LGBTQ community leaders call for change after Philly nightclub death

By Michele Zipkin

PHILADELPHIA — Eric Pope went to Tabu Nightclub on South 12th Street for the same reason anyone typically goes to a bar – to drink and have a good time.

In mid-April, when Pope allegedly became intoxicated and was escorted outside, where he establishment did not appear to be endangering anyone, surveillance shows that the bouncer working outside the punched him hard enough that he hit the pavement and fell unconscious. Pope, 41, passed away from his injuries on April 23 at Jefferson University Hospital, a week after the incident.

The Philadelphia Gay News spoke with leaders in the Philly LGBTQ+ community about their thoughts on Pope’s death as well as potential solutions for making LGBTQ-friendly bars safer.

“We clearly need a change in how we look at ‘security’ for our community,” said Sultan Shakir, president and executive officer of Mazzoni Center. “When security is causing this level of pain and violence, it should be clear there’s an issue and there’s been an issue for a long time. Safety involves compassion and care, not brute force, particularly in a space that knows patrons are impaired.”

Shakir was friends with Pope, so this loss was personal to him. “Eric was one of the kindest people I knew,” Shakir said. “No one deserves to be struck, particularly someone who can barely stand up. The person who murdered Eric not only took Eric’s life, he took life from me and the many people who loved him.”

Deja Lynn Alvarez, who is running to represent the Gayborhood in the Legislature, said of Pope’s death, “it’s horrible, it’s a tragedy. There’s no way to describe it in words. There is now a family grieving the loss of a loved one.”

She cautioned that as community members and community leaders take action in response to the incident, they must take into account the employees of Tabu and those of Mainline Security, most of whom are Black and Brown, who may get caught in the crossfire.

“We have to absolutely address the incident and what this one individual did in that moment that led to the death of Mr. Pope,” Alvarez said. “[It’s] beyond atrocious. We also have to take a moment to think about our next steps, our actions and how that will affect everyone else. There are a lot of Black and Brown people whose livelihoods — how they pay their rent, how they buy their food — who are now caught up in this, and they had nothing to do with it.”

Alvarez said she’s had meetings with some of the people who have been protesting Tabu, as well as with Tabu’s owner.

“We’re coming up with plans to make concrete changes in how safety is addressed and what it looks like moving forward,” Alvarez said. “That takes changing the idea around ‘security’ altogether.”

Jonathan Lovitz, special advisor to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce and candidate to represent the 182nd state house district, said that “Every community needs its spaces to be safe, most of all communities who continue to face hate, discrimination, and violence. The act of violence that took Eric Pope away from us reminds us how much work we still have to do — as neighbors, as business owners, as leaders in service to others. But the love and sense of community seen at the vigil in his honor reminds us that we can, we must, do it together. While we work toward accountability and justice, we must never forget his memory, or any in our communities we’ve lost. Building a stronger, safer, more connected LGBTQ+ and allied community in Philadelphia will take all of us.”

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