Five years ago, in honor of PGN’s 40th anniversary, we did a feature on the top LGBT news stories of the last four decades. The stories included many triumphs, such as Philly’s LGBT nondiscrimination law in 1982 and the first LGBT historical marker in 2005, but also featured a lot of what is all too common among LGBT people: murders, AIDS, and discrimination on all levels.
Until recently, queer joy was a radical act rarely shown in mainstream culture. We were portrayed as criminals, deviants, or mentally unstable, and our stories in books, films, and television were almost always negative. This is not to discount the joy that many LGBT people have always felt in their personal lives. But it’s safe to assume a majority of us of a certain age grew up with more negative portrayals than positive, and that was our starting point for coming to terms with who we were.
Now, queer joy is expressed everywhere. It pervades every industry and comes in myriad forms. So, for this 45th anniversary of the Philadelphia Gay News, we’ve put together a list of 45 stories of goodness from the paper. They range from major community news to a simple game of volleyball. It reminds us that even amid times of strife, there are always slivers of joy to be found.
Four local gay men run for office (1976): Four Philadelphia gay men, Harry Langhorne, Jack Friel, George Hodges, and Jeff Britton, filed to run for committeeperson in the 1976 primary election. Langhorne said that committeeperson was a good entry spot for gay people to get involved in the city Democratic party.
New gay rights group formed (1977): Over 250 gay people and allies met at the Christian Association at UPenn and formed Philadelphians for Gay Rights. The group formed from the outrage over homophobe Anita Bryant’s dangerous crusade against LGBT people. The group sponsored the 1977 Philadelphia pride rally.
Gay bar gets dance license (1978): With vital support from the Washington Square West Project Area Committee (PAC), the popular 12th Street gay bar Equus received its dance license. Several months earlier, the gay community had lobbied to get pro-LGBT members elected to the PAC, which was influential in building matters.
Volleyball game brings out community (1979): Community members gathered every Sunday to play volleyball on Drury Street (near Walnut). Billed as “volleyball on an obstacle course,” the fire escapes, iron poles, and curbs, didn’t deter 50 people from playing from afternoon to dusk.
Community Center library becomes a reality (1980): Philadelphia’s gay community center, then located at 326 Kater St., opened its library in 1980. Led by the efforts of Pat Foyle and Kirk Hoffmeier, the library housed novels on gay liberation and publications including Christopher Street, Lesbian Connection, and Off Our Back.
Gay Men’s Chorus forms (1981): Jerry Davis came up with the idea for the PGMC after listening to a recording of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. He worked with librarian Michael Rechel, who served as the group’s musical director. The group’s first public performance was a series of 10-minute shows at 14 local gay venues, starting with Odyssey II.
Rev. Troy Perry speaks at MCC Philadelphia (1982): Reverend Troy Perry, founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, spoke at the Philadelphia branch in February. He told churchgoers “There is a life after Reagan,” and urged people to fight against the powerful New Right (Jerry Fallwell, etc) rather than waste time with petty infighting.
Gay softball team defeats Philadelphia Inquirer (1983): Philadelphia’s gay softball team, the Masterbatters, defeated the Philadelphia Inquirer’s team for the first time after several attempts. 1983 was the first year of the Weekend Softball league, an eight-team league which included seven non-gay teams and the Masterbatters.
Bars raise $5000 for AIDS Task Force (1984): On Friday, July 27, thirteen area bars worked together to raise over $5000 for the Philadelphia Aids Task Force. The participating venues were the Bike Stop, Drury Lane, Equus, Key West, Odyssey, Post, Raffles, Seasons, Smart Place, 247, Venture Inn, Westbury, and Woody’s.
Gay switchboard starts weekly dances for teens (1985): Philadelphia gay switchboard began hosting a weekly disco for gay teenagers aged 15 to 17. Space the dances were chaperoned by community leaders and representatives of PFLAG. Gay youth were often ignored during the early LGBT rights movement.
