Human Relations Commission sending testers to root out discrimination at LGBTQ bars

 PCHR's Rue Landau holds up new card to be posted in restaurant employee area (Tom MacDonald, WHYY)

PCHR's Rue Landau holds up new card to be posted in restaurant employee area (Tom MacDonald, WHYY)

Philadelphia’s Human Relations Commission is trying to crack down on discrimination in the Gayborhood — an area of the city that caters to LGBTQ crowds.  

The move comes after the city released a report on racism in the community. 

Rue Landau of the Human Relations Commission said after listening to numerous allegations of racism in the Gayborhood, it was time to act.

“Bar policies often allow for inconsistent and arbitrary treatment of certain customers which creates a climate of unwelcomeness, similar to what was encountered in 1986,” she said. “Many people of color, women, and trans people testified that they encountered obstacles to admission and poor service at the bars as compared to cis-gender, white, male patrons.”

Landau said that is going to change in Philadelphia. The Human Relations Commission, she said, will carefully monitor and enforce the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance.

“What we want everybody in the bars to know is that we have started testing,” she said. “And while we do not have comprehensive results yet of our testing program — it’s in the beginning stages — we have started testing; we will not stop testing. We will make sure we root out any discrimination that is happening in any of the bars,” she said.

Mayor Jim Kenney said the bars aren’t the only place where they will be watching for racial discrimination. It will also include city-supported nonprofits.

“We’ll do whatever else we need to do to see that the recommendations are adopted, and that possibly could include eliminating organizations who won’t change their ways by eliminating our participation in their work financially,” Kenney said. “I find that it’s always nice to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, but when you lose money by not doing the right thing, it gets people’s attention even more.”

Jeff Sotland, owner of Tabu Lounge & Sports Bar, said he has no problem with the clamping down on discrimatory practices.

“We, as an establishment that has served the community for over seven years now, see nothing wrong with it. It’s the way business should be. We have not had an issue, and we believe that this is business as usual for us,” Sotland said.

Another bar owner who didn’t want to be interviewed on the record said he wants to make sure every Center City bar has to live up to the nondiscrimination policy, not just ones in the Gayborhood.

The city’s diretor of LGBTQ affairs, Nellie Fitzpatrick, says the Gayborhood should be just the first place where the crackdown happens.

“This should be a standard that is citywide,” she said. “I don’t think that anybody, no matter who you are, should have to seek only a certain part of our city in order to be treated with dignity and respect.  So if you are a queer person of color you should be able to come into a bar in the Gayborhood, but you should able to enter any other space with no level of discrimination or racism.”

The city has already begun unannounced tests of the nondiscrimination policy, although she didn’t want to elaborate on the results of the investigation.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Help us get to 100% of our membership goal to support the reporters covering our region, the producers bringing you great local programs and the educators who teach all our children.