City to mandate bias training for Gayborhood bars

Bar owners and nonprofits in the Gayborhood must attend training sessions on fair business practices and implicit bias, the city announced Monday.

The mandates come as part of a report released Monday by the Commission on Human Relations that found widespread reports of racial tension and discrimination in the neighborhood, which often touts its inclusivity.

“Racism in the LGBTQ community is a real issue. It’s a real issue in our entire society, not only just in the LGBTQ area or in the Gayborhood,” Mayor Kenney said. “We need to do more to address it here in Philadelphia. We will do whatever else we need to do to see that the recommendations are adopted. And that possibly could include eliminating organizations who won’t change their ways by limiting our participation in their work financially.”

A video released on YouTube in September showed the owner of the bar ICandy saying the N-word, which served as a tipping point for building reports of discrimination throughout the Center City neighborhood. The owner, Darryl DePiano, apologized for the slur, but people, including Kenney, boycotted ICandy and the Gayborhood. Asked Monday, Kenney said he has not returned since the issues surfaced.

The city’s Commission on Human Relations held hearings and published a report that found that most Gayborhood businesses are owned by white cisgender males who give preferential treatment to white male patrons. Transgender women of color are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, harassment, and physical violence, the report said.

The report noted that dress codes, ID policies, bar service and treatment of staff can vary depending on the patron or employee, which perpetuates discrimination. The commission subpoenaed 11 bars and found that most have vague policies or employee handbooks.

The study also found questionable employment practices at two of the largest LGBTQ social service agencies, the Mazzoni Center, a health-care provider, and Philadelphia FIGHT, an AIDS service organization.  Employees said that African Americans had trouble moving up in the organizations and that the boards of the nonprofits did not reflect the diversity of the people served. Employee handbooks and policies in some cases were cited as lacking information on how someone could report a complaint, the commission found.

The Rev. W. Wilson Goode Sr., a former mayor of Philadelphia who sits on the board of FIGHT, said he was shocked to see the organization named in the report. He said he was skeptical about the thoroughness of the vetting process.

“Philadelphia FIGHT is probably one of the most diverse organizations in the city,” Goode said.  He called the organization’s CEO, Jane Shull, a champion of equality in the workplace. “I do not believe anyone could write that who investigated, who read the personnel plan, who knew what they were talking about.”

Nurit Shein, CEO of the Mazzoni Center, said her organization has detailed policies on hiring, promotions and discipline. Still, she said, the report revealed that those policies aren't always communicated to the staff.

Every employee at Mazzoni is going to undergo an intensive two-day training session on racism, discrimination, and social justice, she said.

Shein said she thinks some of the issues raised in the report, via testimony at the October hearing, are more anecdotal than systematic.

“Mazzoni is the biggest specific LGBT employer in the city, so the bigger you are the bigger target you are,” she said. “That’s not to say that everything is 100 percent OK. Clearly there are things and we’re willing to talk and work on them. We’re a big footprint in the city of Philadelphia and we want to be the best footprint we can be.”

The commission is requiring 11 bars and the two nonprofits to partake in fair business practice training within 90 days and implicit bias training within 120 days. The commission will offer training or approve of outside options.

All establishments must also post fliers created by the commission about the city’s fair practice ordinance within 30 days.

The bars are ICandy, Woody's, Voyeur (Mayfield Social Club), Tabu, UBar, Tavern on Camac, Knock, Stir Lounge, Bike Stop, Boxers, and Franky Bradley's.

Bars that do not comply could face punitive damages and fines. Organizations that receive city money could see their contracts suspended or terminated.

Stacy Vey, who owns Stir Lounge at 17th and Chancellor Streets, said she thinks “the more sensitivity training the better.” She's been discriminated against as a lesbian at bars in the city even as a bar owner, she said.

“People have to talk about these things. The more we talk about the issues the better it’s going to get,” Vey said. But her hope is all bars in the Gayborhood — not just the gay bars — get the same training.

“We don’t have to specifically go to gay bars anymore. We can go to our neighborhood pub, we can go in and out of bars and they’re very nice about accepting us and every bar should," she said. "So everybody needs a little training.”

Dave Morreale, venue director at Franky Bradley’s, said the business at 13th Street and Chancellor already has policies in line with what the city is looking for.

“We’ve never had an issue where this is concerned," Morreale said. "We do our best to try to make sure staff is fully versed in everything and accommodating people as much as we possibly can.”

Morreale said he still thinks it’s a good idea for all bars to get on the same page:  “I think making sure everyone is welcomed into the Gayborhood is important so it’s for a good cause.”

Rue Landau, who directs the commission, said it has the power under the home rule charter to compel participation. 

Landau said the commission would continue testing bars by sending people of different backgrounds in to report back on how they were treated.

“This is intentional and ongoing work, and we all must be committed to do it to create long-lasting change,” Landau said.

The findings of the report mirrored a study done in Philadelphia in 1986. That report by the Coalition on Lesbian and Gay Bar Policies resulted in 12 recommendations to change photo ID policies and promote equal employment.

Shani Akilah, founder of the Black and Brown Worker’s Collective, said 30 years is a long time to be addressing the same issues.

Akilah said the report provides a road map for how to hold government accountable. “This is a step for the community to continue to monitor them,” Akilah said. “That is what is going to happen.”