LGBT entrepreneurs celebrated (1986): The October 17 issue of PGN featured a two page spread about local LGBT entrepreneurs and their work. Businesses included Robert Metzger Plumbing, Judy’s Cafe, the Venture Inn, Sun Worshippers tanning, and Between Us. The feature illustrated the robust LGBT business scene in Philadelphia.
Lambda Awards honor Bill Wood (1987): Owner of Woody’s and longtime activist Bill Wood was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the 10th annual Lambda Awards celebration on March 29. The ceremony took place at the Warwick Hotel’s Grand Ballroom and was hosted by Liz Starr of “AM Philadelphia” and Edie Huggins of WCAU-TV. Singers Hal and David provided entertainment.
Local activist wins space flight award (1988): Jerry Mallon, a gay activist and co-chair of Black and White Men Together / Philadelphia, received the inaugural “Challenger Seven Fellowship” to promote understanding of space flight to children. Mallon’s program taught students about space flight in the context of cultural differences.
Black gay community celebrates (1989): The fifth annual Golden Goddess Awards — honoring Black gay achievements in Philadelphia — were held at Allegro II. Darlene Garner, director of the Mayor’s Commission on Sexual Minorities and co-founder of the National Coalition of Black Lesbians and Gays, received the humanitarian award. Shawn DeVeareaux and Tommy Hawkins hosted.
3rd annual Gay and Lesbian Arts Festival (1990): Acts for the GALA 90 festival included: Avalanche, a local multi-racial gay and lesbian theater troupe (which included former PGN editor Tommi Avicolli Mecca), which premiered its play “Menagerie;” a concert by Tom Wilson Weinberg; Lactus Theater Group presented Gary Day’s play “The Sacrifice.”
Kiyoshi Kuromiya serves as pride grand marshall (1991): Longtime Philadelphia resident and activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya served as the grand marshall at the Lesbian and Gay Pride Parade and Festival. Kuromiya founded the Critical Path AIDS Project, a medical newsletter, as well as the nation’s only 24-hour PWA hotline, operated from his home.
PGN wins Newspaper of the Year Contest (1992): PGN editor John Mandes’ feature “Clinical Trials: Lesbian and Gay Medical Students Face the Process,” won a first place award from the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. The recognition was the first such award for an LGBT publication from the PNPA. PGN continued to work for equality in the newspaper industry.
Gay world series takes place in Philly (1993): Philadelphia hosted 1,700 visitors and 75 teams for the Gay World Series in August. Mayor Ed Rendell opened the event — which brought $1 million to the city — at a ceremony which featured the Mummers and Anna Crusis Women’s Choir. The games were played at Fairmount Park’s Dairy and Edgely Fields.
Philadelphia Family Pride hosts conference on education (1994): As part of PrideFest, PFP organized “Rainbow Education: Exploring the Relationship of Lesbian and Gay Parents with Childcare and School Communities.” The event was designed to help LGBT parents learn how to take a more active role in their child’s education and to allow kids in PFP to get to know each other.
1200 people line up to meet Greg Louganis (1995): In March, Greg Louganis drew a huge crowd to the Giovanni’s Room bookstore in promotion of his new memoir. While people lined up along Pine Street, someone blasted Abba’s “Take a Chance on Me” from a nearby window. Louganis inspired LGBT people worldwide when he came out as HIV-positive in 1995.
LGBT law center opens (1996): Community activist and lawyer Andrew Park opened the Center for Lesbian and Gay Law and Public Policy, focusing on three areas: combatting employment discrimination, advancing the rights of same-sex partnerships, and researc on how LGBT people were affected by Pennsylvania law. The organization later became known as Equality Pennsylvania.
