Combatting racism in LGBT community slow but steady

Following up on a series of town halls last year, Philadelphia Black Pride is planning a meeting this fall with stakeholders who have the ability to affect policy, like Nellie Fitzpatrick of the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs and representatives from the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.

The meeting will likely take place in October or November, said Le Thomas, president of Philadelphia Black Pride.

“People want to see more tangible things we can do,” he said. “We’ll be gathering a few folks and seeing what we can do on a smaller scale and see if we can build on it that way. We’ve done everything in such a large way that I think things have gotten lost in the cracks.”

In December, Philadelphia Black Pride released a four-point strategy to combat racism in the LGBT community. It called for establishing a reporting system for incidents of racial bias in the local LGBT community and establishments; training to educate the community; a challenge for LGBT establishments to pledge equal access to their facilities and participate in training on consistent implementation of antibias policies; and creating visible accountability for non-compliant establishments.

“We need to be cognizant of the tools we have immediately at our disposal,” Fitzpatrick said, “and do a better job of educating people how to report instances of racial discrimination.”

In the middle of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations’ web page is a link for “Discrimination and Enforcement” where you can report housing, employment and public-accommodations discrimination.

Public accommodations include bars. 

“Even if a person’s bad experience does not rise to the level of unlawful discrimination,” Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, wrote in an email to PGN, “we can help by tracking bias incidents and looking for trends, sending testers to an establishment or by offering counseling and training to the owners and staff. It is important to underscore that everything we can do is based on reporting. We will not know what is going on if people don’t report it.”

In the spring, some patrons of ICandy said they had been denied entrance because they were wearing Timberland boots; many saw it as a way to keep black people out of the bar. General Manager Jeff Sheehan told PGN at the time that a miscommunication between management and a member of the door staff led to the problem, when in fact, “There are no brand-specific bans at all.” The dress code is clean, neat and casual, Sheehan said.

Some looked to Fitzpatrick and the Office of LGBT Affairs to resolve the matter. She said increased communication between LGBT establishments and patrons would alleviate a lot of issues.

“Some things my office doesn’t have the legal authority to do,” Fitzpatrick said. “We need the community to buy into this self-betterment.”

Execution of the anti-racism strategy has moved slowly. In April, D’Ontace Keyes, former chief creative officer for Philadelphia Black Pride, said the organization was looking to work with the developer of The SWAT App, described as the Yelp of police services. The goal would be to use the model to report instances of racial bias. Thomas said his group is taking donations to cover the cost of working with the app’s developer.

“That part is mainly about accountability,” he said. “We need to look at that again to see how we as a community can hold each other accountable.”

The owners of Tabu and ICandy attended some of last year’s town-hall meetings. Thomas said many Gayborhood bar owners have expressed willingness to continue working to combat racism. Many people of color shared instances of bias during nights out in the Gayborhood, like being asked for identification while white people were not. 

The problem is nothing new. As far back as the 1980s, a group called the Coalition on Lesbian-Gay Bar Policies conducted a survey of LGBT establishments in Philadelphia and released a 19-page report of observations and recommendations.

The group included Beth Ahavah, Black and White Men Together, Dignity/Philadelphia, Gay Fathers of Greater Philadelphia, Integrity, Mayor’s Commission on Sexual Minorities, Metropolitan Community Church of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force and Sisterspace of Philadelphia.

Members worked on the report from 1984-86 and came to many of the same conclusions as the Philadelphia Black Pride strategy. They had called for regular trainings for bar staff and for owners to agree to a uniform policy on identification. It’s not clear if or how the strategy was executed.

For more information on the Philadelphia Black Pride strategy, visit or email [email protected]