An annual New Year’s Day tradition in Philadelphia was marred by at least two anti-LGBT incidents, when a gay man was assaulted during the Mummers Day Parade in which a group also mocked trans former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner.
According to Philadelphia TV station WCAU, the 116th Annual Mummers Day Parade was led by a group of drag queens, symbolizing the folk tradition’s recent efforts to become more inclusive of marginalized groups, including people of color and LGBT residents. Historically populated by straight white people, the Mummers Day Parade has been referred to as “Philadelphia’s version of Mardi Gras,” according to the station.
But during Friday’s parade, a gay man walking his family dog through Philadelphia’s City Center was allegedly punched in the face, after several assailants hurled antigay slurs at the man and his dog. John Holtz told Philly.com he and a pair of friends were walking near Broad Street at approximately 2 p.m. Friday when they came across a group of Mummers, dressed in red, white, and blue, and with patriotic face paint. The 28-year-old chemist said the revelers appeared “very intoxicated” and were urinating in the alley.
“One guy kept saying, ‘Your dog is too good for you,’” Holtz recounted. “‘Your dog is a little bitch. You’re a faggot.’ He was digging at me.”
He contends there were children nearby, so Holtz asked the Mummers to “cool it,” according to the local news site. That’s when Holtz says an unidentified Mummer punched him in the face, leaving him with a black eye. A scuffle broke out before the assailants disappeared into the crowd.
Holtz told the local news site he was approached by a pair of police officers who asked him if he wanted to make a report, but he declined, explaining it would be all but impossible to identify the assailants given their costumes and the sizable crowd.
Holtz’s friends, who were visiting from out of town, encouraged the young man to come forward with his story, even if he didn’t file a police report.
“It was not a fun event and it makes me a little concerned about what this actually brings to the city,” Holtz said of the annual parade. “It’s positive in certain aspects but it lets some people run wild and free from the law and acceptable social norms.”
City Center is the same central location where a group of assailants — including a local police chief’s daughter who was found guilty of misdemeanor assault last month — brutally attacked a gay couple in September 2014.
But the alleged gay-bashing wasn’t the only anti-LGBT incident marking this year’s Mummers Day Parade. A group known as Finnegan New Year’s Brigade marched with an act that appeared to mock former Olympian Caitlyn Jenner’s headline-grabbing announcement last year that she is a transgender woman.
WCAU summarized the climax of the Brigade’s act thusly:
“In the performance for parade judges in the shadow of City Hall, a man dressed as Bruce Jenner drops into a wheelchair and changes into a woman’s costume while Aerosmith’s ‘Dude Looks Like a Lady’ played.”
Other members of the Brigade carried signs mocking Jenner’s iconic Wheaties box by juxtaposing the 1976 image with a doctored “Froot Loops” box showing Caitlyn as the woman she is. While several members carried signs with this image, one Mummer was caught on video saying “Fuck the gays,” while posing for photos. Another Brigade member wore a version of the controversial "Call Me Caitlyn" costume, while a blown-up image of Jenner's coming-out cover story on Vanity Fair was paraded through the city.
In a tweet on Friday afternoon, Philadelphia Mayor-elect Jim Kenney condemned the Brigade’s act as “bad” and “hurtful to many Philadelphians. Our trans citizens do not deserve this type of satire/insult.”
Finnegan New Year’s Brigade responded with a tweet of its own early Saturday morning:
— Finnegan NYB (@FinneganNYB) January 2, 2016
A representative from the Brigade told WCAU that the member shouting “fuck the gays” has been banned from the club.
“We understand and take full responsibility since we are Finnegan, but this deeply is sickening someone could say that,” read part of the statement, according to WCAU. “That’s not who we are or ever were.”
The group also defended its choice to focus its act on Jenner’s transition, saying the “satirical” act was voted upon by members of the Brigade.
“We understand that there will be obvious backlash for what we do as a skit but that’s all it was,” the group told WCAU. “We are sorry for offending people out there, and don’t want people to think we are against the gays, transsexuals, etc. We are not.”
Other “skits” in the Mummers Day Parade have also been blasted for being culturally insensitive — particularly a group called Sammar Strutters, who appeared in brown face, wearing sombreros and ponchos and calling themselves “Siesta Fiesta.” Some of those Mummers were dressed like tacos.
WCAU also reports that a select few Mummers, who call themselves "wenches," carried signs reading “Mummers Lives Matter” and “Wenches Lives Matter,” mocking the Black Lives Matter movement protesting police and vigilante violence against black people.
Roughly 50 actual Black Lives Matter activists demonstrated on the sidewalk and attempted to interrupt the parade, resulting in the arrest of two activists, reports WCAU.
In a Facebook comment on The Advocate’s story, out Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Sims, one of 2015’s 40 Under 40 honorees, pointed to Philadelphia’s hate-crimes legislation passed by the city council after the 2014 City Center gay-bashing as a sign of the ongoing effort to end such bigotry in the city of brotherly love.
“This has been painfully disappointing and we're working to fix it, not just pretend it won't happen again,” Sims writes. “Philly is legally the most pro-LGBT city in the country and this kind of crap won't fly here anymore.”