But, says one local man, he was ejected from the park from kissing another man.
Raphael Perez, 38, has frequented the park to work out, paint and converse with friends. On Sept. 26, he said, he was sitting on a bench talking with a male friend when the two shared a kiss — and a security officer confronted them.
“It was only one kiss, 20 seconds maximum, and one of the security officers came over behind us — we didn’t see him coming or anything — and he just came up behind us and said, ‘You cannot do this here, you have to go,’” Perez said.
Perez has since filed a complaint against the hospital with the city’s Human Relations Commission. The city’s Fair Practices Ordinance prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in public accommodations.
The hospital released the following statement in response to an inquiry about the complaint: “At Thomas Jefferson University we believe all individuals should be treated with dignity and respect. The university has not received a copy of Mr. Perez’s complaint, and in any event, we will not comment on a pending legal matter.”
Reynelle Staley, director of compliance at the Human Relations Commission, confirmed that the university had not been officially notified of the complaint as of Monday but it would be soon.
Staley said the commission will decide on next steps in the case once Jefferson receives and responds to the complaint.
On the day of the incident, Perez said he felt shocked but followed the officer’s directive. As he and his friend started to leave, he said, he noticed that not only was the officer following them, but two other security guards were walking toward them.
“It added a lot to the intimidation. We are two small-framed guys that are not opposing any resistance,” Perez said.
After the other officers approached, and before both men left, Perez said they asked if the same action would have been taken had they been a heterosexual couple.
“The officers said that’s out of the question and avoided the matter,” he said.
Perez said he was surprised that the incident happened in a spot typically open to the public, situated near the Gayborhood.
“It’s a place that I have seen other people kissing, weddings going on there, so why wouldn’t I be able to kiss a man?”
The morning after, Perez reached out to Jefferson to discuss the incident with the property manager and was referred to an investigator.
“I explained the story to [the investigator] and he looked at me and said, ‘Well, I’ve been a police officer for 20 years in Philadelphia and this would have never bothered me, but maybe it bothers some other people,’” he said.
According to Perez, the investigator said he was unaware of any regulations for the space.
Jefferson did not respond to a question from PGN addressing potential rules governing use of the area.
Perez said he “mean[s] no trouble for [the officer], I just want to know what one can or cannot do in this open space.”
Perez said that when the investigator failed to follow up, Perez spoke with his supervisor, who told him Jefferson had the right to ask Perez and his friend to leave.
Perez also reached out to a facilities supervisor, whom he described as “welcoming and actually surprised that this incident happened” initially. He responded several weeks later that, upon speaking with the officer in question, the officer explained that Perez’s behavior was “inappropriate” and noted that he would have taken the same action if it were a man and a woman.
According to Perez, the facilities supervisor said this was the officer’s interpretation only and the officers were trained to act on their feet.
The facilities supervisor said no complaints came in to Jefferson about the public display of affection, according to Perez.
Perez also followed up with a Jefferson LGBT representative, who he said mentioned that an apology could be issued and also recommended sensitivity training for the officers.
Jefferson officials did not respond to PGN’s request for information on current sensitivity-training efforts.
“In three or four days, [the LGBT representative] got back to me and she said [the officer] would have done the same thing regardless of the sex. He said there were small children present,” Perez said, noting that he and his friend did not see any children in the area.
Perez filed a complaint with the Human Relations Commission last month.
According to commission executive director Rue Landau, the complaint was filed as a potential public-accommodations case.
Perez, who has not been back to the park, said he is not seeking monetary gain, but wants Jefferson to clarify what can and cannot be done on its property.
“If there is anything personal here that I am hoping for, it is for Jefferson to retract their words,” Perez said. “To say you were not doing anything inappropriate because right now, they are saying I did something inappropriate and I do not think that is right.”