OutFest draws crowds from across the region to celebrate LGBTQ living

Coming out as a lesbian at age 14 was a “horrible” experience for Liz Brown. The Fishtown resident’s parents discovered her journal detailing her sexuality, forcing her out of the closet before her planned debut at 18 years old.

Now 35, Brown said she wants young folks considering coming out to know they’re not alone, and there are other people experiencing the same struggle who can offer guidance. 

“There is a lot more support today than there was back then,” Brown added. “Look up what’s around you and don’t be afraid.” 

Brown joined the crowd attending Philadelphia’s 29th-annual OutFest, which took over 10 Gayborhood blocks last Sunday with live music, drag shows, outdoor dance parties and bar crawls. Local LGBTQ group Philly Pride Presents, which organizes the event, says the gathering is the largest National Coming Out Day festival in the world.

The free celebration, which boasted more than 180 vendors and ran from 12-7 p.m., ran along 12th and 13th streets from Walnut to Pine, and Locust and Spruce streets between 11th and Broad. Shortly after 1 p.m., organizers announced the crowd already totaled 20,000 attendees. 

Philadelphia became the first city to host an annual National Coming Out Day celebration in 1990. The idea stemmed from the second march for gay and lesbian equality that took place in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 11, 1987, according to Philly Pride Presents.

With such a large gathering celebrating LGBTQ love taking place days after the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments in three precedent-setting cases regarding LGBTQ workplace civil rights, West Philadelphia resident Jay Montey said he hopes OutFest teaches people there are still issues the LGBTQ community needs to fight for. 

“It’s definitely a good opportunity for us to show solidarity, to show that we’re not going to be silenced,” added Montey, a 31-year-old gay man. “We’re not going to be made to be afraid to live our lives.”

Emily Quinn, a 24-year-old trans woman from South Philadelphia, came out at age 23. Since, she said she’s been happier, more productive at work and is on the verge of completing her degree. 

“You see people bringing their kids; it’s a fun day explaining that the LGBTQ community is not just relegated to deep random portions of the internet and that we’re normal people who have everyday lives,” Quinn said of OutFest. 

According to a Human Rights Campaign survey of more than 10,000 LGBTQ youth ages 13-17, 42 percent feel their community is not accepting of queer people. Almost three-quarters of responders said they were more honest about their identities online than in the real world.

Dylan Nguyen, 16, stopped at OutFest during his visit to Philadelphia from Worcester, Massachusetts. Nguyen came out at age 13 during eighth grade to an accepting family, which he said “was a very lucky thing for me as an Asian-American.”

Many Asian families, especially those who immigrate to the U.S., hold conservative values that can make it difficult for members of younger generations to come out, said Nguyen, who is gay. 

For young folks considering coming out, Nguyen advises them to be open about who they are with as many people as possible. 

“If it’s to a friend, to someone else, every time you come out, it helps,” he said. “It helps you build your confidence and [see] that coming out in the long run helps you build into who you are and helps you confirm your own identity.”

Quinn offers young members of the LGBTQ community similar insight: to come out “once you figure yourself out” despite the hardships. 

“Even if your family just doesn’t support you at all, there is this entire community … that will take you in,” Quinn said, adding, “It’ll be a lot better in the end if you just embrace yourself because that is literally what this is all about.”