PHILADELPHIA – A few days before he took the oath of office to become the city’s 125th mayor, Jim Kenney had to respond to a major concern that people were addressing: The bigotry and homophobia seen that this year’s Mummer’s parade.
“It was bad. Hurtful to many Philadelphians. Our Trans Citizens do not deserve this type of satire/insult. #Berespectful,” Kenney tweeted.
On Wednesday, he addressed the Mummers controversy again, saying that the 115-year-old parade needs to deal with this a lot better than they have in the past. “It’s all about education and it’s all about explaining to people who might not understand that sometimes you do things that are offensive to people, whether you meant to or whether you didn’t, you still offended them,” he told 6 ABC. “The Mummers Parade is a celebration of family, it’s competition, it’s a celebration of the new year. It’s steeped in great tradition. Making people feel bad about who they are is not part of the Mummers tradition,” Kenney said.
Sadly bigotry and racism has been a tradition of the Mummers, whether it is their penchant for blackface or the random controversy such as the late Geno’s Steaks owner and rabid racist Joey Vento participating in a Mummers skit that ridiculed Mexicans. This year was different however because a group of activists called the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice called for a demonstration during the Mummers parade to bring attention to a number of issues including concerns about schools, the fight for a $15 minimum wage and police brutality. Conservative blogs however began posting at the Philadelphia Alert Service was warning about the protest, noting that Black Lives Matter was participating in the demonstration, that was the spark that caused a number of Mummer supporters to voice outrage in news stories, blogs and on the event page for the demonstration that Philly Coalition for REAL Justice set up. Ironically, it was there where those supporters decided to respond with racist insults and threats, an irony that was picked up by the blog US Uncut, who after the parade posted screenshots of their more vile responses.
The protest brought out a small number of participants some of whom were arrested for minor offenses, and the parade supporters thought they scored a victory against Black Lives Matter. The problem for them however, was the fact that the protest drew attention from not just the media but the rest of the country, who were then treated to the racist and homophobic spectacles that one sees every year at the parade. There was the Sammar Strutters, who’s “Siesta Fiesta” revelers dressed as tacos with brown face paint, including children. And the Finnegan New Year’s Brigade Comic Club featured a man dressed as Bruce Jenner who then changed and emerged as Caitlyn. This brigade also had their participants who carried signs comparing Jenner’s Wheaties cereal box with a box of Froot Loops featuring Jenner from the cover of the Vanity Fair magazine, announcing her coming out, and one of them – who is known but hasn’t been identified by local media outlets – was caught on video chanting “Fuck the gays!” An assault on a man called anti-gay slurs was also reported.
Overnight there was calls of outrage on social media and in print. Comedian Margaret Cho in her anger about the parade, took a particular shot on Twitter at local conservative columnist Stu Bykofsky’s repeated defense of the bigotry of the parade, which before this year’s event even meant a column ridiculing the effort to make it more diverse. Bykofsky responded to her merely by tweeting a picture of her that displayed her tattoos and writing, “I hear Margaret Cho has attacked me. Check the tattoo jungle and tell me she should be taken seriously.”
But people are taking the criticism of the parade seriously. The person that shouted the anti-gay chants on video has been banned for life from participating in future Mummers Parade. Finnegan captain Michael Inemer Sr. has apologized for the Jenner skit, which was performed as the parade marched through a section of Philadelphia that a few years ago was officially renamed the Gayborhood because of the contributions from the LGBT population there. The Sammar Strutters, who have been in the parade since 1965 have also reportedly been banned for their anti-Mexican skit. Mayor Kenney, himself a former Mummer, is calling on the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission to help clean up the parade for next year while others are calling for the parade to just simply end.
Meanwhile the Philly Coalition for REAL Justice notes that the response to the parade shows how much of a success their protest, the first against the Mummers’ Parade since the 1960s, ultimately was. They plan to be out again next year.