Street Fails to Sway Gay Audience

Frederick Cusick, Philadelphia Inquirer

September 29, 1999 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Blogger Tumblr

Democratic mayoral candidate John F. Street last night spent an hour speaking to a politely hostile audience of gay and lesbian community members.

Street, who as City Council president incurred the wrath of many members of the gay and lesbian community by coming out strongly against legislation to give domestic-partnership rights to the same-sex partners of city employees, noted that gay people were "very, very apprehensive about what's going to happen in a John Street administration."

Street sought to reassure the 120 people who attended last night's forum at the First Unitarian Church on Chestnut Street.

"This notion of John Street as a bigoted homophobe – I don't see myself that way," the Democratic candidate said.

He noted that while on Council he supported AIDS funding and pressured police to stop a rash of gay-bashing incidents in his district. He also pledged to appoint gays to jobs in his administration, to keep the door open to members of the community who come to him with concerns, and to attend as many gay cultural events as he realistically could.

Street said he also would make sure that all people in the city, including gays and lesbians, are "as safe as possible under the circumstances."

"I look forward to representing a city that is diverse," he said.

All of that got a lukewarm response from the audience.

David Fair, a longtime gay activist who is working in the Street campaign, said after the meeting that the crowd was made up of "downtown gays" who are fixated on "sexy issues" such as gay marriage rather than more meaningful economic and health issues. Fair asserted that Street does well with the larger gay community, which he said was interested in the broader issues.

Last year, Street fought an ordinance that granted domestic-partner benefits to city employees in same-sex relationships. His actions prompted much of the organized gay and lesbian support to go to former city housing head John White Jr. in the May Democratic primary.

In the November election, Street faces Republican Sam Katz, who supports benefits for same-sex partners of city workers.

"My position is what it is," Street said.

"I will go as far as I can go, as far as my views on these things allow me," he said.

Street also antagonized some members of the audience when he commented on the concept that homosexuals have no choice about their sexual orientation. Street noted that the group included those who said they were bisexual.

"I don't understand," Street said. "Bisexuality isn't a choice?"

A number of the people in the audience groaned.

The forum was put together by the Street campaign, the Pennsylvania Gay and Lesbian Association, and the Liberty City Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club.