Philadelphia’s LGBT liaison under fire for perceived inaction on Gayborhood racism

Nellie Fitzpatrick

Nellie Fitzpatrick

Activists demanded the resignation of Nellie Fitzpatrick, the mayor’s liaison to the LGBT community, in a protest Wednesday night outside a Center City bar where she was being feted. They say she hasn’t done enough to curb the racism they say is rampant in the city’s LGBT community.

The Black and Brown Workers Collective (BBWC) organized a small but heated protest at the Hard Rock Cafe in Center City, where the Professional Women’s Roundtable (PoWeR) named her their 2016 PoWeR Award winner as a “trailblazer … for emerging women business leaders.”

BBWC organizer Shani Akilah addressed Fitzpatrick in the restaurant: “You represent the white supremacist power structure in the Gayborhood. And we are going to keep pushing until you and what you represent is dismantled and vacated for someone who really reflects the community.” She called for Fitzpatrick to step down, and for a black, transgender woman to take her spot.

Fitzpatick defended her position saying, “I build systems so that a black, transgender woman can win a mayoral election.” Her response was met with jeers from protestors. “I hope that you will come to my office,” suggested Fitzpatrick.

“Oh no, now you invite us,” responded Asa Khalif, with the Pennsylvania chapter of Black Lives Matter.

With video recorded by police and protestors alike, Fitzpatrick’s party was overrun with slogans over a loudspeaker. Protester Erica Mines threw a bouquet of dried flowers saying, “anti-black flowers, for your anti-blackness.”

After warnings of arrests by police, the group continued protesting outside of the Hard Rock Cafe.

Complaints about racism have simmered in Philadelphia’s LGBT community for years. But recent dress-code crackdowns at Gayborhood bars Woody’s and iCandy — targeting urban fashion trends often worn by people of color — have brought the controversy to a boiling point.

Then last week, video surfaced on YouTube of iCandy owner Darryl DePiano using the n-word in private conversation. Like gasoline on a fire, the video led to protests, calls for boycotts, and plenty of social media condemnation.

“This type of behavior is appalling and contrary to the values of Philadelphia and especially the Gayborhood,” state Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia, posted on Facebook. “We must strongly condemn these actions and make it absolutely clear as a community we will always be united against such repugnant racism.”

DePiano took the stage at his club Friday with drag performer Shangela to apologize.

“For those that know me, that’s really not who I am and what I stand for,” he said. “Unfortunately, I have to take full responsibility for my really poor actions and really disgusting language that I used … I greatly apologize to everybody. It’s something, if I could take back 30 seconds of my life, I would take that back. I have definitely learned that words are definitely more than just words.”

Some in the community said the scandal serves as a wakeup call about the need to be inclusive in a traditionally excluded community.

“The community as a whole is used to being discriminated against, so we need to be extra-sensitive to the minority community within the LGBT community,” said Tony Campisi, co-chair of the Liberty City Democratic Club, which is supporting the boycott of iCandy.

The city’s Office of LGBT Affairs and the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations denounced the racism in a joint statement issued Thursday and announced an Oct. 25 public hearing to hear testimony about racism and discrimination in the LGBT community.

But many activists said the statement and hearing are too little, too late. They blame Fitzpatrick, a longtime taxpayer-paid LGBT advocate who took over the Office of LGBT Affairs two years ago, for allowing racism to fester in the community.

Ernest Owens, editor of G Philly, who has written about this issue for the past year, said, “These are two landmark actions that happened after the video that had never come from the office before,” referring to the joint statement and the public hearing. “Which is why members of the community are protesting. They think there’s been negligence from her in addressing these intersectional issues.”

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