OPINION: Black City Officials Should Speak Out Against Gayborhood Racism

The current silence from our elected officials on the recent racial turmoil affecting LGBTQ Philadelphians of color is deafening.

City Council President Darrell Clarke

City Council President Darrell Clarke

It has been nearly two weeks since a video leaked of ICandy owner Darryl DePiano repeatedly using the n-word among his peers. Since then, it has been revealed that one of the named victims during DePiano’s racial tirade was Ricky Peterson, a former black employee of ICandy who no longer feels “comfortable going back to the Gayborhood.”

But despite numerous boycotts and protests that have taken place before and since this incident, black elected officials in Philadelphia — both City Council members and state legislators — have not spoken out publicly against this particular act of racism and potential discrimination in the city.

Their total lack of remarks on this issue is even more abnormal given the fact that these black elected officials hold the plurality of City Council seats and significant number of the city’s state legislator positions. In other words, we have plenty of black decision-makers in the city to weigh in on issues pertaining to racism in this city — and yet, we have heard nothing.

Even during the LGBT flag-raising ceremony at OutFest, where Mayor Jim Kenney made his first public remarks, there were no black elected officials in attendance. City Councilwoman-at-Large Helen Gym was there, but her black fellow lawmakers weren’t.

And this is even more disappointing given that in the past, we have seen such elected officials form coalitions against racism. In November 2015, a group of predominately black councilwomen took a public stand against the sexist and racist emails exposed during Porngate. Black state lawmakers have even produced policy that has directly addressed systemic racial injustice in the state.

On the surface, it appears as though the sexual orientation of the victims might be shaping this lack of open support. Many of our black elected officials have interviewed with and received political endorsements from leading LGBTQ advocacy groups such as the Liberty City LGBT Democratic Club and Equality Pennsylvania. In getting the backing of LGBTQ political interests, these elected officials have tasked themselves with being an ally to the community. In this moment of controversy and turmoil, they have not lived up to that obligation.

I wonder whether these black elected officials feel as though the intersectionality of Gayborhood racism is too complex for them to deal with. Race and LGBTQ issues are often talked about in separate spaces. When homophobia is addressed separately, it is easier for the mayor and elected officials to support a call for a federal investigation in the aftermath of incidents such as the infamous Center City gay-bashing. It is also easier for both racism and homophobia to be disavowed publicly when each is perpetrated separately by white, non-LGBTQ individuals, such as what happened with this year’s Mummers. But what happens when a white gay man describes a black gay man with a racial slur? What happens when gay white bar owners enforce dress-code policies that are described as “covert racism” by other LGBTQ people of color?

Right now, it is possible that elected officials of color are dodging this conversation altogether because they might be forced to condemn the actions of potential political donors and a member of their own Democratic family. There is no question that Gayborhood bar owners have political capital in Philadelphia. As previously reported, Woody’s owner Michael Weiss sits on various government and nonprofit boards inside and outside the Gayborhood. Weiss has strong ties with the city’s District Attorney, has made campaign contributions to Democratic elected officials, and was once appointed to serve on the executive committee of the 8th Ward. This could be why neither the mayor nor any City Council members has called out any Gayborhood bar owners on their alleged misconduct despite all of the owners having been subpoenaed by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations to attend a public hearing on October 25th.

What is personally most disappointing to me as a black gay Philadelphian is that my elected officials are not living up to their own ideals. While attending public rallies and even working with some of these individuals’ offices and campaigns, I’ve heard them say how much black lives matter and how they plan to improve the current systemic and racial injustice in Philadelphia. Well, the Gayborhood is in this city and is currently being challenged on discrimination and profiling based on race. There is absolutely no reason why there have been no public statements, meetings, or television and radio appearances over incidents that have garnered citywide and national press.

Without the input of black elected officials in this serious matter, it wouldn’t be unfair to assume there’s a double standard in their current approach on discrimination in the community. I ask that my elected representatives stand up for both of my identities simultaneously when they are under attack — the same way I vote for them both as a Philadelphian and an LGBTQ person of color.

UPDATE: The Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus released the following statement late on Tuesday afternoon:

PLBC supports Philadelphia commission’s response to racist videos

HARRISBURG, Oct. 11 – State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown, D-Phila., chairwoman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, and the PLBC membership support the official response to a number of discriminatory remarks and slurs made by local business owners that were captured on video by South Philadelphia area residents.

In response to a series of videos posted to YouTube showing the owner of a popular city gay bar repeatedly using the N-word, as well as a video of a man yelling homophobic slurs at his neighbors, Philadelphia’s Commission on Human Relations will be hosting a public forum about racism and discrimination at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25 at Liberty Resources, 112 N. 8th St, Suite 600, Philadelphia.

“Hate speech seems to be getting more common,” Brown said. “It is especially discouraging and unfathomable when those in a group that has historically been the subject of discrimination perpetuate hate and discrimination against other minorities and marginalized populations. We need to find a way to restore tolerance and civility in our daily lives, and to remember that we are all humans and we are all equals.”

“Racism and bigotry anywhere should not be tolerated under any circumstances,” said state Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Phila. “All people must rise above and disaffirm scripted apologies by racists and bigots who are simply sorry that they got caught. We live in an age when everyone knows that it is universally immoral to conduct racist dealings, use hate speech or associate with xenophobic groups. To conduct one’s self in such a manner is a choice, and it’s one that should carry harsh consequences.

“Repudiating hate is the most important issue we face today. Our children cannot afford to grow up in a world in which adults ignore racism and bigotry. Hate is not funny, nor is it OK to be discussed in hushed tones or acceptable in any form. It begets violence and sorrow, and there is no room for either in modern society. It’s everyone’s job to rebuke hatred no matter where it’s found and no matter who perpetrates it. If we do not condemn it immediately, then we are complicit.”

“The PLBC salutes the residents of Philadelphia and the city’s Commission on Human Relations for attempting to open a dialogue among city residents from all walks of life,” Brown added.

UPDATE: A spokesperson from the Mayor’s office sent G Philly the following statement on Wednesday morning:

“If there was any confusion about what the Mayor said on Sunday or in the administration’s response to the iCandy video, let me clarify. The Mayor finds Darryl DePiano’s statements inexcusable and he is calling on all Gayborhood bar owners, of course including Michael Weiss, to do their part to eliminate institutional racism.”