Community Center moved and renamed (1997): Philly’s LGBT Community Center, formerly known as Penguin Place, got a new name and location. The William Way Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center opened in July 1997. The center was named for activist William “Bill” Way, who died in January 1988 of AIDS. According to executive director Richard Heyl, reaction to the center’s new name was largely positive.
Astral Plane restaurant celebrates 25 years (1998): The gay-owned and operated restaurant at 1708 Lombard Street rang in its silver jubilee with a three-course $25 dinner on June 14. Astral Plane pioneered eclectic restaurant decor with its mismatched china, flea-market furniture, and old Hollywood photographs. The menu was equally eclectic.
Film Festival draws record attendance (1999): The fifth annual Philadelphia International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival drew 23,200 people in July. “Better Than Chocolate,” the lesbian romantic comedy film directed by Anne Wheeler, won the festival’s award for Best Feature Film. It was the first time the festival featured cash prizes and a jury.
City celebrates Black Gay Pride (2000): The first Philadelphia Black Gay Pride took place April 27-30. Over the four days, 30 different activities including workshops, parties, and a scholarship breakfast took place. Several of the workshops and parties were held for LGBT youth. Organizers touted the need for a focus and celebration specifically on the experiences of the Black gay community.
Dyke March draws hundreds (2001): The fourth annual Philadelphia Dyke March drew a crowd of several hundred people on June 9 and culminated with a festival at Kahn Park. The festival included street puppet theater, free water ice, and carnival games with a twist. Later that evening, the group co-sponsored a “Gender Bender Ball” at the William Way Community Center.
Bechdel celebrates milestone comic (2002): After 19 years in print, Alison Bechdel’s iconic comic “Dykes To Watch Out For” published its 400th strip in the October 11th PGN. “I had no idea this was going to happen,” Bechdel said of her success. PGN was one of the first publications to print Bechdel’s work. She went on to find international success with her graphic memoir “Fun Home.”
“Pride and Progress” mural finished (2003): Philadelphia’s 2,353rd mural, which depicts LGBTQ people of all walks of life as well as important LGBTQ historical figures, was completed May 16 after three years of construction. The mural adorns the west wall of the William Way LGBT Community Center. The $65,000 mural was financed by grant money and other fundraising initiatives.
City debuts LGBT tourism commercial (2004): The award-winning “Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay” commercial launced on Comcast Cable channels in the Philadelphia region. The commercial, which featured two colonial men batting eyes at each other, was part of a new ad campaign launched by Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. and the Philadelphia Gay Tourism Caucus.
Historic marker for Independence Hall demonstrations (2005): The 1965 to 1969 Independence Hall demonstrations for gay and lesbian equality were honored with a historic marker at 6th and Chestnut St. on Independence Mall. Activists who participated in the demonstrations included Kay Lahusen, Barbara Gittings, John James, Frank Kameny, Randy Wicker, Ada Bello, and William Kelley.
UPenn elects gay student body president (2006): Senior undergraduate Brett Thalmann was elected chairperson of the Undergraduate Assembly, making him one of the few out student government leaders in the U.S. Thalmann also served as co-chair of the Queer Student Alliance and helped form the Lambda Alliance, a coalition of eight LGBT campus groups.
Gay community night at the Phillies (2007): The Honorable Judge Anne Butchart threw the first pitch at the 5th annual Gay Community Night at the Phillies. The event was originally a summer gathering for GALLOP (now known as the Philadelphia LGBTQ Bar Association), but expanded to include other LGBT groups.
Cowboys come to Philly (2008): The Liberty Stampede Rodeo, the first LGBT rodeo held in the northeast, brought rodeo amateurs and aficionados from around the country to the Devon Horse Show grounds. Jennifer Vrana, president of the Philadelphia Liberty Gay Rodeo Association, won the award for best Cowgirl. An awards ceremony and ball concluded the event.
