The gay community has a problem of racism. You read that right. Ernest Owens, University of Pennsylvania alumnus and Philadelphia journalist, has exposed the segregation apparent in the gay community of Philadelphia. On Nov. 8, Owens visited the University as a guest speaker and explained his experiences of discrimination, racism and homophobia in Philadelphia as an African-American, gay man. Owens, the winner of the 2017 James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism, gained recognition after his articles covering acts of racial discrimination in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community went viral. It was in 2015 when his first exposé of the premiere gay bar in the section of Philadelphia aptly dubbed the Gayborhood caused a stir. Owens writes that there was “a very noticeable racial divide cut right through” the bar. The gay bars that Owens and his friends would mention also enforce very explicit dress codes. These codes seem to target certain races by banning stereotypical apparel. Some examples Owens provided were items like Timberland boots, Adidas sweatpants, sports jerseys and snapback hats.
Soon after Owens’ articles gained attention, a video surfaced of the owner of a noteworthy Philadelphia gay bar. The video was posted anonymously as a comment on one of Owens’s articles. In the video, the bar owner used racial slurs to describe some of his customers. In the two years since Owens’s initial article, he has fought for equality of gender, race and sexual preference in Philadelphia. In June 2017, a bill was passed that results in shutting down any bar in Philadelphia— not just in the Gayborhood — that is found guilty of discriminating against any groups or types of people. Owens has also aided with creating a commission in Philadelphia that creates a community of minorities. This commission of transgender people, disabled people, people of color and many more join together to raise awareness of many issues to the mayor’s office throughout the year. The commission provides a voice and representation for many different people that otherwise may not have been heard. One of the feats that Owens is proudest of is the inclusion of brown and black stripes added to the rainbow pride flag. These brown and black stripes signify inclusion of people of color in the LGBTQ community of Philadelphia.
Owens has helped aid the process to a more accepting and integrated LGBTQ social scene. However, he believes that there are many issues still apparent within larger issues themselves. Owens explained that most people from the outside looking in believe that the LGBTQ community is completely inclusive, it is “unicorns and rainbows.” But Owens explains how there are still many issues apparent within this community, especially in Philadelphia today. Owens left the University with some parting wisdom for the audience, he reminded everyone that “certain ideals do not change just because of your identity”. The idea of one minority or specific group facing issues typically associated with a separate minority is surprising, but Owens has uncovered that the problem has always been there right under our noses.