An anchor for Philly’s LGBTQ Latinx community: GALAEI celebrates 30 years

By Emily Neil

“Okay, Latin America!” said one bypasser as they walked by the group toting flags from Argentina, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Guatemala, Cuba, and other countries from Latin America and the Caribbean. “Wepa!,” cried one man in the crowd, reaching over the rail towards the Puerto Rican flag carried by one of the members of the GALAEI team, the city’s only Latinx LGBTQ organization.

The crowd and parade participants alike were ebullient at Philadelphia’s largest-ever Pride Parade. GALAEI’s float stood out even among the bright rainbow colors that could be seen everywhere. In what was an emphatic celebration of both their Latinx and LGBTQ+ identities, staff members, volunteers, friends, and allies hoisted the different Latin American flags alongside the traditional multicolored Pride flag.

Celebrating its 30th year in 2019, GALAEI has been an anchor for the Latinx LGBTQ community not only in Philadelphia but throughout the entire state of Pennsylvania — long before the Pride Parade was a mainstream event, accepted and celebrated by the majority of Philadelphians.

GALAEI, said Interim Executive Director Francisco Cortes, is the second-oldest LGBT Latino organization in the entire U.S.

Founded by poet, artist, and activist David Acosta, GALAEI’s original focus was to serve queer Latinx men in the midst of the HIV epidemic by providing access to the resources that were often scarce.

“While we’ve advanced so far in the HIV field today, and people can live long lives and healthy lives and we have amazing prevention programs like PrEP, we still know that HIV disproportionately affects Latinx gay men,” said Cortes, noting that the education and outreach around HIV testing that GALAEI does is as necessary as ever.

The organization’s work has expanded through the decades, though, to encompass a variety of community needs. It now includes a trans-specific program, called Transequity Project; a youth lab, which includes school programming; an online platform for those living with HIV; a new group called Guerreras, a social and empowering space for queer Latinx and Afro-Latinx identified women and femmes; and more.

Centered on community

Five years ago, GALAEI moved from its Center City location to West Kensington — a decision that was “intentional,” said Cortes, in order to root their work in the communities they serve.

“So many times there are these preconceived notions that Latinx communities are inherently more homophobic or transphobic, and for us, we see it equally across races, and what we actually see is that being visible in West Kensington, in a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood, with our rainbow flags, with our giant signs that say HIV testing, we’ve actually had a wonderful reception from the community,” Cortes said, adding that though some people are “shocked,” many are “happy that this is being normalized.



A focus on reflecting the communities they serve is essential to GALAEI’s process, said Cortes, who noted that “all of the organization’s staff are queer, trans, Latinx or Black-identified,” with a board that is similar.

On June 21, the organization will mark another milestone: the 24th consecutive year of hosting the longest-running LGBTQ prom in the country.

“This year we’ll be celebrating 24 years of consecutively offering a safe, free, affirming space for queer and trans and allied youth to come and just have a meal, dance, have fun, no charge, no expectation on how to dress, who you can bring — because even in 2019 we still have schools that aren’t welcoming and affirming for queer and trans youth to come as their authentic self,” said Cortes. “So until we don’t need it anymore, we’re going to keep on offering it.”

A place to belong

In addition to providing tangible resources and programming, GALAEI also plays an invaluable role in creating a sense of home for new Philadelphians like Raúl Guerra Chávez, a Guatemalan immigrant who identifies as gay.

Guerra Chávez was born and raised in Chiquimula, Guatemala, a dusty, scorching hot town on the border of Guatemala and Honduras. He studied at the local university there, the University of San Carlos, and was working hard, living his life — but “there was always discrimination.” When his parents found out he was gay, they kicked him out of the house.

He had few options but to come to the United States around two years ago, with the support of his aunt. The first time he came to the U.S. and went out to a bar with his cousin, he “saw a different world.”

“I said to my cousin, ‘I can’t believe it, this is the world that I’m from,’” said Guerra Chávez.

Still, Guerra Chávez has to contend with the reality of being both an immigrant, and a member of the LGBTQ community.

“Being an immigrant here in the United States is very intense, but the fact of being an LGBT person is still more intense….You have two obstacles,” said Guerra Chávez.

“In part, they don’t accept you for being an immigrant, and in another way, over there you also weren’t accepted for being LGBT,” he said.

But Guerra Chávez, proudly toting the Guatemalan flag in the Pride Parade, said that he was hopeful and happy in his new home that he has created, in part with the support of GALAEI, whom he connected with when he first arrived in the city.

“I’m here because it’s a moment to celebrate with people from different places…there’s a lot of different people and they’re all here with the same purpose, to make everyone feel good, to make you feel comfortable, that you can persevere, that although there are still walls and barriers, you can continue forward.”

