Lack of apology draws criticism from community

Offensive photo posted to Fame Nightclub’s Facebook page results in outcry, alleged firing

Members of the LGBT* community are demanding an apology from LGBT* nightclub Fame after an offensive and discriminatory photo was posted on its Facebook page.

On Nov. 1, a photo album of nearly 230 images from Fame Nightclub’s Halloween party was posted to the Fame Nightclub Winnipeg Facebook page.  In one of those images, an unknown Caucasian person dressed as Bob Marley complete with black face paint was pictured with three other unknown partygoers.

The image immediately sparked discussion among those who saw it and began to spread across the social media site.

Suzanne Moore captured the image with a screen shot before it was removed from Fame’s Facebook page at 10:30 a.m. on Nov. 1.

She posted the image on her own timeline in disbelief.

“Initially, my post really had nothing to do with Fame,” Moore says.  “My post was more so about the fact that in this day and age especially with all the attention this has been getting - not just with blackface but with the tribal headwear - I was shocked that this girl thought that this was okay. So I posted that.”

Moore, who has been a regular customer of Fame Nightclub for two years, says some comments on the post were directed at the nightclub.

“One of the first comments on there was calling out Fame, saying ‘seriously, how could you let this person in,’ and then everyone started putting their two cents in.”

In a Nov. 4 statement on its Fame Winnipeg Facebook page the club wrote “We immediately removed the picture as our intention is to do our best to not offend anyone. The night of Halloween, not one patron had voiced concern over this being offensive. To the small group of people that do not support and will never support Fame… why did you keep sharing the picture after it was taken down?

“We took the picture down at 10:30am yet you continue to share the photo as if we have refused to take it down. Stop being a bully!”

Management at Fame contacted Moore to ask her to remove the image from her timeline at which time she suggested Fame issue a public apology and “let it be known that this sort of behaviour isn’t condoned by Fame.”

“It felt like they just wanted to sweep this under the rug,” Moore says.

“We’re the last place to be called racist,” Fame senior general manager Beverly Claeys tells The Uniter during a brief phone interview, noting that she is Metis and that Fame employs an ethnically-diverse staff. 

Uzoma Chioma, the creator and founder of Queer People of Colour (QPOC), says employing a racially diverse staff doesn’t excuse the image of a person in blackface.

“When you say ‘we employ people of colour, therefore we can’t ever be in a position where we’ll offend people of colour,’ is incorrect,” she says.

Chioma believes employees and patrons of Fame who may have been offended by the image should have the opportunity to share their feelings publicly with the club.

“Allow them to speak for themselves,” she says. “You don’t get to speak for the people who may or may not be offended. That’s really concerning.”

Chioma says she is also looking for an apology “that addresses what the issue was and that respects the people that this
has affected.”

Following up with an email statement to The Uniter, Claeys says that she made a request to Facebook to have the comments removed. “[A] statement from a member of Qpoc/Queerview posted [a copy of] the picture and said that Fame Nightclub was ‘racist, run by white supremists (sic), unsafe and pretended to support the community,’” she says. 

The comments have since been removed by Facebook moderators.

“Fame Nightclub has safely provided a non-judgement and diverse environment for the glbttq* community to date and we have never experienced an incident such as this,” Claeys’ statement continues. “We do our best to satisfy this diverse community and we always try to learn and improve.”

Wren Egan says she was shocked when she first saw the image was associated with Fame. As a regular patron of the bar, Egan says she is reconsidering supporting Fame until there is a public apology from the nightclub.

“I immediately wrote to them to find out what was going on and what they were planning,” she says. “I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t simply taken down, and the issue brushed under the rug. I wanted to make sure that the people who I care about who were affected by seeing this sort of thing were reassured that the place was going to be a safe space for them.”

In an email response from Fame management to Egan, Fame writes “The photo was taken down immediately once some individuals found it offensive. Its (sic) up for interpretation...she was not spouting racial slurs and was trying to emulate icon Bob Marley. Even though some of our own staff, who are of color (sic), weren’t offended by her costume, we did take it down immediately once it was brought to our attention.”

Egan says a lot of people in her life are people of colour and saw that they were hurt by the image and unable to voice their opinions.

“They felt like if they spoke up, they would be targeted. That they would be told they have some sort of agenda,” she says.

“If they were to open their mouth and say ‘this thing that happened here really bothers me,’ they would be told to get over it -that their feelings didn’t matter as much as someone else’s right to wear a costume.”

One employee of Fame Nightclub did speak out about the photo. Brittany Hildebrand says she made her opinion known in the comments of the Nov. 4 statement from Fame.  

“[In the Facebook comment] I just stated the history behind blackface, other Halloween options and costume ideas there are, how I love Fame and how I care about it,” she says.

On Nov. 6, Hildebrand was fired from Fame Nightclub. She had worked there for two and a half years, starting in the coat check and working her way up to bartender.

Hildebrand alleges management called her into a meeting where they then dismissed her.

“They said ‘You’re no longer an employee here and until we feel comfortable seeing your face again don’t come back as a customer either,’” she says.

Hildebrand alleges Fame management suggested she was contributing to negative backlash against the club.

Chioma hopes QPOC and the community at large will be able to work collaboratively with Fame to ensure the space is as safe as possible. QPOC was founded in May of this year and works to create safe spaces for queer people of colour and allies.

“When you’re trying to do something positive and contribute to the community in a positive way, positive relationships with every establishment is really important,” Chioma says. “Our goal at the end of all this is to hopefully be a resource and an ally and a support for organizations and businesses including Fame.”

On Nov. 9, a group of approximately 20 members of the LGBT* community met to discuss how the photo and subsequent response has impacted them. They are hoping to engage in a dialogue with Fame Nightclub and continue the conversation to find ways of possibly addressing it.

Published in Volume 69, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 12, 2014)

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