Last week, the city of Philadelphia introduced a new LGBTQ pride flag, adding brown and black stripes to the rainbow flag to highlight the contributions of people of color.
“We’re proud to host this celebration for the community to come together, not just for Pride but also to reinforce our strides towards combatting discrimination within our community, honor the lives of our black and brown LGBTQ siblings, and uplift our shared community to diversity within our community,” said Amber Hikes, director of the city’s Office of LGBT affairs.
The new flag makes a strong visual statement. But it ignores how Philadelphia’s LGBTQ scene is grappling with its own discrimination and intolerance, regarding both people of color and members of its community who hold conservative political beliefs.
Last September, the owner of the gay bar ICandy, Darryl DePiano, was caught on camera using the N-word. Once posted to YouTube, the video gained more than 67,000 views.
That incident, as well as other complaints to the Philadelphia Commission on Human Rights, led the city of Philadelphia to subpoena the owners of 11 local gay bars.
The city’s civil-rights agency concluded that gay bars had created “preferable environments for white, cisgender male patrons.” It mandated that owners and employees of the 11 establishments undergo a mandatory anti-discrimination course, saying they needed to create a “’safe space’ for all LGBTQ people.”
Political intolerance has also been a hot topic in Philadelphia this year.
In February, the Philly Queer Exchange Facebook page attacked Chuck Volz, a well-known local gay activist, over his support for Donald Trump and his conservative political views.
The controversy was sparked by two Facebook posts Volz made about Michelle Obama and Lena Dunham. But it quickly devolved into blanket denunciations of Voltz personally.
One UPenn political-science student, who declined Heat Street’s request for a comment, called Volz “a racist, anti-immigrant misogynist,” saying that “someone who supports those positions has no business representing me and the Philly queer community.”
Another local LGBT artist said that Volz’s political comments were “anti-black, anti-woman and clearly destructive to the goals of the Philly Pride organization and to the community at large.”
And a Philadelphia Magazine columnist argued that Volz’s posts disqualified him as an LGBTQ activist. “I cannot pretend as though individuals like Volz are committed to protecting me,” he wrote. Since then, the columnist announced he’s boycotting Philly Pride this year in part because of Volz’s involvement.
Volz, who has been a Gay Pride coordinator for more than 20 years, said he volunteered to step down as a senior adviser, concerned that the controversy would detract from the organization’s mission.
“I’ve come out of the closet twice,” says Volz. “You can be conservative, libertarian, pro-life and be a gay person… [but] these new activists are just brutal. They make enemies out of their friends. It’s just counter-productive. I don’t get that. We should be trying to make friends out of our enemies…. I’m trying to keep gay people from painting a target on my back.”
Volz said though he gave up his official title as an (unpaid) senior adviser, his involvement won’t actually change. Just like for the past 20 years, he plans to volunteer between five and six hours a week—and as many as 15 hours a week in the months before Pride.
“He’s schlepped more tables and chairs than anybody,” said Franny Price, the executive director of Philly Pride. “He’s done so much over the years, out of his own pocket, and he’s never asked us for a penny. He works on it all year long. He’s the first one there at every event, and he does this out of the goodness of his heart.”
Price says she’s had a long friendship with Volz despite their being “politically polar opposites,” and she said she was baffled by the controversy over his political views and unclear about the personal attacks on him.
“Everyone’s walking on eggshells now, and Chuck doesn’t even have 100 [Facebook] friends,” she told Heat Street. “Whoever did it did it cause trouble.”
Given these controversies regarding both racial and political diversity, the new flag seems like cheap symbolism.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.