City releases Gayborhood racism findings, recommends training

City releases Gayborhood racism findings, recommends training

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This story has been updated to include comments from representatives at Philadelphia FIGHT and the Mazzoni Center.

The Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations offered recommendations to combat racism and discrimination in the Gayborhood at a press conference Monday.

In its report, “Inform, Monitor, Enforce: Addressing Racism and Discrimination in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ Community,” the PCHR confirmed four findings:

  • LGBTQ people of color, women and transgender people often feel unwelcome and unsafe in Gayborhood spaces.
  • Racism and discrimination have been ongoing issues among Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community for decades.
  • The business practices of bars in the Gayborhood substantiate the numerous reports of racism and discrimination the PCHR heard.
  • Past and current employees of certain LGBTQ social-service agencies report patterns of discrimination relating to the agencies’ employment practices. 

To address these findings, PCHR offered four recommendations:

  • Bar owners and staff must receive training on the City of Philadelphia’s Fair Practices Ordinance (FPO) and implicit bias.
  • Board members, directors, management and staff of the Mazzoni Center and Philadelphia FIGHT must receive training on the FPO and implicit bias. It is recommended that other nonprofits serving the LGBTQ population voluntarily participate in these trainings as well.
  • The Independent Business Alliance (IBA), the region’s LGBT chamber of commerce, should provide training in leadership development for prospective and new board members.
  • Nonprofits that receive city funding to provide services to the LGBTQ community must conform to the nondiscrimination provisions of the FPO and the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) requirements included in their professional service contracts with the City of Philadelphia. 

Additionally, PCHR presented a timeline for these recommendations to go forward. Posters detailing the Fair Practices Ordinance must be displayed at employee common areas at all Gayborhood bars within 30 days, and FPO training must be completed within 90 days. All implicit-bias training must be completed within 120 days, and bars and nonprofits must report completion of recommendations to PCHR. 

In a statement to PGN, Mazzoni Center board president Jimmy Ruiz said the agency was grateful for the PCHR’s “work in putting this report together, as well as the individuals who came forward to share their stories and experiences, which was not easy for many of them to do,” referring to the Oct. 25 PCHR hearing in which members of the community addressed incidents of discrimination and racism. “It is extremely important that we as an organization hear about these experiences, so that we can fully understand and participate in the ongoing conversations about racism in the LGBTQ community, and so that we can continue the work we are doing to improve our own culture and create an environment where everyone — staff, patients and anyone else who interacts with us — feels safe and respected.” 

Ruiz noted, however, that the organization had “concerns” that “at no point through the process did PCHR contact us to provide any explanation and/or response. Therefore, we feel that some of its conclusions are not based on providing all involved a voice.”

Ruiz said that in the last few months Mazzoni, which some audience members at this fall’s PCHR hearing accused of unfair employment practices, has worked to “engage employees on the issues of racism, implicit bias and diversity in the workplace.” 

Next week, staff will undergo two days of workshops by Connecticut-based social-justice organization National Conference for Community and Justice. Ruiz added that Mazzoni will follow up with PCHR to ensure it complies with the recommendations in its report.

“Our latest activities are just one step in an ongoing process, and we are committed to continuing this vitally important work, to strengthening our relationships and the trust of the people we work with and serve and to reaffirming our core values so that each and every person who interacts with Mazzoni Center in any capacity is treated with compassion, dignity and respect,” Ruiz said.

Scott Wilds, president of FIGHT’s board of directors, urged that the report be revised so it does not discourage patients from using the organization’s services. He added staffers are not opposed to undergoing training. 

In a statement, FIGHT said that, of its 177 employees, 91 are African-American, 68 are Caucasian, nine are Latinx and nine are Asian. Two African-Americans, two Caucasians and one Asian individual comprise the “top-management staff,” according to FIGHT’s statement.

Its 17-member board is currently comprised of 11 African-American members, two Hispanic members and five Caucasian members. Twelve members are male and five are female. The organization does not require board members to disclose sexual orientation or gender identity, but it is believed that at least six of the 17 are LGBT, including two of the four officers. 

FIGHT also provided a copy of the handbook’s equal-employment opportunity and hiring policies, which outlines its nondiscrimination policies. 

“[The report] suggested our employee handbook is inadequate, when in fact, it’s very specific of the things that they were looking at,” Wilds added.

“They did not check with us on any of these things before the report was released. It gives me pause as to what process the staff of the commission went through in reviewing it before it was sent out,” Wilds said. “We are happy to meet with the staff to discuss things.” 

At Monday’s press conference, Mayor Jim Kenney noted that the city is not going to “just simply issue this report and move on.”

“There are a number of activists and folks in the room who have been in my face before,” Kenney said. “And you know what? Get in it. We need to have people in our face because unless you are vocal about it, unless you bring it to the forefront and bring it to power, bring it to the people who can change it, it’s not going to change. If you got to yell at me, yell away. I’ll hug you at the end of it. We’ll be good. We need to continue to have activists that step up and get in the government’s face.”

PCHR Executive Director Rue Landau was also on hand to speak about the report findings. 

“This was a long process and a lot of work, but in the end, we’ve created a report with additional resources that encompasses what we need to do to reduce or eliminate racism and discrimination in the LGBT community,” Landau said.

Audience members in the press conference questioned why city Director of LGBT Affairs Nellie Fitzpatrick did not speak about the findings.

“The director of LGBT Affairs is here,” Landau said, referring to Fitzpatrick in the audience. “But this is PCHR and this was our work and our jurisdiction and what we do.” 

During the conference, Abdul-Aliy Muhammad spoke to Kenney from the crowd and said, “Nellie needs to resign.” Muhammad is a co-founder of the Black and Brown Workers Collective, an organization that has frequently called for Fitzpatrick’s resignation. He said the organization is asking for someone with “a more intersectional lens.” 

“We know through the process of a year-and-a-half of community forums, we know from this report, we know from the hearing, we know from our direct actions that Nellie has been a hindrance to change around addressing Gayborhood racism,” Muhammad said. “Knowing that Nellie’s office is a barrier and she’s in leadership there, we’re asking for her to go.”

Kenney mentioned that Fitzpatrick works “really hard” in her position within the Office of LGBT Affairs.

“Not one person is responsible for racism in the Gayborhood or fixing racism in the Gayborhood or fixing racism in society,” Kenney said at the conference. “That’s a pretty heavy load for one person to deal with. So we’re all in this together.”

Fitzpatrick said she is “happy” to be the focus of protesters’ complaints and in turn bringing attention to “a critical issue.” 

“Quite frankly, protesting my being here is certainly getting more attention from government and getting government to move in a way that maybe protesting the bars wouldn’t have,” Fitzpatrick said. “For that purpose: excellent. I’m proud to be a lightning rod to get things done.”

Shani Akilah, creator and co-founder of the Black and Brown Workers Collective, said they only had one suggestion for Fitzpatrick, moving forward.

“To resign,” Akilah said.

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