Some of Washington's homosexual community are raising questions about a D.C. Human Rights Commission member who solicited a contribution for an upcoming conference from the owner of a gay bar who has a racial discrimination complaint pending against him at the D.C. Office of Human Rights.
The commissioner, Philip Pannell, admits asking Glen Thompson, who owns the Badlands, for a contribution to help fund a D.C. Black Gay Conference later this year. But Pannell, the first black gay male on the 15-member commission, says there was nothing improper about his dealings with the bar owner and that he planned to disqualify himself if the complaint came before the commission.
"I've done nothing wrong," Pannell said yesterday. He said accusations against him had surfaced because a number of homosexual leaders, primarily black, resent his activism.
But several leaders of the gay community called the incident "disturbing" and question Pannell's judgment, not only because of his commission post but because gay organizations have been working to combat what they say is the frequent practice of discrimination against blacks at many gay bars. This is done, they say, by "carding," or asking blacks for several pieces of photographic identification in order to discourage them from seeking admittance.
Many of these leaders, including Pannell, have argued in the past that homosexual organizations should not accept funds from bars or other groups that discriminate against blacks. Some feel that accepting a $400 check from Thompson, made out to the D.C. Black Gay Conference, was inappropriate.
"Nobody is alleging he Pannell) has done anything illegal, but there is some question of poor judgment," said Gil Gerald, executive director of the National Coalition of Black Gays. "The situation of discrimination by bars is a serious one and, to many, this contribution seems to be a contradiction."
Pannell, appointed to the commission post in April by Mayor Marion Barry, described himself yesterday as the chief fund raiser for the conference, to be held at Howard University on Oct. 7, 8 and 9. He said that he asked for the contribution after two meetings with Thompson, during which the bar owner promised to adopt certain affirmative action policies.
Thompson confirmed Pannell's account of their first meeting and subsequent lunch and says Pannell told him that he would disqualify himself from the discrimination case "if some felt there was a conflict." Thompson called the complaint against The Badlands, filed in June by Black and White Men Together, a social action group for gay men, "unfair."
The Office of Human Rights yesterday referred all inquiries about the complaint and its procedures to the mayor's office, which said it would have no comment on the incident.
Lawrence Washington, chairman of the conference, called complaints against Pannell "a witch hunt" and charged that the Badlands contribution was being used to discredit the conference, which is being organized to promote increased black activism in the D.C. community.