People living in and around Wilton Manors like to believe that they live in a bubble of acceptance and tolerance.
That perceived bubble has burst.
Racist attacks against performers at local venues are serving notice that hate isn’t confined by city boundaries or sexual orientation. On Dec. 9, LeNora Jaye and Antonio Edwards, both of whom are Black, were finishing up their show at The Pub, when a customer went on a vile attack. Edwards described it on his Facebook page.
“[We] had a great show and were finishing up with our last song which was a request from a customer in the audience. It was ‘Fire And Desire’ by Rick James and Teena Marie. A random patron walked up to the stage while we were performing and said to LeNora and I quote: ‘We are NOT N*gg*rs and we don’t like N*gg*r music!’”
LeNora tells SFGN she was taken aback by the sheer aggressiveness of it.
“The man comes to where I’m at on stage and starts screaming ‘Shut up! Shut up!’ He starts screaming ‘I am not an N, and I don’t listen to N-music.’”
She said she went to confront him and get him out, but The Pub’s night manager and nearby patrons were already on it, escorting him out while telling him that’s not acceptable. The Pub’s Alex Sadeghi says the attacker was given a lifetime ban.
“We don’t want anybody like [him] in The Pub.”
A short distance away, LeBoy is cracking down on verbal and demeaning behavior toward dancers of color.
“It’s not just an incident here and there,” new manager Giovani Milani said. “I’ve seen customers make rude, racist remarks.”
New owners Anthony J.V. Rufolo and Charles Horton took over this month and have a zero-tolerance policy for bad behavior. They are putting customers on notice: respect the dancers or get a lifetime ban from the club. Milani used to dance at the club, and feels empowered in his new role.
“I’ve witnessed horrible things in the past, and never had the authority to do anything about them. Now that I do have the authority to do something about it, I’m not going to tolerate it.”
More Common Than People Think
Many people are shocked to hear about these attacks. However, this type of behavior is not new to the performers themselves, although this is an extreme example.
“There has never before been an overt display of bigotry in this manner,” LeNora said. “But there are microaggressions that occur at every show.”
Microaggressions range from the type of musical requests to racially-tinged comments on her wardrobe.
“It can be something as simple as I might wear a cap and someone says that looks ghetto.”
Edwards addressed this issue as well.
“When we as people of color say Black Lives Matter, it is not some catch phrase. It is to say that we deserve the same respect and decent treatment as anyone else on the planet. It is not to say that only Black Lives Matter, it is to say that Black Lives Matter as well. Where else would this behavior be tolerated?”
“We’re already exhausted from the daily microaggressions of racism that we have to deal with as performers of color in Wilton Manors,” LeNora said. “I’m tired. I’m tired of ignorance in every capacity. I’m tired.”
While Wilton Manors may be considered “The Gayest Place On Earth,” people of color, including LeNora, say it’s not the most welcoming.
“I’ve had Black people tell me they didn’t feel comfortable coming to any shows on Wilton Drive until you and Antonio started performing.”
She said friends have left the area because they felt unwelcome and harassed. And it’s not just patrons. LeNora said there is a club (which she declined to name) that would play country music some nights to discourage people of color from coming in.
“My experience in Wilton Manors is very unique. I am a straight woman of color. I am an LGBTQIA ally to the death.”
But she said we can, and must do better.
“This dream of cultivating inclusivity doesn’t match with the reality in Wilton Manors,” LeNora said.
“It would be great to think that we as a gay community are so evolved, that racism doesn’t exist, but unfortunately it is all too common and prevalent to pretend it is not.”
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