By Trang Do and Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — People of all races, ages and sexual orientations packed a hearing room in Chinatown to discuss issues of discrimination within Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community Tuesday.
“This is long overdue,” said Asa Khalif, head of Black Lives Matter in Philadelphia. “This has been nothing but racism from the top to the bottom against black and brown people and black and brown voices have not been heard.”
“So many people can finally say, this is real, I wasn’t making this up,” said Malcolm Kenyatta. He was on of the dozens from Philadelphia’s LGBT community that took to the mic to give personal accounts of going into Gayborhood bars and being racially profiled, discriminated against or mistreated because of their race. The meeting was standing room only, with people packed into two overflow rooms.
Philadelphia’s Commission on Human Relations called the hearing amid rising tensions, after a video surfaced last month of iCandy owner Darryl DePiano using a racial slur to describe African American customers.
“There is nothing that the owner of iCandy can do, say, give or be to me,” said one man giving testimony.
The hearing was filled with emotional testimony.
“I’ve lived through the dog biting days. I lived through the two bathrooms, I’ll be dammed if I’m going to see it again!” said a 70-year-old man to the crowd. “I have faith in the youth in Philadelphia with black and brown that this will end!”
“I was being consistently asked for ID when I would see others who were white, go in without asking for ID,” says Ernest Owens, who spent the past year reporting on racism in the Gayborhood. He says he has been a target of intimidation for months, after raising the issue of LGBT racism.
The commission will craft a report with recommendations that business owners, non-profits and other community stakeholders will be expected to follow.
“I hope that a lot more of us can come together and realize that we all have to fight this,” said Deja Lynn Alvarez, director of LGBTQ Home for Hope. “I also hope the Gayborhood itself takes notice and listens to things they may have not have been paying attention to before.”
“Certain establishments created an atmosphere or did things that created a culture of exclusivity,” says Sandy Smith, who participated in a 1986 survey exposing disparate treatment at Gayborhood bars.
He testified they could not find specific instances of racism, but people of color did not feel comfortable.
“One reason why it’s so hard to prove racism is that you don’t have a smoking gun- like we have here,” said Smith.
Mayor Jim Kenney attended the hearing and said the city is committed to making sure all feel welcome.
“Racism is in people’s hearts or it’s not,” he said. “I can’t legislate people’s hearts, but we can legislate what they say and what they do and how they conduct their business.”
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” says Rue Landau, executive director of the PHRC. She says the representatives from all 11 Gayborhood bars attended the meeting after the commission issued subpoenas. She says she expects change. She says the commission will issue findings and recommendations in 60 to 90 days.
People who couldn’t attend the hearing can submit written statements to the commission over the next week for consideration.