This year’s Philadelphia Fight AIDS Education Month award ceremony at the Independence Visitor Center near Independence Hall was a special event for many reasons. Philadelphia Fight, which offers primary care and research on potential treatments and vaccines, has been in operation since 1990. Philadelphia Fight was there when the AIDS crisis in the city was at its height, and it has weathered — as Philadelphia Fight CEO Jane Shull commented in her opening remarks — a number of less-than-friendly United States presidents, from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush. Shull added that Fight will even survive the term(s) of the current U.S. president. While my political opinions are not the same as Jane Shull’s, what she says has some merit.
The message of Philadelphia Fight cannot be lauded enough. This was made evidently clear at the organization’s annual award ceremony, when the Kiyoshi Kuromiya Award for Prevention, Treatment, and Justice went to Elvis Rosado, a case manager for Prevention Point Philadelphia. Rosado shared this year’s award with Lee Carson, the current director of the Philadelphia Area Sexual Health Initiative (PASHI). Rosado, on accepting the award, seemed close to tears and said to him it was like winning the Pulitzer Prize. I had heard Rosado speak about Prevention Point Philadelphia last year at a presentation at a neighborhood library. Rosado’s talk at that time was robust and motivational.
Shull began the proceedings with an account of Kiyoshi Kuromiya’s life. Kuromiya was an activist and founder of Critical Path, which provided free access to the Internet to scores of people living with HIV in Philadelphia. He was also a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front-Philadelphia. GLF-Philadelphia was much more than an organization dedicated to fighting for gay rights; its extended umbrella included outreach to welfare mothers and black civil rights issues. Kuromiya gave the first national speech on gay liberation at the September 1970 Black Panther Convention held in Philadelphia. He was, as they say, a tireless, talented radical progressive.
Philadelphia is a contentious hotbed of left progressive activism. We have a mayor who loves to boast about the city’s sanctuary city status and who takes every opportunity to blur the difference between legal and illegal immigrants. One of the ways that Mayor Kenney does this is by repeatedly stating that Philadelphia has always been “a welcoming city.” In the beginning of June of this year when a federal judge upheld the city’s right to be a sanctuary city, the mayor did everything but break out into a dance in front of City Hall. Philadelphia is not only high on the list as one of the most anti-Trump cities in the nation, but it also scores high on the list of cities where leftist activist progressive organizations influence the character and tone of city life.
But what happens when an organization “left of left” is born and goes after more established left-leaning organizations because they are not “left enough”? What happens is a messy case of political cannibalism (this is no Dinner with Andre), the left eating the left.
This is what happened to Philadelphia Fight and Jane Shull. An organization known as the Black and Brown Workers Collective stalked Jane Shull on a Philadelphia street in 2017 after a former Fight outreach worker called on Shull to resign. That worker sent an email to Fight employees on her last day of work accusing Shull of cultivating a “culture of intimidation” when it came to people of color. The worker charged the organization with denying pay raises and promotions to people of color.
I tried to piece together these accusations with what I saw and felt at the Fight ceremony, and nothing fit. The grassroots, over-the-top racially diverse Fight event could have been a movie prop for a leftist progressive utopia. It just doesn’t get any better than Philadelphia Fight when it comes to racial diversity, the polar opposite of the image Fight’s accuser attempted to conjure up.
The heat against Shull in 2017 intensified and became so nasty that when a small band of angry BBWC activists spotted her in the street, they followed (or chased) her into the lobby of a building, where they then confronted her with bullhorn rhetoric and public shaming.
In a YouTube video of the attack, the stunned look on Shull’s face speaks volumes — it was the image of someone being bullied and harassed.
I felt even more empathy for former Philadelphia Director of LGBT Affairs Nellie Fitzpatrick when she was forced to resign after an event she attended at the Hard Rock Café was raided by the same activist group that bullied Jane Shull.
BBWC insisted that Fitzpatrick resign her post because in her role as director she was “maintaining white supremacy and refusing to be accountable.” Some of these charges stemmed from a “hot mic” audio recording of a white gay bar owner using the n-word when referring to some of the problem people in his club. Fitzpatrick’s response to the incident was perceived as being too mild, so BBWC wanted her out.
BBWC presented Fitzpatrick with a list of her other transgressions, which included:
— Support for an invitation of an LGBTQ police organization to be Grand Marshal at Philadelphia Pride Parade.
— Her Office’s failure to name intersectionality and anti-blackness in LGBTQ [safe] spaces.
— Her advocacy for white community members being rated as excellent, but her advocacy for the “Black and Brown” community being rated as much less than adequate.
— Her failure to engage Black and Brown LGBTQ youth, who are most impacted by issues of oppression in the gayborhood.
The YouTube video of the attack in the Hard Rock Cafe shows a startled and emotionally demolished Fitzpatrick trying to make sense of the encounter, as if she was trying to decipher the language of space aliens who had just abducted her. Fitzpatrick was at the Café to receive an award as a trailblazer when the group, twenty strong with bullhorns, screamed at her to resign over a “lack of credibility.”
“It’s a new political era,” one man yelled. He meant, of course, that these days, if you don’t do as he says or believe what he believes, he and his comrades will shut you down. “Our expertise is rooted in our lived experiences.” This eat-you-up, shut-you-down rhetoric is the language of Leftist bullies.
The bullies did succeed in shutting down Fitzpatrick. In no time she resigned as director of LGBTAffairs; the thugs got their way.
This really was one of the most shameful moments in LGBT Philadelphia history. Instead of sticking by Fitzpatrick, the “hidden” powers that be at City Hall arranged for her resignation. Fitzpatrick said during an interview:
It was not my decision, but I was very happy to move on. My tenure with the office has come to its natural conclusion, and I am excited to return to the practice of law, which was always my intent, and to continue serving the LGBT community through new ventures.
Where were Fitzpatrick’s allies? Why were they keeping silent?
Pulverized into silence (for fear of being excommunicated as “racists”), the community was largely silent, afraid to speak up against a clear-cut case of bullying.
The group that attacked Shull and forced Fitzpatrick to resign was nothing like the unified and harmonious Philadelphia Fight festivities that took place at the Independence Visitor Center. Whatever beef this group had with Philadelphia Fight had apparently dissipated like runoff sewer water.
When Shull made the remark that Philadelphia Fight has survived several “hostile” U.S. presidents, she could have added that “it also survived a hostile LGBT leftist activist group, far worse than any president in recent history.”