Gay man files antibias complaint against Gayborhood bar

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Rick White, an African-American gay man, has filed an antibias complaint against Toasted Walnut Bar & Kitchen. He claims the LGBT venue committed sex discrimination when the owners declined to retain his services for an outreach effort to attract more African-American clientele. 

Toasted Walnut, 1316 Walnut St., is a popular LGBT venue with a diverse clientele that includes many lesbians, according to its website.

White contends the owners discriminated against him last summer when they refused his offer to host a series of viewing parties, featuring the hit TV-show “Empire.”

He alleges that Toasted Walnut subsequently held two viewing parties of “Empire” utilizing the services of his former associate, who is female.

In October, White filed an antibias complaint against Toasted Walnut with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, alleging sex discrimination. As of presstime, his complaint remained pending at the agency.

White seeks an unspecified amount in compensatory and punitive damages from the venue. 

Denise M. Cohen, owner of Toasted Walnut, issued the following statement about White’s complaint: 

“His claim is that we hosted an event he owned — without him — because he is male and is gay. [This] is completely untrue as he was never excluded from this public event. Mr. White presented that [White’s associate] was his event partner. In a meeting with Mr. White and [White’s associate], he confirmed that he said to a Toasted Walnut employee that [referring to the employee] ‘no fat ugly white dyke’ would ever work his event and then turned to another femme employee and said she was ‘pretty enough.’ Additionally, he mentioned that he and [a city official] were friends and she was going to be his guest host of this event and that if we didn’t accommodate his demands that she encouraged him to file this complaint against Toasted Walnut. Mr. White has a history of making threats to Toasted Walnut and other local businesses predating the proposal of this event.

“At this meeting with [White, White’s associate and her personal partner] he again demonstrated a sexist and harsh behavior — after which we decided based on this that there was going to be no event relationship with Mr. White. That was until [White’s associate] showed a more calm and rational demeanor and stated she would work to calm her friend and partner down. [Then] we agreed this event would be great for our community and would work around Mr. White’s sexist and harsh behavior.

“The event — a viewing of the TV show ‘Empire’ — would proceed with [White’s associate] as host and Mr. White as her guest and whatever behind-the-scenes arrangement they had was acceptable to us. The initial proposal for the event was sent to us from [White’s associate], not Mr. White — confirming again that she was his partner in this event.

“We then received confirmation from [White’s associate] that Mr. White was in total agreement with the proposal’s modifications — to accommodate items in the proposal we legally could not agree to do — and that he was on board with the start of the event as it was to be promoted. All emails, texts and voicemails have been saved and documented with our attorney. 

“Toasted Walnut is a safe space for all and Mr. White has made — and continues to make — it a very unsafe space for the Toasted Walnut staff and customers with vulgar sexist comments, body shaming and continued threatening visits as recently as [Jan. 20].”

In a follow-up interview with White, he denied all allegations against him in Cohen’s statement. Specifically, White denied making sexist, racist and/or homophobic comments; he denied referring to a city official in the manner attributed to him; he refuted the depiction of his complaint; he denied being in agreement with his former associate’s business relationship with Toasted Walnut; and he denied threatening any Toasted Walnut staffer and/or customer, or behaving in an inappropriate manner at any LGBT establishment.

City works with community to combat racism

White, a Roxborough resident, expressed hope that his PCHR complaint will bring about positive change.

“I’m very concerned about racism in Philadelphia’s LGBT community and in the bars that are supposed to service us,” White told PGN. “If my complaint helps bring about positive change where African-American men are respected and allowed programming in these establishments, I’ll feel I’ve made a difference.”

White, 59, also noted that he’s a longtime member of the city’s LGBT community.

“I came out in the ’70s when Smart Place was the only black gay bar in Philly. I’ve always felt shut out. If Toasted Walnut hadn’t discriminated against me, I could have created an ongoing event in Philadelphia where black men knew they could go into an LGBT venue and see other black men and women and have a good time.” 

Rachel Hooper, a PCHR spokesperson, declined to comment for this story. 

“The PCHR does not comment on pending investigations,” Hooper said in an email. 

White also made this statement:

“Integrity is living the truth you know. Many people still ignore the injustices that people of color face and the complex structure of racism. Systemic racism is so ingrained in society and the Gayborhood that people have developed racial biases they are not even aware of. The only solution to improving the racial issue is to engage in conversation surrounding the topic.”