Tag Archives: Gayborhood

Trial likely for 3 in slur-filled attack on gay couple

Zachary Hesse and his boyfriend were moving on from a frozen yogurt stop toward a pizza joint in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood when they came across eight to 10 young adults out on the town.

One of the revelers, using profanity and slurs, asked if they were gay, Hesse testified on Dec. 15. Hesse said they were, echoing the same crude language, and they soon found themselves surrounded.

Hesse said he was pushed, pushed back and was promptly punched in the face.

“After that, it just kind of got messy,” Hesse, 28, testified before a judge upheld felony assault and conspiracy charges against two young men and a woman, the daughter of a suburban police chief. “(I felt) terrified.”

In a matter of minutes, boyfriend Andy Haught was lying in a pool of blood with a broken jaw and broken cheekbones. A nearby resident called 911, and the group took off.

The incident in downtown Philadelphia’s tony Rittenhouse neighborhood swirled on news and social media sites in September. It has alternately been described as a routine street fight or a homophobic attack in a state that doesn’t include sexual orientation in its hate crime law.

“I think this court knows, it’s going to be an interesting trial,” Assistant District Attorney Mike Barry said, asking Common Pleas Judge Charles Hayden to leave the answer to a jury.

The judge agreed and ordered the defendants to return to court in January to enter pleas.

Security video posted online by police helped identify the group, many of them friends from their days at a suburban Catholic high school. Defense lawyers vow to mount a vigorous defense for their clients – 24-year-old Philip Williams, of Warminster; 24-year-old Kathryn Knott, of Southampton; and 26-year-old Kevin Harrigan, of Warrington.

In court this week, defense lawyers compared the case to a street brawl, arguing that both parties took part.

“We don’t have a conspiracy, a wolf pack, a group of young people seeking to beat people up on the streets of Philadelphia,” defense lawyer Fortunato Perri Jr. argued.

Prosecutors took a darker view and called the initial query about the men’s sexuality “fighting words.”

“They got attacked just for being who they were,” Barry said.

He said defendant Harrigan ignited the fight when he hurled a slur at Hesse and threw the first punch.

Witness Geoff Nagle, who was looking out a third-floor window, said he saw a woman pointing a finger at one of the victims and then heard three to four punches land. He took a cellphone photo and called 911.

Prosecutors said they believe co-defendant Williams moved through the crowd to “sucker-punch” Haught. However, the defense said he went to Knott’s aid after Haught struck her.

“Phil Williams is not initially an aggressor here,” Perri argued. “He gets involved after a female is punched. … That is actually justified, under the circumstances.”

Nation’s oldest gay bookstore — Giovanni’s Room in Philly — closing

The owner of the nation’s oldest gay bookstore appears to be writing its final chapter, confirming Tuesday that he plans to close the financially troubled shop next month.

Giovanni’s Room, founded in 1973, has been losing money “for a long time” due in part to competition from online discount booksellers, owner Ed Hermance said.

Supporters describe the shop as a resource, safe haven and longtime gathering place for the gay community.

“There’s a very strong emotional connection between our customers and this store,” Hermance said.

Hermance, 73, has been looking for a buyer since August, but has not been able to seal a deal for the business or the small building it occupies. He would not disclose asking prices.

An email to customers notes the prospective closing date is May 17, but Hermance said in an interview Tuesday that it could be any time before the end of that month.

“I’ve never done this before,” he said.

Giovanni’s Room is named for the 1956 James Baldwin novel about a young man in postwar Paris struggling with his sexual identity. It’s believed to be the nation’s oldest independent bookstore specializing in titles written by and for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. New York’s Oscar Wilde bookstore had previously held the title until it closed in 2009.

Giovanni’s Room had two locations in Philadelphia before moving to its current site in the city’s affectionately named Gayborhood section. Hermance and his business partner borrowed money to buy a two-story brick rowhouse there in 1979 after discovering landlords weren’t eager to have a gay bookstore for a tenant.

Seven years later, they bought the rowhouse next door and expanded the shop. Volunteers put in countless hours over the years to help out, Hermance said.

The bookstore has hosted readings by prominent LGBT authors including Dorothy Allison, Armistead Maupin and Rita Mae Brown. During the height of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, Hermance said, the shop was the first place some people came after being diagnosed – to find information and for emotional support.

But since the heyday of Giovanni’s Room in the late 1980s and early 1990s, “it’s been a long, slow, steady decline,” he said.

Skip Strickler, the store’s only full-time employee, has worked there for 35 years. He said he’s anticipated the closing for a while now, and described it as “a dignified exit.”

Longtime customer Mark Segal, who publishes the Philadelphia Gay News, said the shop has been “a wonderful gift” to the LGBT community and that he admires Hermance’s perseverance.

