Queer festival goes virtual, William Way launches new initiatives

Photo: Icon

The Philadelphia QTPOC production outfit Phreak N’ Queer (PNQ) has partnered with the William Way LGBT Community Center to host a virtual arts, music and wellness festival. The virtual fest will take place on May 2 and 3 in the format of a two-day “telethon-style digital experience that fuses all things queer,” including drag and burlesque performances, music, dancing, poetry, virtual yoga sessions and much more.  

Several Philadelphia community members teamed up to form an organizing committee for the festival. William Way Community Engagement Specialist Rachel Winsberg, videographer Cal Woodruff and local drag artist and emcee Icon (aka Icon Ebony-Fierce) got the ball rolling and invited Chris Zane (Fran Zea) and Eric Jaffe, also local drag artists, sexuality educator and writer Jamie LeClaire and poet Osimiri Sprowal. Icon and Jaffe will host the event, and additional hosts to be announced.  

“When this whole thing happened with COVID-19, I envisioned a sort of visual concept of how to band people together through music and live performance art, drag and burlesque and beyond,” Icon said. 

From a Queering the Quarantine session “Queer Films: Finding Ourselves, Finding Each Other” with Byron Lee, Ph.D.

“I think that during this time, people are dealing with a lot of things mentally and emotionally. Especially with queer people — we’re used to interacting in some sort of way, we’re built on community. With a lot of people being alone and only going to social media to see nothing but COVID-19 fatalities, I feel like it’s important to have some sort of entertainment and community for people.”

William Way is co-sponsoring the PNQ festival, covering the front-end cost of the event. The proceeds will be distributed among the participating artists and event organizers.

“We’re really thrilled to be able to support our local LGBTQ performers in this way as a community center,” Winsberg said. “It’s so important that these members of our communities get financial support right now. As a community center, we have the resources to help spread the word and make sure that people know that we have such a great treasure trove here in Philadelphia of LGBTQ performers who are ready to share their talents with us.”

PNQ began in Philadelphia almost a decade ago with trans DJ and activist DJ Evil V, who wanted to produce an annual festival that not only featured music, but holistic health and performance art as well. Icon took over PNQ productions when DJ Evil V moved to Brooklyn in 2013. Although the last festival took place in 2014, Icon started producing some events under the PNQ moniker, including Pride events and those geared toward QTPOC. 

In addition to William Way’s co-sponsorship of the PNQ festival, the center has rolled out some of its own virtual events since the city has been shut down. William Way continues to hold virtual recovery meetings, and TransWay continues to meet on Thursdays via Zoom. The center’s senior programs coordinator, Ed Miller, has been working to ensure that the residents of the John C. Anderson Apartments have the resources they need at this time, Winsberg told PGN. 

“We launched a way for people to sponsor individuals who live at those apartments, and now every single senior has been sponsored for their grocery needs,” she said. “We’re so grateful for our community for showing up in that way, and it means that our seniors are taken care of right now.” 

William Way also started running a bi-weekly social media series called Queering the Quarantine (#QUEERINGTHEQUARANTINE), which streams on the center’s Facebook page at 12 p.m. on Mondays and Thursdays and is also accessible via Zoom. 

Recent sessions have included “Diving into the LGBTQ Game Archive,” in which games researcher and Temple University professor Dr. Adrienne Shaw discussed the game archive she started and the history of queer content in video games. 

The April 16 Queering the Quarantine session is titled “What We Did Before Obergefell, LGBTQ+ Folks’ Creative Uses of the Law.” Penn law student Erik Lampmann and LGBTQ activist and William Way board member Leona Thomas will talk about how LGBTQ individuals and families resorted to creative legal ways of protecting themselves before the legalization of same-sex marriage was even on the table. 

Those who wish to attend the virtual PNQ festival are encouraged to donate $5-$10 or more, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds. “We want everyone to experience this,” Icon said. More information can be found at Instagram.com/waygayphilly and Instagram.com/phreaknqueer.

Ask questions, get answers about COVID-19