Gayborhood bar owner's racial slur is an 'overt example of a larger problem too often overlooked'

After Darryl DiPiano, the owner of the gay bar iCandy, was caught on video repeatedly using a racial slur, a protest was organized. Jeff Sheehan, the manager of iCandy, said the bar had "definitely felt" a weekend boycott.

The video was, by all accounts, disturbing - the owner of a popular Center City gay bar, casually deploying a racial slur over and over again.

But for LGBT people of color in Philadelphia, the video of Darryl DePiano, the owner of iCandy, was just an overt example of a larger problem too often overlooked.

"It's not just one Darryl DePiano - there is a host of Darryl DePianos in the Gayborhood," said Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, a cofounder of the activist group Black and Brown Workers' Collective, which organized a protest outside iCandy after the video surfaced last week. 

DePiano later apologized for the three-year-old video in a Facebook post.
“I have grown since then to be understanding and respectful to each and every individual,” he wrote.

For years, activists have raised concerns about racial divides in the Gayborhood. As far back as the 1980s, community members formed a coalition to document instances of racism in gay bars. More recently, black patrons have expressed dismay at dance floors that were overwhelmingly white, or complained that bouncers had refused them entry, claiming that sweatpants or Timberland boots were against an unspoken dress code.

Muhammad said he was once pulled out of iCandy by an undercover police officer who turned out to be looking for a different man.

"Overt racism on video is one thing," Muhammad said. "It's the low-key things - that is cumulative, that we also need to address."

And the city, Muhammad said, has not done enough to address the concerns of LGBT people of color.

Earlier this week, his organization called for Nellie Fitzpatrick, the mayor's liaison on LGBT affairs, to step down from her post.

"What we are saying is, 'Look at what's happening on your watch,' " said Shani Akilah, another cofounder of the Black and Brown Workers' Collective.

She cited several other controversies this year - including the Philly Pride parade's selection of an LGBT police group to serve as grand marshal. The 1969 Stonewall riots in New York that gave birth to the modern gay rights movement, activists pointed out, were the product of a police raid on a gay bar. The police group later declined the award after vociferous outcry.

Fitzpatrick said in an interview that she has no intention of resigning, and has long worked to address racism in the gay community. She spent the last year attending town halls and forums on the subject, she said, and has worked to improve resources for transgender women of color, who face disproportionate levels of discrimination and violence.

By the end of the year, she said, the city will establish a commission on LGBT affairs, and prioritize diversity in appointments.

"This has to be seen as a critical, critical, critical challenge that we are facing," she said. "Marriage equality was one perfect example of how our community can organize, but gains like that lose their meaning if we do not respond with the same passion when LGBT people of color are denied their basic rights."

Fitzpatrick said the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations is holding a hearing Oct. 25 "to create a formal record of instances of racial discrimination" in the Gayborhood - the first steps in a city investigation, she said.

"This is formal government action," Fitzpatrick said.

Jeff Sheehan, the manager of iCandy, said the bar had "definitely felt" a weekend boycott. He said his staff had been hurt by the video.

"Everybody wants change," he said. "Internal training needs to take place, and we need to look at what we're doing and have been doing."

Akilah said demonstrations against iCandy will continue, with her group encouraging patrons to drink elsewhere and asking investors to seek out other venues.

Stonewall Sports, the popular LGBT sports league, and Philly Pride, which organizes the annual pride parade, announced Friday that they were ending their sponsorship relationships with iCandy. City of Brotherly Love Softball League, an LGBT slow-pitch league, said they would cut ties with the club for two years. The Greater Philadelphia Flag Football league has suspended its relationship with the bar indefinitely. The Philadelphia Gay News, one of the country's oldest gay newspapers, released a statement saying its staff supported the boycotts and would bar iCandy from advertising with them.

"We are not interested, anymore, in putting our lives in the hands of people who have proven that they cannot do right by our community,"Akilah said. "The sentiment of this political era is that we are doing it for ourselves."

awhelan@philly.com

215-854-2961

@aubreyjwhelan