Pride in Philadelphia spurs activism and joy

By Michele Zipkin and Jason Villemez

For an LGBTQ community continually the focus of legislative, physical, and online attacks, the June 4 Philadelphia Pride March and Festival struck a vital refrain: support is all around, and it’s more needed than ever.

“The reality is we’re with each other because we’re for each other. We’re still going to show up for each other because we’re not disposable to one another,” MC Sam Wise, an organizer and activist, told the crowd that filled 6th Street along Washington Square Park.

Organized by galaei, the “Love, Light, and Liberation” March opened up the first weekend of Pride month with celebration and a call for continued activism. Youth stood with elders, parents stood with their kids, politicians stood with union members. Batala Philly, a local percussion band, drummed an energizing beat. Members of the Whosoever Metropolitan Community Church held flags representing all stripes of the community. Attendees held signs that read “We’re here, we’re queer, we will not live in fear,” “Say Gay, Stop Homophobia” and “Cruelty will not win.”

Before the march began, speakers including Rue Landau, Democratic nominee for City Council At Large, Jazmyn Henderson of ACT UP, and Rev. Jeffrey Jordan and Rev. Andrea Lamour-Harrington of Whosoever Metropolitan Community Church of Philadelphia addressed the crowd.

“We march today for the trans youth,” Jordan said. “We march today against every bill trying to stop our community.”

In 2023 alone, 491 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in legislatures around the country, the largest number on record. So far, 63 of those bills have been passed into law.

Landau, who will almost certainly make history in November as the first out LGBTQ person elected to City Council, urged the crowd to make their voices heard against those seeking to undermine LGBTQ rights.

“We have to unapologetically tell folks in power that our rights are worth it,” Landau said. “That we are here, we are not going back, and that we are here to stay and we are getting louder and stronger.”

Henderson, who has been leading frequent protests against right-wing group Moms For Liberty and the Philadelphia Marriott, which is hosting the group’s annual conference later this month, spoke about the anti-LGBTQ discrimination pushed by the group and urged the crowd to stand up against them. Speakers at the June 29 to July 3 conference include former President Donald Trump and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, among the top proponents of anti-LGBTQ legislation.

After the speakers and a land acknowledgement for the Lenni Lenape people, the march began with dozens of volunteers carrying a 200-foot long Pride flag, the longest in Pennsylvania history, down Walnut Street. They were joined by the hundreds of LGBTQ attendees and supporters from all walks of life who were cheered by onlookers all the way to the Gayborhood, where the Pride Festival kicked off as they arrived.

The march and festival marks the second year that the team at galaei organized a large-scale Pride event in Philadelphia, which was among the highest attended Philly Pride celebrations to date and the largest in recent memory.

“It was an important time to hold an event of this scale where people recapture their agency, especially when we lean forward to 2024 and all of those pieces of legislation that are anti-trans,” said galaei Executive Director Tyrell Brown. “It is a resource festival, but at the same time it’s also an inspiration, it’s a call.”

This year’s Pride festival featured something for everyone — community members danced to DJs on newly painted rainbow crosswalks; youth and their families enjoyed a space with bouncy castles and a dunk tank; those wishing for a lower sensory or sober spaces had areas specifically for them; community organizations helmed resource tables with information,narcan and condoms; vendors sold hand-made crafts; and those curious about the community’s history found a commemoration walk.

“Pride is a radical act of displaying happiness for who you are,” said L. DeFelice, Pride festival attendee. “It also symbolizes the riots that happened back in the day that are a testament to our community moving forward. Specifically shout out to Black trans women who are at the front of our movement and who are often erased from the movement. I think Pride so clearly wouldn’t happen without them.”

Pride festival partners include Action Wellness, Bebashi, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, Colours Organization, Mazzoni Center, Philadelphia Family Pride, Philadelphia Fight, Reproductive Medicine Associates, Courage Medicine, Green Thumb Industries, Rythm, The Bearded Ladies, Therapy Center of Philadelphia and William Way LGBT Community Center.

“Especially in the political climate that we’re in, it’s really nice to see people express themselves and be themselves, and do that so freely in community, which is so accepting and loving,” said Zyah Fall, a Black trans woman who interns at the Arcila-Adams Trans Resource Center at William Way.

A slew of drag, burlesque, and other performers dazzled multiple stages at the festival, including ballroom icon Jacen Bowman, Anayah Rae, Tony Enos, DJ Lorboo, Honey Dizaster, Prentice Bush, Icon Ebony Fierce, DJ Delish, DJ Robert Drake, VinChelle, Allyria Everlasting and many more. Vendors and other organizations who were tabling at Pride included ACT UP, Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, CCP Queer Student Union, the Attic Youth Center, the Greater Philadelphia chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Prevention Meets Fashion, and the communit-based harm reduction outreach program Operation in My Backyard, among others.

“We’re trying to raise some funds to get the word out about how important harm reduction is in all communities,” said Nicole Bixler of Operation in My Backyard. “Pride means the same thing as harm reduction — love thy neighbor, treat everyone with dignity and respect.”

“Pride to me is equality for everybody — plain and simple,” said Cody Smith of Philly Candles.

For Martika Tyson of the retail store Butterfly Corner, “[Pride means] diversity and inclusion. Not separated, all being treated as equal, just being together with all my sisters and brothers, them, they — everyone.”

Joy and community were also common Pride themes for some participants.

“Pride is just joy, it’s like family and home,” said Nhakia Outland, founder and executive director of Prevention Meets Fashion. “I want us all to get back to community, and I think today showed that.”

Given the hundreds of harmful bills targeting queer and trans youth, Pride proved to be a safe haven for kids and families. “I got to see more children here, lots of families and it’s good to have them be in a safe space,” said Nafisah Houston, director of programs at Bebashi.

“What [Pride] means now is seeing kids who are out and having kids come to an event where there’s a youth and family zone, and that they’re supported and it’s not corporate,” said Staphnie Haynes, executive director of Philadelphia Family Pride. “I get choked up seeing all the little queers walking around owning who they are.”

Pride was possible thanks to the team at galaei, including Hazel Edwards, manager of the Trans Intersex Nonbinary and Gender Nonconforming Services, Jorian Rivera-Vientidos, manager of the Prioritizing Our People program, Nelson Torres-Gomez, galaei’s lead coordinator, and Ebony Ali, manager of the Student Power Leadership and Activism Together program.

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