Mummers fallout could include sensitivity training, pre-screening

Signe Wilkinson 01/06/16
Signe Wilkinson 01/06/16
Posted: January 07, 2016

Hours after being sworn in, Mayor Kenney responded to public outrage over the latest Mummers Parade: He tasked the Human Relations Commission and his administration's top LGBT aide to enact major changes in the city-backed New Year's spectacle.

Strict rules, prescreening of acts, sanctions, and sensitivity training for the Mummers all are under consideration in response to some Comics strutting in brownface and dressing as tacos. Others carried racially inflammatory signs. And still others performed a skit about Caitlyn Jenner that was deemed offensive to the LGBT community.

"The mayor is very concerned about the message that this sends to residents of Philadelphia and to the rest of the country about what is acceptable here," Rue Landau, executive director of the city's Human Relations Commission, said Tuesday.

Nellie Fitzpatrick, Kenney's director of LGBT Affairs, disputed the notion that satire and social commentary have long been a part of the citizen-run parade.

"If this were just funny, it wouldn't be making national headlines for how hurtful and outrageous it was," Fitzpatrick said. She and Landau are Kenney's point people on the matter.

In a Twitter post, Kenney described the mocking of Jenner as "bad" and "hurtful to many Philadelphians."

"Our trans citizens do not deserve this type of satire/insult," the mayor, himself a former Mummer, tweeted.

Fitzpatrick said she had spoken with Kenney throughout the weekend and after Monday's inauguration, and found him unequivocal in his outrage.

"He has said to everybody that he is repulsed, that satire is not an excuse to insult people, and that he's committed to creating a process where these acts [performances by the Mummers] will be submitted and vetted," Fitzpatrick said.

Fitzpatrick said the reported assault of a gay man near the parade route would not go unpunished, despite the victim's initial disinclination to pursue a criminal case.

"It's absolutely unacceptable. There's no place for it in our city," Fitzpatrick said, adding that she pushed for a police investigation.

"Police are taking it very seriously," she added.

Many had hoped that Friday's spectacle would be a history-making parade.

To change perceptions of the Mummers as being predominantly white, city officials kicked off the parade with two Latino groups, one African American drill team, and an LGBT contingent. All four marched in an all-new Philadelphia Division aimed at injecting the Mummers with cultural and ethnic diversity.

That buzz, however, was drowned out by a video posted on social media of an apparently inebriated Mummer shouting gay slurs while marching down Broad Street.

"We meant no harm at all to anybody," said Mike Inemer Sr., a broker and part-time bartender from South Philadelphia, whose Comic group, Finnegan New Year's Brigade, performed a skit that poked at Olympian Bruce Jenner's transformation into Caitlyn.

"Finnegan Goes for the Gold" was the title of the act, timed to coincide with the 40th anniversary of Jenner's decathlon gold medal in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal.

While 350 of the brigade's 360 participants were dressed in red, white, and blue costumes, Inemer said, 10 were dressed as medical workers; members of the Kardashian family, to which Jenner is related; or as Jenner - as a man or a woman.

Some members held up signs that showed Bruce Jenner's image on a 1976 Wheaties box and Caitlyn Jenner's image on a 2016 Froot Loops box.

The lone Finnegan marcher who shouted an expletive disparaging gays into a smartphone camera only added fuel to the fire as his invective spread on social media.

"You see [Kardashian] spoofs every weekend on Saturday Night Live," Inemer said, explaining that his brigade had intended only satire.

On Saturday, however, at a meeting with Mummers leadership to which he was summoned, Inemer said it was clear how concerned everyone was. He said he had dismissed from the brigade the man who had barked the homophobic slur.

"It's been a crazy four or five days," Inemer said.

"We'd love to reach out to the LGBT community and do a fund-raiser and try to calm things down," Inemer said.

His group has asked for a meeting with Philadelphia Gay News publisher Mark Segal, he added.

The Mummers leadership is seemingly united in calling for change.

"We have to take actions to prevent these kinds of things from happening," said George Badey, a longtime string band saxophonist and a lawyer who offers free legal services to the marching clubs.

Comic Division leader Rich Porco agreed.

"We'll all have to work together," Porco said.

mpanaritis@phillynews.com215-854-2431@Panaritism

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