“It has been difficult, and we appreciate every effort he’s made to keep it open,” Segal said.

Since the Gay News first published word of the store’s closing on Monday, there’s been an outpouring of support on social media, and customers have stopped by and called to express their condolences.

Hermance said he even received an email Tuesday from someone interested in buying the shop. He expressed skepticism, but didn’t entirely rule it out.

“There may be a white knight,” he said. “Who knows?”



Suburban gay bars headed for extinction

David Ralston came out in the early 1990s the only way he knew how: He went to a gay bar.

Not just any gay bar, but one in the suburbs, far from his Northeast Philadelphia home and the eyes of anyone in his large Irish Catholic family.

“I would still feel funny going into gay bars in Philadelphia,” Ralston, now 46, recalled. “I would wonder who’s watching me going in and out? Who’s going to tell my mother?”

So he drove to Gatsby’s in Cherry Hill, just one of a wide variety of gay bars tucked discreetly in the suburbs at the time. There was the Lark in Bridgeport, for instance, and the CR Bar was in Upper Darby. New Hope had three.

No more.

Suburban gay bars have all but disappeared. New Hope supports only one gay bar now, the Raven.

The decline reflects major shifts in American attitudes – among both gay and straight people – and the emergence of online sites for dating and hooking up.

It also illuminates the obsolete business model of the traditional gay bar. Simply having a gay clientele is not enough and has not been for a long time.

“Those were our ghetto bars,” Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, said of some of the windowless places in the suburbs. “We were stuck there. Today we’re not stuck. Our dollars are welcomed everywhere.”

He added: “There was a time when a gay couple could only go to the gay bars in New Hope. Can you imagine today a couple not feeling comfortable going to almost any bar there?”

In 2007, Entrepreneur magazine listed gay bars – along with newspapers and record stores – among 10 businesses facing extinction in 10 years. “The very best of them will endure; the rest won’t,” the magazine wrote.

In 2011, Slate magazine noted a 12.5 percent decrease in the number of gay bars nationwide since 2005.

Brett Bumgarner, who is writing his dissertation on how gay men meet, said gay bars are perceived less as singles places now, their original purpose replaced by cellphone applications such as Grindr that signal users when another interested gay man is nearby.

“A lot of people I know have talked about feeling uncomfortable because someone 40 years their senior is aggressively flirting with them,” said Bumgarner, 28, who studies at the University of Pennsylvania. “I think that’s what has attracted people to non-gay bars now.”

Younger people in particular – both gay and straight – are more interested in mixed settings. Straight bars, for instance, are offering gay nights.

Suburban gay bars also have had to compete with Philadelphia, an increasingly safer and younger city with a thriving “Gayborhood” that allows folks to bar hop.

“It’s very difficult for the suburban bar to compete with the city,” said Malcolm Lazin, executive director of the Equality Forum. “When you go to a smaller bar (in the suburbs), it’s probably less interesting, less upscale, has fewer people and the same people.”

Bob Skiba, director of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) archive at the William Way Center in Philadelphia, said gay bars date to the 19th century in Philadelphia. They proliferated with speakeasies in the 1920s. Their numbers rose again after World War II when an entertainment district sprouted along 13th Street and Locust.

In the 1970s, ownership of these bars shifted from underworld types, who often paid off police, to gay proprietors. More suburban bars opened up around this time, Skiba said. They included Andy’s in Chester and the Lamplighter in Camden. January’s was on a farm near New Hope. Marcus Hook had three bars: Captain Jack’s, Paradise, and George’s.

The 1996 edition of Gayellow Pages advertised the Lark in Bridgeport and the CR Bar in Upper Darby. New Hope still had the Cartwheel, Prelude, and the Raven. Gatsby’s was still around. Trenton had Buddies, Casa Lito, and Club 21.

Ralston, who came to Gatsbys in the early 1990s, said he knew no one when he walked in.

“Everybody was very interesting looking,” he said. “There were drag queens. A lot of weird people. A lot of nice-looking people. It was fun.”

He added: “For me, the gay bar was the support system, which is sad to say. But it was.”

Some of the bars provided “a sense of family that comforted whatever stage of gay life you were going through,” said John Glenstrup, a former bartender at Upper Darby’s CR Bar, a windowless place on Market Street.

A lot of his regulars did not feel safe in Philadelphia in the 1980s. But many people have grown older or moved back to the city, he said.

The suburban bars started to die out in the 1990s. Most were gone, except for the Raven, by the mid 2000s, although not necessarily for business reasons. The Cartwheel in New Hope caught fire. The Lark, on Dekalb Street in Bridgeport, fell victim to a bridge expansion. But these businesses were not replaced.

