Antonio Watson performs in drag at CiBo Ristorante Italiano

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Leo Gonzales said he’s personally experienced discrimination within the the city’s LGBT community since moving to Philly three years ago. Particularly, through his experience producing and singing in shows in Philly’s gay bar scene for the past few years, he’s noticed a scarcity of performers of color in the shows that isn’t representative of the talent present in the Gayborhood.

In November, he and singer/producer Ian Lesage Johnson debuted an event aimed specifically at featuring performers left out of other productions. They named their project QPoC: Queer Performances of Color. They’ll host another event this weekend.

People of color in Philly’s LGBT community say the systemic racism of some of the city’s most prominent gay bars goes back decades, but racial tensions escalated last year when a video emerged of the owner of the popular nightclub ICandy using racist slurs, and last month the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations issued a report on race relations within the community. Most recently, the ongoing quest to eradicate Gayborhood discrimination has culminated in the replacement of the city’s director of LGBT affairs, Nellie Fitzpatrick.

It was last year during season six of Songbird, a Philadelphia singing competition, that Gonzales met Johnson, a singer and producer who was also competing in Songbird. Ian had also noticed the lack of representation in Gayborhood performances. Gonzales went on to win Songbird, but throughout the season he also collaborated with Johnson on a plan to integrate neglected members of the LGBT community into a performance celebrating diversity.

“I just had it in my mind, and for the longest time I didn’t really know what to do with it,” he said.

CiBo Ristorante Italiano at 12th and Walnut hosted QPoC’s first event in November, which boasted an array of burlesque dancers, drag queens and singers in a timely celebration of the diversity of Philadelphia’s gay community. Because of the high turnout and apparent success of the first event, a new lineup of performers will return to CiBo this Saturday, Feb. 18.

Jaime Cheng performs at CiBo.

Both Johnson and Gonzalez emphasized the importance of using art and community spaces to create atmospheres of inclusivity. Performing in the Gayborhood has helped Johnson discover more about himself.

“I felt for the first time ever, that I could fling my wrists and be myself, and I didn’t even know that I wasn’t.”

Both felt QPoC’s first event was a success.

Gonzales initially had concerns the event wouldn’t draw many people, that maybe he had overestimated the interest in promoting diversity in the city’s gay community. The turnout, though, exceeded his expectations and assured him there existed a community eager to create a more accepting Gayborhood atmosphere.

“What made it was the audience,” Johnson said, “The crowd was shoulder-to-shoulder packed. We were there together.”

Jarret McCreary sings at CiBo.

Performers curated their acts to embody the theme looming lately over Gayborhood nightlife, the same theme behind the birth of QPoC.

Jarrett McCreary chose two songs by people of color to perform: “Home” from “The Wiz” and “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson. 

For him, it was also the first time feeling totally comfortable performing, mostly because of how receptive the audience was to the variety of performance styles. The diversity of talent added significance to an already meaningful night.

“People were receiving what we were giving out,” he said.

This week, QPoC’s theme is intersectional feminism. Performances will still show off a range of styles but will only feature women performers. Gonzales said it was important to him to express the inherent relationship between feminism and intersectionality.

There will also be an address from Shani Akilah of the Black & Brown Workers Collective, which last year pressured businesses and the city to address some of the longstanding complaints of racism within the LGBT community.

Though QPoC’s events obviously feature and focus on representing people of color in the gay community, Gonzales stressed that allies of QPoC are welcome. His purpose in creating QPoC, he said, was not to create a safe space for a certain group of people, but to welcome everyone to a show featuring people typically left out of Gayborhood performances.

“I want more than anything for people to realize, on the cast’s side, to be their complete, unapologetic selves, and on the audience’s side, to educate, listen, learn and also to love.”

Doors for QPoC’s second event open at 10:30 p.m. on Saturday CiBo Ristorante Italiano, 1227 Walnut St. There is no cover, but donations are encouraged to cover event expenses.