Two weeks before a historic city hearing on racism in the LGBT community, several-dozen community members gathered for an open exchange on the issue.
The Oct. 13 meeting at the African American Museum was labeled “productive,” “problematic” and a “good start” by different participants.
The event capped several weeks of debate and protests regarding allegations of discriminatory practices at Gayborhood bars, a racist video of ICandy’s owner and opposing reactions to city leaders’ treatment of the issue.
Community members used an easel to track ideas and questions for city leaders — who were asked to wait until the second half of the meeting to enter — about such issues as responses to police harassment and city contributions to community organizations.
Alonda Talley, 30, attended and said she was glad to see community members working together to address the issue.
“We as black and brown people have to stop attacking each other,” she said. “We’re not going to get anywhere if we’re attacking each other.”
Director of LGBT Affairs Nellie Fitzpatrick, executive director of Philadelphia Human Relations Commission Rue Landau and other city representatives took part in the second half of the meeting.
Fitzpatrick has been the target of protests by the Black & Brown Workers Collective and other groups that have called on her to step down, contending she has not taken enough action to address racism.
“We’re clear about what our position is: for Nellie Fitzpatrick to resign,” BBWC member Shani Akilah told PGN this week. “We feel she doesn’t reflect the needs of the community, doesn’t reflect the legacy of that office.”
BBWC member Abdul-Aliy Muhammad took issue with Fitzpatrick’s being involved in the meeting.
“Black & Brown Workers Collective has been talking about how black and brown people are most impacted by racism and systemic oppression in the Gayborhood, so why is a white ally featured in this conversation? They moved Nellie to the end of the meeting to answer questions, and none of the questions were answered to our satisfaction.”
BBWC representatives questioned Fitzpatrick on why she had not reached out to them directly in the past few months.
“I apologized I did not reach out to Shani in the last few months. I have been in contact with other community members as well as other folks who were involved with BBWC at its beginning point in February,” Fitzpatrick said. “I have been working on the other side in government to link folks who have had those experiences [of discrimination] with the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission, which handles those complaints. But I made sure Shani has my personal cell phone number and we shook hands. I truly hope she will be willing to talk to me, as well as everyone in BBWC. I am here and always willing to sit down and talk, at any time, to anyone.”
Muhammad said the organization is standing by its calls for Fitzpatrick to step down.
“We’re still calling for Nellie’s resignation and we still have not gotten a response from the city government on the list of demands we served to Nellie and the mayor at the flag-raising ceremony,” Muhammad said, referencing a protest the organization and others led during the Oct. 9 LGBT History Month event. “We will continue to demand Nellie resign and organize around that until that happens.”
A representative from the Mayor’s Office did not respond to a request for comment about Mayor Jim Kenney’s response to the demand list by presstime.
Talley said she was concerned that the calls for Fitzpatrick’s resignation are distracting from her work on behalf of trans women of color.
“We should be looking at the issues of trans women of color being killed, things like the unsolved murder of Stacey Blahnik that is now a cold case,” she said. “Nellie is trying to help us with these things. She has been a great, great provider for [LGBT shelter] Home for Hope. Every time we finally have somebody who’s willing to stand up for the trans community, is someone going to come around and try to knock that down? That’s the biggest thing I’m worried about.”
One of the BBWC’s other concerns was whether black and brown therapists will be available for free to community members who testify to their experiences of racism during the Oct. 25 Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations hearing on the issue.
“Racism is known as an acknowledged form of trauma for people and people on the receiving end at the city need to move accordingly,” Akilah said.
Landau confirmed to PGN Wednesday that black and brown therapists will be accessible for no cost at the hearing.
The hearing starts at 6 p.m. Oct. 25 at Liberty Resources, 112 N. Eighth St., Suite 600.
PCHR issued a subpoena to all Gayborhood bar owners earlier this month. Landau confirmed that Kenney, Fitzpatrick, Mazzoni Center CEO Nurit Shein and Philadelphia FIGHT executive director Jane Shull — to whom BBWC has called for subpoenas to be issued — have all confirmed their attendance.
Landau called the hearing a “listening session” for commissioners, who will rely on the oral and written testimony as the basis for a report on the issue of racism in the LGBT community.
“The commissioners want to hear people’s experiences with racism and discrimination in the LGBTQ community — and it doesn’t have to be just in the Gayborhood — as well as recommendations for positive change,” she said.
Landau noted the historical significance of the hearing.
“We have participated in studies that have focused on racism and discrimination in the community, including in the bars,” she said. “We have also had many individual cases of racism and discrimination — in neighborhoods to places of employment — but this is the first time we’re taking a step back and taking a larger look at what we can do about systemic issues that may be perpetuating racism and discrimination.”
Akilah said BBWC representatives will attend the hearing.
“Black and brown folks will be able to go and testify on the record for the first time ever about racism in the Gayborhood,” Akilah said. “Beyond that, our confidence is not placed in the hands of a government entity. We’ve been very, very intentional about creating our own systems and spaces outside of government channels. We understand that is not where justice lies for us; however, if something happens that’s positive for the community overall, that’s great.”