Hundreds turn out for forum on racial discrimination in Phila.'s Gayborhood

Deja Lynn Alvarez, Director of the Home for Hope, speaks at a public hearing about the LGBTQ community and on racism and discrimination held by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations on October 25, 2016 at 801 Arch St. in Philadelphia.

Speaker after speaker at a city forum Tuesday night spoke of racial discrimination they had encountered when patronizing bars and clubs in Philadelphia's Gayborhood.

They said they were turned away because of the clothes they wore, or harassed about their IDs, or treated with disdain by white employees.

"In the Gayborhood, people of color are being targeted," Giana Graves told the packed event hosted by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.

"For many of us, the Gayborhood is not safe," she said.

The commission organized the hearing in Center City to address complaints of racism and discrimination in the city's LGBT community.

"We understand that tensions and concerns have been rising," said commission chair Thomas H. Earle. The commission will review the policies and practices of the bars and include its findings in a report, he said.

Recent outrage was sparked by the public posting of a three-year-old video showing Darryl DePiano, owner of iCandy, a Center City gay bar, casually using a racial slur.

DePiano was among eight bar owners who were subpoenaed by the commission to attend the hearing. He stood in a hallway not directly visible to the crowd and listened to speakers. He left shortly before the meeting concluded and did not say anything.

At first, the meeting space at the offices of nonprofit Liberty Resources appeared inadequate to accommodate the several hundred people who showed up, but two added rooms were made available for the attendees.

There were some heated exchanges, but for the most part the audience listened as participants told their stories.

Deja Lynn Alvarez described herself as a former sex worker who suffered with addiction and who is now an activist for transgender issues.

She said she had been in Philadelphia for more than 25 years and had endured racism "since the first time I touched down in Philadelphia when I was 15 years old."

Alvarez urged the LGBT community to support Nellie Fitzpatrick, the mayor's liaison on LGBT affairs. Some activists have called for Fitzpatrick to resign because problems have persisted under her watch.

"Let's stop fighting each other," Alvarez said.

Fitzpatrick was in attendance but did not speak. Mayor Kenney stood quietly in the back of the meeting room.

Kenney wrote on Twitter during the hearing: "I'm here to listen to our citizens and work together to address these issues in the most effective way we can."

Fitzpatrick has said she is working to address the issues and will not quit her post. The forum was intended to "create a formal record of instances of racial discrimination" in the Gayborhood as part of the first steps in a city investigation.

Earle said the commission would continue to receive testimony online (http://www.phila.gov/humanrelations/Pages/default.aspx), in person or through the mail.

Asa Khalif, an organizer with Black Lives Matter, and others vowed to continue to boycott iCandy and any other bar that is found to be discriminatory.

Another complaint raised at the hearing was that nonprofits active in the Gayborhood have exploited minorities and failed to provide them with real support.

bmoran@phillynews.com

215-854-5983@RobertMoran215