Philadelphia’s gay bars, on the other hand, have maintained a steady presence since the 1990s. Gentrification had swept away places on either end of South Street and north of Market, where black gay bars once existed, said Skiba, the archivist. But the Gayborhood, along 13th Street, has thrived because of the community’s strong political and business associations, Skiba said.

Terrence Meck, who owned the Raven in the mid-2000s with his late partner, Rand Harlan Skolnick, said a strong market still exists for gay bars. But owners cannot assume they have a built-in clientele.

“Our most successful weeks at the Raven were when we offered something different for various crowds each night of the week,” Meck said. “Just having a hot bartender isn’t going to pay your bills and keep you thriving anymore.”

The Beagle Tavern opened in Norristown in 2010. It’s a neighborhood-type pub that sells crab cakes and Caprese salad. The front patio looks out onto East Main Street. The door displays a rainbow sticker the size of a playing card.

“It’s a gay bar,” said the owner, Billy Frank. “But I wanted to make it an alternative bar for all walks of life, like for the misfit toys of Christmas. It’s for whoever walks in.”

The Beagle has drag nights.

And it’s where Tamara Davis and Nicola Cucinotta came to celebrate last week after getting their marriage licenses from Montgomery County’s register of wills. But the bar has a mixed staff and clientele.

Michelle Dorsey, 38, said it’s a place where she can bring her girlfriend – and her girlfriend’s 68-year-old mother.

“I don’t have to go to a gay bar,” Dorsey said. “I can be affectionate with a woman on a SEPTA bus. I just want to go somewhere I want to be.”

Philly developers plan groundbreaking for LGBT senior housing

Developers plan to break ground next month on a $20 million affordable housing project for elderly gays now that it has received the necessary state, federal and local approvals and funding has been secured, officials said this week.

The project, planned for a section of Philadelphia’s downtown affectionately known as the Gayborhood, had long been stalled before receiving tax credits earlier this year from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

The Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund, which is spearheading the project, said in a statement that the project has received all federal, state, and local agency approvals and building permits, and plans to break ground in late October.

Wells Fargo Bank also has signed on as an investor, tax credits have been allocated and all funding for the project has been secured, the group said.

The new six-story building, which will be on land bought from the city’s Redevelopment Authority, will include 56 one-bedroom units that will be available to seniors who are 62 and over.

“The project is moving forward very quickly,” Mark Segal, the group’s director and also publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, said in a statement. “The Redevelopment Authority vacated the building they were operating out of on the construction site, and clean up and plans for demolition of the building have begun.”

Anti-discrimination laws prohibit gay-only housing, but projects can be made friendly toward gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered people through marketing and location. The nation’s first gay-friendly affordable senior housing facility opened in Los Angeles in 2007.

Experts say the need for such housing is great since many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender seniors fear discrimination or disrespect by health care workers and elder housing residents.

On the Web…


‘Gayborhood’ to get affordable housing for LGBT seniors

Construction is to start this fall on one of the country’s only affordable housing complexes aimed at elderly gay people after developers received what they described as critical state tax credits for the long-stalled project.

The 56-unit, $19 million development is planned for a section of Philadelphia affectionately known as the Gayborhood. The project had been stymied for years by financing and logistical problems, but received tax credits this week from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

Such challenges only seemed to build interest in the badly needed facility, said Mark Segal, director of the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund, which has spearheaded the plans and fundraising. It was developers’ second attempt at securing the credits.

“If anything, it made people more supportive of the project,” said Segal, who also publishes the Philadelphia Gay News. “I have never seen this community so united behind a project.”

Experts say such housing is needed because many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender seniors fear discrimination or disrespect by health care workers and elder housing residents. Some go back into being secretive about their sexual orientation after years of being open.

At least 1.5 million elderly gay people live in the United States a number expected to double by 2030, according to the New York-based group Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders.

“Welcoming and affordable housing is one of the most important needs of LGBT elders,” SAGE executive director Michael Adams wrote in an email. “Unfortunately, this housing is in very scarce supply.”

Anti-discrimination laws prohibit gay-only housing, but projects can be made GLBT-friendly through marketing and location. Private gay-friendly retirement communities exist but are usually only affordable for the most affluent seniors.

In Philadelphia, most of the one-bedroom units will rent for between $615 and $775 per month, said Jacob Fisher, a senior developer at Pennrose Properties, which will build and manage the facility.

With $8 million in funding on hand, Fisher said, the remaining $11 million in financing for the project will come from selling the tax credits to a private investor who has not yet been determined.

Segal said he doesn’t anticipate any problem finding an investor. He expects the first residents to move in about 15 months after construction begins.

An official announcement of the October groundbreaking is planned for later April 16, Segal said.

The nation’s first gay-friendly affordable senior housing facility opened in Los Angeles in 2007. Projects in Chicago and San Francisco are also on the drawing board.

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