Philly LGBT convention in a hurricane

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While everyone is going to remember last week as the week of the great hurrica ne, some of us will be recalling it as a time our city really shined.

Now you might think this is a column about how the police, fire and other Philadelphia city services worked during the hurricane — actually most of Philly worked well, with the exception of the media which went overboard on the hype — but that is also not what this column is about.

It’s about how Philly’s LGBT community had two conventions in town, with nearly 2,000 LGBT tourists during a hurricane. Even though many of the special events, planned to showcase the community, needed to be cancelled since they were outdoor activities, our LGBT tourists still felt that certain magic that is our Gayborhood.

Planning two national conventions takes quite a lot of work and literally scores of people, organizations and city agencies to pull off. Planning for both of these conventions started over a year ago when we put together bids to win them over other competing cities. Then the planning started for hotel rooms, banquets, tours, receptions, parties — you get the idea, and Philly is big on ideas.

The larger of the two groups was the World Series for the Amateur Sports Alliance of North America — the official national organization of women’s softball — and this year, Philly was hosting 52 teams from cities across the country. The smaller group was the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, which is the professional organization of LGBT journalists, both those who work in LGBT media and those who work at mainstream outlets such as CNN, NBC, ESPN and The New York Times.

Both got a welcome from Mayor Nutter at the opening reception for the LGBT journalists on the 33rd floor of the Loews Hotel overlooking City Hall — he was hysterical. But before the mayor entered, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, which assisted with both conventions, had each of the journalists have his or her picture taken with Ben Franklin and Betsy Ross holding a rainbow kite and flag. It’s those little things that will bring smiles to the faces of our guests for many years.

On Friday, the storm hype reached its height, and a major decision had to be made. There was a plan for a full-scale carnival in the Gayborhood from 2-8 p.m. on Saturday, and it had to be called off. Fran Price spent months on this project and deserves our sincerest thanks. Some of the tours and other events had to be cancelled, but organizers found creative ways to make events work even in a hurricane. They carried on with a cheesesteak run, a pub crawl and a tour of Reading Terminal Market. Whatever it took they did it.

The result was that convention numbers climbed from last year. People knew Philly would put on a great show. Our tourism organizations and LGBT community have one of the greatest national reputations, and the numbers proved it. The best way to illustrate: the journalist convention, which was in San Francisco last year, was 18 percent up in Philly this year. You read that right: Philly outdrew San Francisco.

There are lots of people to thank for two impressive conventions — our tourism agencies and the LGBT tourism caucus, the city, the hotels and especially the Loews, which impressed me each day.

On a personal note, not only did Philly get to show its stripes, Philly also won the ASANA world series. And my personal favorite: my editor Sarah Blazucki headed the committee for the journalists’ convention. As I said to her on Saturday night at the last event, I’m a proud papa.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at [email protected].