Community members speak out about Gayborhood racism

The William Way LGBT Community Center played host Thursday to an event that enabled community members to voice their concerns about racism in the Gayborhood nightlife scene.


Racism in the Gayborhood: Nightlife Call-To Action was organized by Braden Chapman and moderated by Matthew Armstead and Hannah Jeffrey of Training for Change, an organization dedicated to increasing the capacity around the world for activist training.


The meeting was prompted by community outrage following a YouTube video of Darryl DePiano, owner of ICandy, using a racial slur; DePiano was talking about a past employee and individuals who requested drink passes.


The Black and Brown Workers Collective has been at the forefront of protests this past week, calling for community members to divest from establishments that have racist policies. Earlier this year, reports surfaced about an ICandy policy denying individuals who wear Timberland boots access the establishment; management has denied that this policy exists. Allegations were also recently made regarding a discriminatory dress code at Woody’s.


The facilitators were paid for by Michael DePiano, husband of Darryl DePiano and co-owner of ICandy. DePiano and Woody’s owner, Michael Weiss, were not present at the event. Michael DePiano told attendees that his husband did not attend because he received death threats on social media after the video was published.


Director of LGBT Affairs Nellie Fitzpatrick was not present at the event either. The BBWC and other organizations have asked Fitzpatrick to resign due to what they say has been a lack of action regarding racism at the Gayborhood.


Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations executive director Rue Landau and Tabu general manager Jeffrey Sotland were among the approximately 50 people at the meeting.


Armstead began the meeting, stating that organizers were eager for discussion to continue after the event.


“What we are hoping to get out of tonight is that this can be a beginning discussion for a lot of people,” he said.


When the floor was open to the public, many addressed the subtle way that racism plays out in the Gayborhood, such as through racial jokes made by nightlife performers.


Several suggested negative occurrences like DePiano’s video can be used as teachable acts, while G Philly editor Ernest Owens urged people to take legal action against those who discriminate.


“Racial discrimination is against the law; it is a federal offense and it should be handled with the level of sensitivity and proximity that our taxpayers’ dollars align us with,” he said. “We cannot do teachable moments with illegal acts. When you are breaking the law, you have to pay the consequences for it.”


Landau echoed those sentiments and urged community members to report discrimination to her office.


“We want you to file complaints with us if anything does happen; if you’re refused service, treated differently or if suddenly there is a new rule that you can’t wear a black suit coming in,” she said. “Even if we are not sure we will find illegal discrimination, we still need to know about it. If we don’t know about it, we won’t be able to follow up and we won’t be able to know trends.”


PCHR will host a public hearing to address the racist incidents at 6 p.m. Oct. 25 at Liberty Resources, 112 N. Eighth St., Suite 600. The day after the William Way meeting, PCHR issued subpoenas to all Gayborhood bar owners to attend and bring with them copies of employment and dress-code policies and other materials.


Ricky Peterson, a former ICandy employee who was reportedly the individual DePiano was talking about in his video, pledged to speak out and document the impact of the video.


“I have coworkers and friends and family telling me about this video that was posted on social media. How is that not illegal?” he said.


Various nightclub performers spoke about their experiences in Gayborhood nightlife. Omyra Lynn, a local performer, said they have been performing as a drag queen in the community for seven years and experienced blatant racism in the Gayborhood, citing experiences getting carded at Woody’s, Voyuer and ICandy, while white patrons were not.


That’s an experience observed by Dena Underwood, a piano player at Tavern on Camac, who has been a part of Philadelphia’s LGBT community for 25 years.


“When I sit at the piano, I feel like I am playing the soundtrack to white supremacy. I see bartenders carding anyone who is black that comes in but not the white people,” she said. “When I bring it up, it’s like ‘No, that didn’t happen,’ but actually it did. I’ve seen people get the best slots as far as bartending or even on the piano just because they’re a cute white guy. We need to call out these things.”


Sotland, one of two nightclub owners present, said Tabu has implemented policies to ensure that all patrons and employees are treated equally. He noted his management team has also had to make decisions in the moment to be in line with those policies.


“Several weeks ago a queer person of color called another queer person of color the ‘n word’ at Tabu. That person has been banned for 60 days,” he said. “Could I [permanently] ban them? Yes, but it doesn’t make it an education moment. It makes it a dead end. That person doesn’t learn from that experience.”


Sotland, whose staff has received sensitivity trainings, said he is open to hear about any issues community members have had at Tabu.


“Anybody who owns an establishment, if they care, then they want to hear what the complaints are.”