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PHILADELPHIA IS SET TO MAKE HISTORY WITH DEBUT OF OURFEST: AMERICA’S FIRST PARADE (AND FESTIVAL) DEDICATED TO NATIONAL COMING OUT DAY * Pride 365: A Program of Galaei announces new OURfest National Coming Out Parade and Festival/Resource Fair on National Coming Out Day Weekend October 6-8, 2023 * Philadelphia, PA - Pride 365: A Program of Galaei presents the inaugural Philadelphia OURfest: National Coming Out Parade and Festival/Resource Fair, the first National Coming Out Parade in the United States. OURfest stands for Our Uniting Resilience and these new events are being created to amplify the resilience of our people, our individual journeys in coming out, and how we hold and take up space everyday. OURfest: National Coming Out Parade will take place on Saturday, October 7, 2023, from 4:00pm to 6:00pm, from 5th and Market to Broad and Locust. OURfest: National Coming Out Festival will take place on Sunday, October 8, 2023, from 12:00pm to 7:00pm, with resource fair and family zone from 12:00pm to 5:00pm, and last call for mobile bars/food trucks at 6:30pm. OURfest looks to make history as the only parade in the country dedicated and inspired by National Coming Out Day. Come to Philly for the parade and festival, but stay for the weekend. LGBTQIA+ community members across the United States are invited to make their travel plans now for three days of events - with a kick-event being planned for Friday and many other events to be announced. Philadelphia region organizations and businesses are invited to be part of this historic weekend by hosting their own events all weekend long - before and after the parade and festival. Sign-ups are now open for the parade, festival and the weekend. For more about OURfest and how to sign up for the parade and festival, visit For a full list of all LGBTQIA+ events in the Greater Philadelphia region on that weekend, make sure to visit Philadelphia is a city of historic firsts - and the organization that broke records in June for “largest Gay Pride march and festival in Philadelphia history” and “largest Gay Pride Flag in Pennsylvania history” is ready to do it all over again. And yes, that 200 foot beautiful all-inclusive rainbow flag will be out and proud once again in the streets of Philadelphia. After a few years of pride programming being in flux, Galaei, a historic organization serving queer, trans, black, brown, indigenous, and people of color, has taken up the mantle for programming under the banner of Pride 365. This new program provided the Philadelphia Gay Pride March and Festival with new leadership, new stability and a renewed sense of community and purpose. Now, after the pandemic and a three year absence, Galaei’s Pride 365 Initiative will bring new life back to National Coming Out Day/Weekend in October - and present a new line-up of events with the new OURfest parade and resource fair/festival. “We developed Galaei’s Pride 365 Initiative to redefine and elevate Pride Month Month in June - and we are excited to do the same thing in October for National Coming Out Day/Weekend,” said Galaei Executive Director and Community Organizer Tyrell Brown (they/them). “Gay Pride and National Coming Out are crucial opportunities for our communities to join together in celebration and reflection, to find family and togetherness, to have access to resources, and to share the love, art and joy that are hallmarks of our community.” “Pride in June has roots that were in protest and a stand for justice and equality for our larger LGBTQ+ community. We created a march where the entire LGBTQ+ community could participate, march together and raise up our voices. For National Coming Out, we see this is a key opportunity to share and celebrate our collective and individual stories of coming out. The parade allows for our community to experience and enjoy a visual display of how far we’ve come, to watch a moving and powerful show together, and to take a moment to enjoy the story of our coming out.” They added, “While there are similarities in that both are unifying, joyous, and celebratory, the distinction exist between them in that one is for enjoyment, while the former (“Love Light and Liberation” Pride March) was a public stand for all that we need and deserve from an advocacy standpoint that extends beyond visibility.” “Galaei is proud to be at the forefront of bringing both Pride and National Coming Out back from the pandemic, but even more so we are honored to help redefine what each of these means to our community now and moving forward.” OURFEST: NATIONAL COMING OUT PARADE OURfest: National Coming Out Parade will take place on Saturday, October 7, 2023, from 4:00pm to 6:00pm, from 5th and Market to Broad and Locust. The parade will feature a mix of curated and designed floats, community organizations and live performances that spotlight the vibrancy of the LGBTQIA+ community in Philadelphia, the suburbs and across America. Look for themed sections to showcase youth and families, sports and recreation, professional leaders, pioneers and grand marshals, arts and culture, drag artists, and other groups. The community cheer section features the record-breaking 200 foot rainbow flag that debuted in June during Pride Month. The final route for the parade is being finalized and will be shared in a future update. Also, look for a parade line-up to be shared closer to the event! OURFEST: NATIONAL COMING OUT RESOURCE FAIR AND FESTIVAL Pride 365 and Galaei bring together the city's top LGBTQ+ organizers to produce a dynamic festival - and one of the single largest outdoor festivals of the year in Philadelphia. After a three year absence, the Gayborhood will come to life again in honor of National Coming Out Day/Weekend. OURfest: National Coming Out Festival will take place on Sunday, October 8, 2023, from 12:00pm to 7:00pm, with resource fair and family zone from 12:00pm to 5:00pm, and last call for mobile bars/food trucks at 6:30pm. The festival will spread out across the Gayborhood from 13th and Walnut down to 13th and Locust, across Locust to 12th, then from there to 12th and Spruce, with other select roads closed around the festival footprint. This new resource fair and street festival will feature art and music from the community, in a celebration that combines the uniqueness of Philadelphia and showcases the diverse talents of Philadelphia’s