind Whitfield, i.e. he had plenty of room.
“I decided to say something to him about it,” Hogan, a nursing manager at Lady of Lourdes in Camden, tells us. “There was no good reason for him to hit me. And so I went over to him and asked, ‘Is there a reason that you hit my car?'”
According to Hogan’s account, Whitfield replied, “Faggot, get away from me!”
The two went back and forth briefly, and Hogan decided to retreat to his steps after Whitfield allegedly said, “I’m gonna break your neck, you faggot piece of shit.”
Whitfield, clad in medical scrubs, began walking down the street, still yelling. Hogan picked up his phone and recorded the following brief video, in which Whitfield can clearly be heard calling Hogan a “fucking faggot.”
Hogan says he called 911 immediately and that he told the operator he wanted to report Whitfield for making threats of violence. Contreras came home from work and the two waited and waited for a car to show up. Police say that a car did eventually go out on Wednesday but that they were unable to make contact with Hogan or Contreras at their home. A spokesperson for the department indicated that the delay was caused by an excessive number of calls.
According to Franny Price, chair of the Philly LGBT Police Liaison Committee, City Hall got wind of the incident after Contreras posted the video on Facebook on Tuesday night. Police confirm that they are investigating.
“The police were already at my house today asking me for information,” Whitfield’s wife, Lowana Whitfield, told us on Wednesday afternoon, later explaining that her husband has no interest in speaking with Philly Mag about this incident. “They haven’t spoken to him yet.”
She laughed when I told her that I was looking into her husband’s use of a homophobic slur as well as the alleged threat.
“I really don’t think there’s any kind of issue here,” she replied, continuing to laugh.
I explained that I had seen the video where he clearly screams “faggot” at Hogan.
“Isn’t that in and of itself an issue?” I asked.
“No, I don’t think so,” she replied.”
“I’ve lived all over Philadelphia,” Contreras says. “And this is the first guy who has ever called us faggots.”
Well, it turns out that it’s not the first time that Whitfield has been accused of making threats.
Last October, he was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and terroristic threats, among other offenses, after a traffic incident. Prosecutors said that Whitfield hit a man on the street, allegedly telling him, “Next time, you’ll move faster” before driving away.
Whitfield was released on $25,000 bail, and a stay-away order was issued. Eventually, the aggravated assault charge was dismissed for lack of evidence, and Whitfield was found not guilty on all counts except reckless driving at trial in July.
Philly Mag spoke with three neighbors on the block who all confirmed that they’ve heard Whitfield use homophobic language towards the couple in the past, and one who says she witnessed Tuesday’s incident.
“It was terrible,” recalls 78-year-old Antoinette Di Florio, who tells Philly Mag that she clearly heard Whitfield threaten Hogan. “They are such lovely people. They don’t bother nobody. This guy thinks he owns the street. Well, he can get the hell out of here.”
Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.