Activists disrupt Philadelphia OutFest opening with demands from LGBT people of color

For the second time in a week, activists crashed a party to demand the resignation of Nellie Fitzpatrick, the mayor’s liaison to the LGBT community, saying she hasn’t done enough to squash racism in the Gayborhood.

This time, the Sunday morning ceremony —  celebrating the seventh year city officials have raised the LGBT Pride flag outside City Hall — served as a kickoff to OutFest, Philadelphia’s celebration of National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11).

Four speakers, including Fitzpatrick and Mayor Jim Kenney, had already addressed about 50 LGBT supporters in the mayor’s reception room at City Hall when the activists — from the Black and Brown Workers’ Collective, Black Lives Matter, and other groups — marched in with signs bearing such slogans as “Anti Blackness Anywhere Is Anti Blackness Everywhere!” and “#ByeNellie #GetOutfest”

Within minutes, they began shouting over D’Ontace Keyes, the newly appointed commissioner on the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, who was speaking at the podium.

“Why haven’t you made a formal statement about Gayborhood racism?” shouted Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, a collective organizer.

Kenney responded: “I just did. You missed it.”

When Kenney then tried speaking with them and offered his hand for handshakes, the activists ignored the gesture and shouted chants such as “If we don’t get it, shut it down!” Kenney and Fitzpatrick left the room, and the activists took over the podium to outline their demands.

The episode came amidst a tense few weeks in the LGBT community, during which activists — angry about nightclub dress codes they see as racist and a three-year-old viral video of a club-owner using the N-word — have turned their fury on Fitzpatrick, who took over the mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs from Gloria Casarez (the first to hold that office) in January 2015.

Sunday, the activists also had harsh words for Kenney. They argued his ties to the Mummers (oft-criticized for racism and homophobia) and Democratic Committeeman Michael Weiss, a Kenney donor who owns Woody’s, one of the bars with an allegedly racist dress code, show the mayor is insincere about fighting racism in the Gayborhood. They also complained Kenney hasn’t done enough to end police stop-and-frisk practices.

“We know there are obstructionists in this government who fail black and brown LGBT community members,” Muhammad said.

Mateo Santiago, 23, said Gayborhood club bouncers often bar him from entering because of the way he’s dressed, while police hassle him with questions about if he’s in the Gayborhood selling drugs or sex.

“Why did it take for a video to go public for anyone to get involved in the racism in the gay community? There has been racism in the gay community for many years now,” he said.

A. Dionne Stallworth, an elder in the LGBT community who has been an activist for 30 years, confronted the activists, urging them to resolve their complaints without confrontation.

“What I have not seen is the willingness to come to a table without antagonism,” Stallworth said. “I know personally that your issues have merit … I congratulate you for holding them accountable here, but there is a process.”

Activist Erica Mines responded: “We do not sit at the table with our oppressors!”

Kenney did address the racism controversy before the activists arrived, talking about his upbringing in a neighborhood that “wasn’t always open-minded,” dealing with Mummer racism last year and getting emotional as he implored everyone to “be decent human beings.”

“We need to change our hearts if our hearts are cold, we need to change them, we need to look at each other in each other’s eyes … and love your fellow human beings,” he said, as he wiped away tears.

After the activists’ protest cut short the City Hall ceremony, Kenney’s office issued a new statement from him: “There is no denying that racism and discrimination is an issue within the LGBT community. The Gayborhood should be a sanctuary for all in the LGBT community, but sadly not everyone is welcome at some of its institutions, and until real steps are taken to address racist dress code policies or other instances of institutionalized discrimination, I will not go to those institutions. Discrimination in the Gayborhood and across the city is not something that one person or one office can be expected to solve on its own — it’s on all of us — and I hope the hearing [on Oct. 25] that the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations is holding on racism in the Gayborhood will start to move that ball forward. I intend to be there to do my part in ensuring that it does, and I encourage all others that are invested in change to attend as well.”

Meanwhile, a few blocks away, OutFest was under way, with thumping music blasting from speakers and plenty of rainbow-bedecked revelers who ignored the dreary, damp weather to celebrate their community. Both Woody’s and iCandy — bars targeted for boycott by those protesting nightclubs’ dress codes — were hopping with customers. The only sign of protest at OutFest was of the religious variety, as proselytizers with signs and portable sound systems shouted at passers-by about sin and Jesus.

But the racism controversy wasn’t far from some festival-goers’ minds.

“The mayor doesn’t care about us and never has,” said Radha Prabakaran, 21, of Camden.

Racism has plagued the LGBT community so long unaddressed, Prabakaran said, that she understood the frustration that drove activists to disrupt the mayor’s City Hall ceremony, instead of participating in official processes to “get a seat at the table.”

“The point is getting rid of the table, not sitting at it,” she said.

The activists’ demands, as collective organizer Shani Akilah outlined at City Hall, are:

Funds allocated to support the development of “black and brown spaces” in and out of the Gayborhood, as most of the city’s LGBT people of color don’t live in the Gayborhood.

That homeless LGBT youth be part of conversations about Gayborhood racism.

That anyone guilty of racial discrimination “be fined, reprimanded and relieved of duties, according to public hearings.”

That Kenney, Fitzpatrick, Philadelphia Fight executive director Jane Shull and Mazzoni Center CEO Nurit Shein be subpoenaed to the human relations commission’s Oct. 25 public hearing.

Outside oversight to ensure transparency of the human relations commission’s investigations and hearing follow-up.

Trauma therapists of color be present at the Oct. 25 public hearing to counsel, at city expense, anyone upset by the proceedings or the recent viral video of club owner Darryl DePiano using a racial slur.

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