Local orgs celebrate Kwanzaa (2009): A coalition of local groups that provide services to LGBTQ people of color held a Kwanzaa celebration at the William Way Community Center. The organizations included the Smoke, Liles and Jade Arts Initiative, COLOURS, Inc., Philadelphia Black Gay Pride, Black Gay Men’s Leadership Council, The House of Blahnik, and United Fellowship Church of Philadelphia.
City welcomes LGBT business leaders (2010): Philadelphia hosted the first ever regional summit of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. Led by Independence Business Alliance, the summit allowed business leaders to share experiences about developing the LGBT business community in their cities as well as to take workshops on topics including revenue building and event planning.
Philly Pride draws record crowd (2011): The 2011 Pride Festival drew over 10,000 people and 150 vendor spots, with the latter selling out for the first time at Penn’s Landing. Comic Aisha Tyler headlined the main stage at the festival and was joined by performers including Sandy Beach. Betty, Dawn Robinson of En Vogue, and local performer Tony Enos.
University launches groundbreaking health program (2012): Drexel University launched its Certificate in LGBT Health program, the first of its kind in the nation. The inaugural courses covered topics including cancer-related topics, health care access, LGBT identity and health outcomes, exploring research modules and examining LGBT populations.
Local LGBT band plays at Obama inauguration (2013): Fourteen members of the Philadelphia Freedom Band joined 210 other LGBT musicians to perform at the presidential inauguration. The members performed selections including “Tonight” from West Side Story, a hybrid of “Battle Hymn Republic” and “Simple Gifts,” and “The Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga.
Senior center opens in gayborhood (2014): February 24 marked the official opening of the John C. Anderson LGBT-friendly senior living facility. The building is home to 56 units of affordable housing for those 62 and over. The gayborhood building has become a cornerstone of the local LGBT community, and many of its residents are active in nonprofits, community groups, and events.
Voters make LGBT office permanent (2015): The Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs was made permanent after voters overwhelmingly supported an initiative to amend the City Charter to officially incorporate the office. The ballot question was made possible from legislation by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who stressed the importance of the LGBT community having a “direct line to the mayor and City Council.”
Philly schools adopt transgender policy (2016): The Philadelphia School District adopted policies in June. The new policy mandated that schools respect students’ gender identity with regard to names, pronouns, privacy rights, dress code, physical education and restroom and locker room access. The policy also designated gender neutral language in school communications.
City unveils new Pride flag (2017): A new rainbow flag featuring Black and Brown stripes was raised at City Hall at the Pride month kickoff. Director of LGBT Affairs Amber Hikes said the flag was historic. “This is not going to just be in Philadelphia. This is going to take the nation by storm,” Hikes said. “To me, this is a chance to stop saying ‘We’re inclusive’ and to actually begin showing it.”
Museum hosts drag queen storytime (2018): As part of its inaugural Family Pride event, the Please Touch Museum welcomed Brittany Lynn and Miss Aurora to host Drag Queen Storytime event over three sessions in June. The first session was filled to capacity, drawing 120 parents and children. Overall, more than 1,600 visitors participated in the museum’s Pride events.
Students present Philly gayborhood documentary (2019): The short film entitled “The Gayborhood,” explored Philadelphia’s LGBTQ rights movement, from the Dewey’s Lunch Counter sit-in to the budding LGBTQ visibility in the neighborhood known as Washington Square West. The film, which won an award from WHYY, was put together by local seventh-grade students.
Community pride goes virtual (2020): As life shifted for many from in-person to virtual, Philadelphia’s LGBTQ nonprofits and entertainers came together for Outfest for Community Unity, a virtual event featuring performances, shows of support from allies, and messages of hope and unity from local LGBTQ individuals and nonprofit leaders.
LGBTQ seniors get COVID-19 vaccinations (2021): The residents of the John C. Anderson LGBT-friendly senior building were able to receive COVID-19 vaccinations through the efforts of Mazzoni Center and Ed Miller of William Way LGBT Community Center. Vaccine drives were held in the community room of the JCAA building in February and March.