Let me lend my voice to those who are calling for the removal of the statue of Former Mayor Frank Rizzo from its place of prominence in Center City Philadelphia at the Thomas Paine Plaza across from city hall.
I do not speak of the fact that Rizzo was a known racist, but rather that he was a known anti-LGBTQ+ crusader.
I have listened to the stories by our blessed seniors who lived through Rizzo’s police state like attacks on our community bars, coffee shops, and individuals.
We were the undesirables, the gays, lesbians, and trans persons, all at odds with “The General,” as Rizzo was known to the police as.
Jake Blumgart wrote that “Rizzo joined the Philadelphia Police Department in 1943 and would go on to embrace hard-charging tactics, like raiding beatnik and gay hangouts in the 1950s. Nearly anything was justified to get a suspect in cuffs, no matter their race.”
Historian Bob Skiba wrote that under Rizzo’s leadership, the police tactics “usually included raids on gay bars, lumping prostitutes, drug dealers, and homosexuals all together as ‘undesirables.’ Even gay and lesbian private clubs, incorporated to get around the city’s ban on same-sex dancing, were not immune.
During one campaign, Rizzo boasted, “I’m going to make Attila the Hun look like a faggot after this election’s over,” a comment he later went on to apologize for. While Rizzo and his police department use to raid gay bath houses and clubs regularly, they would also blackjack some of the occupants unconscious.
In 1968, the year Rizzo was elected Police Commissioner, Philly police turned their attention not to gay men, but to lesbians, with a raid on Rusty’s, a popular lesbian bar. When police descended on the bar, named after the take-no-prisoners manager, Rusty Parisi, they unplugged the jukebox, turned on the house lights, and, as gay rights advocate Ada Bello recalled, “the small posse of trench coat clad figures slowly moved from table to table.”
Rizzo’s reputation and historical data is clear, he was a bigoted racist who, while he is still a part of Philadelphia history, does not deserve the place of honor his statue location has afforded him. The prominence of the Rizzo statue is a slap in the face to every LGBTQ+ person who wither lives in the city or visits it.
There are those who are advocating the violent toppling of the statue. I say these individual voices of hate are wrong and misguided. This is not the way to deal with this discussion at hand.
Then there are those who are LGBTQ+ signing a petition to keep the statue where it is, that it is of part history and that can’t be erased.
I think out of respect for every LGBTQ+ person who was harassed, beaten, or arrested under Frank Rizzo’s anti-LGBTQ+ polices that the statue of Rizzo should be relocated to a less prominent location in the city, preferably in a museum where the whole story of Rizzo can be told to generations to come.
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