LGBTQIA family, friends, and neighbors. The vibrant location of the Gayborhood, the stronghold of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community, provides a historic backdrop for 200+ grassroots organizations, CBO’s, nonprofits, artists and makers, entertainers, restaurants and bars, food trucks, vendors and small businesses to provide innovative programming, dynamic structure, community resources, education, food and drink and family fun. The full lineup will include performances, speeches and the awarding of our first annual Mx, Ms, Mr, OURfest 2023. Within the larger festival, Galaei has worked with community partners to build a variety of fun and vibrant places for everyone. Youth and Family Programming will be an expansive space curated by several local organizations, including The Attic Youth Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence, Galaei’s SPLAT program, Philly Family Pride, and the William Way LGBT Community Center. This space is alcohol and smoke free and will feature age-appropriate and safe youth and family programming to celebrate all generations of Philadelphia Pride. Brown said, “As one of the most forgotten parts of our community our festival places intention around how we care for and make space for queer youth and families.” Look for bounce houses, game trucks, resources, chest feeding and changing stations, and more. This year’s festival continues with unique food and beverage experiences. Sober Vibes will be hosted at Writer's Block Rehab and co-facilitated by Galaei’s POP program with a dedicated space for sober folks. This bar will have a menu of mocktails and alcohol free beverages. This is a space that centers around adults who do not drink alcohol, and simultaneously is not geared towards family and children, however, they will be welcome in the space. Food Truck Market, in partnership with The Food Truck Lady, will bring together some of the East Coast’s best and tastiest food trucks and mobile vendors to keep everyone happy and fed while they enjoy the day’s celebration. This area will create a buffer between the party goers and youth/sober areas - and offer food and drink at a variety of price points. In keeping with Galaei’s dedication to highlighting Queer and Trans Black and Brown traditions and forms of expression, Galaei is proud to present “Bailar con amor,” an ode to Afro-Latinx heritage art, dance and expression. Kiki Alley will return with a celebration space highlighting the rich culture and history of the Philadelphia ballroom community. This dedicated dance space will be a love letter to everything that is vogue. The Philadelphia Muses Stage will feature a diverse lineup of local performers and producers, including DJ sets by Sway Philly and BOS Philly, plus the presentation of the first Ms, Mx, Mr OURfest 2023, with additional bands, choirs and other entertainers. This will be a stage festival goers will not want to miss! OURstage will debut with a collaboration of producers and acts that do not have a traditional brick and mortar. This stage will celebrate OUR diverse artistic expressions. VICE (*18+) will be an ode to Galaei’s dearly departed sibling Maso, with a co-produced and curated space for exploration. There will be workshops for kink and consent, resource tabling, and shops to purchase leather and giveaways of safe sex items. The Decompression Zone, in conjunction with Disability Pride PA, is a space for attendees seeking an accessible, low-sensory respite from festivities. This area will feature comfortable seating, tables, accessible bathrooms, a cooling station, a wheelchair charging station, adult changing station and low-level music. This provides a space for elders, those living with disabilities, and others seeking rest and relaxation during the event. Community services will include medical tents for onsite medical needs such as dehydration and minor injuries. These medical services are provided by doctors and nurses from Bebashi and Mazzoni Center. Therapists for folks who are in mental health crisis or may be over stimulated, individuals trained to administer narcan, security managers, staff to answer all day of questions, Sign language and Spanish interpreters, and de-escalation specialists that will move to any point in the festival grounds or at the bars that they are needed. POP Wellness will feature local cbo’s to offer a one stop pop up wellness and resource station, linkage to testing, linkage to care and resources via case management opportunities. Attendees will be able to stop by to set an appointment, and speak to a case worker about linkages to resources, such as housing, healthcare, education, and employment. Corporate Way will be a space for selected vetted businesses that have supported the parade, festival and weekend. This space offers room for tabling, but ensures that the core festival beyond this area is centered around the larger OURfest community. Please stay tuned for a full list of vendors, food trucks, entertainment times, stage line-ups and more coming the week of the event. For more information on volunteering, participating, or sponsoring the festival, please visit our website, or email ABOUT GALAEI Galaei is comprised of a talented staff of black and brown, nonbinary, and trans organizers, who at our building and in the lgbtq+ community are committed to getting resources, providing empowerment, volunteer opportunities, and assistance to all while prioritizing the most marginalized in our QTBIPOC community. Galaei believes in celebrating pride year-round as queer and trans people because celebrations of our joy and love are implicitly an act of defiance against those who seek to oppress us. We are committed to using our events to educate, provide resources, and facilitate spaces of empowerment and love. ABOUT PRIDE 365 Every PRIDE festival is a crucial opportunity for our communities to join together in celebration, find family, get resources and share the love, art, and joy that are hallmarks of our community. Pride 365 is a new program of Galaei that seeks to elevate the experience of every Pride every year. By combining the unique and vibrant location of our Gayborhood, the stronghold of our queer businesses, supporting small queer and trans business owners, providing innovative programming, dynamic structure, and intention around how the space is curated, we endeavor to have a space for everyone.