YOU'D THINK that Center City's Gayborhood would be a place where all members of the LGBTQ community would be welcome, regardless of skin color.
But there's new attention on a problem that activists say has been around for decades.
African Americans have long complained about being carded more than white club goers, turned away because of arbitrary dress codes and shunned in certain establishments. Just last month, a disturbing, three-year-old YouTube video surfaced of ICandy owner Darryl DiPiano repeatedly using the n-word, for which he later took to Facebook to apologize.
"The minute you walk into the Gayborhood as a black or brown person, you feel it," complained Shani Akilah Robin, creator of the Black and Brown Workers Collective, which held protests after the video's release. "They play our music and target us for the very blackness they're making money off of. This is the reality of being black and queer in America."
It's tragic when you stop and think about how long this anti-blackness has been going on. Back in the 1980s, certain gay bars would request that certain would-be patrons produce as many as three forms of identification before being admitted.
"It was just a way to keep you out," recalled Stevie Martin-Chester, membership director of Men of All Colors Together Philadelphia. "It's really sad that we are fighting the same fight over and over. But we still can't give up."
I'm happy to write that finally, the problem of racism in the Gayborhood will be at least looked at in a big way. On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations will hold a much-anticipated public educational hearing at 6 p.m. about racism and discrimination in the city's LGBTQ community.
This will be the first time that the commission has addressed the subject of racial discrimination in the iconic neighborhood that extends from 11th to Broad streets and from Chestnut to Pine streets. Officials are billing it as a listening session during which commissioners will take testimony from bar patrons and customers. The owners of the city's best known gay bars such as the venerable Woody's and ICandy, along with nine others, have all been subpoenaed to attend.
The timing is right. Tensions are particularly high right now in the city's LGBTQ community around this subject. If you plan on attending, I suggest you show up before 6 p.m. at Liberty Resources at 801 Arch Street. Register in advance to speak by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
"We want to hear their experiences with racism and discrimination in the community," said Rue Landau, the commission's executive director. "We hope that this will be the first step toward healing and also making systemic change."
One of those listening intently will be Ernest Owens, a former columnist at the Metro, who authored a much-buzzed-about column in 2015 about racism that was headlined, "Black Not Fetch Enough for Woody's?"
Owens, who has since moved on to report about LGBTQ issues for Philadelphia Magazine on its G Philly blog and other outlets, has been all over the topic.
"I'm relieved because this is something I've been covering for over a year and a half," said Owens, who on Saturday was honored by the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists for his advocacy journalism. "The thing is these stories were out there, and people knew about them. But I put them out there. The problem is that people didn't care enough because it wasn't triggering enough.
"But I kept talking about it, and after I kept talking about it, it inspired other people to start talking about it," he explained.
Some of those making the most noise are members of the Black and Brown Collective, who have not only protested but called for the city's head of LGBTQ affairs to resign. Appointed in 2015, Nellie Fitzpatrick has absolutely no intention of stepping aside. (Give her a chance. She hasn't even been in the job that long.)
"I keep hearing folks say, 'We want action.' This is action. This is what government action looks like," Fitzpatrick told me last week. "I think we're getting lost here in the weeds with the fact that discrimination is illegal in our city...if you are discriminated against because of race, there's action that can happen.
"This isn't a town hall. This isn't a community meeting. This is a commission that's empowered with enforcing our actual anti-discrimination laws, and they've called a hearing. This is a historic moment. This is powerful."
I'm hoping it will lead to sensitivity training on the part of bar owners and sanctions against those who flout the city's anti-discrimination laws. Because as I pointed out earlier, this anti-blackness is real.
As Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted in the NFL, pointed out earlier this year, he's feels more discriminated against from gays for being black than from blacks for being gay. When you think of how conversative African Americans can be about homosexuality, that's really saying something.
- The Associated Press contributed to this column.