Community reacts to Philly Pride Presents disbandment

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The crowd at the 2019 Philly Pride festival.

In the face of mounting criticism from community members, the leadership of Philly Pride Presents (PPP) abruptly dismantled its organization and cancelled their September “Pride-lite” event at Penn’s Landing. Community concerns have manifested largely in the organization’s failure to adequately represent QTBIPOC in its events and leadership staff. 

Recently, some community members had taken issue with a swiftly-deleted post on PPP’s Facebook page about the history of the 1969 Stonewall Riots which contained outdated language and which centered police rather than the LGBTQ people who rebelled. Following the criticism, PPP issued an apology for the post before taking down their entire Facebook page. The group announced its disbandment on June 21. Representatives of Philly Pride Presents did not return PGN’s requests for comment.

“While this recent development is still unfolding, we understand the community’s need for a new vision of what LGBTQ+ Pride looks like here in Philadelphia,” Office of LGBT Affairs Director Celena Morrison said in an email statement. “The Office of LGBT Affairs has been in conversation with community leaders and activists as they prepare to reimagine Pride, and we look forward to supporting the many celebrations, rallies, protests, and programming already happening across the city, as the future of Pride in Philadelphia emerges — one that is reflective of the many diverse experiences of our city’s LGBTQ+ communities.”

“While Philly Pride Presents does not and did not have a formal relationship with the City of Philadelphia — neither financially nor in any claim as the ‘official’ pride event of the City — we do recognize the value in providing an opportunity for the community to share their concerns and feedback with the organization in a constructive manner,” Morrison shared.  

According to some community members, PPP has a history of ignoring large parts of the community. 

“Philadelphia Pride has not attempted to be reflective nor inclusive of the diversity of the LGBTQ Philadelphia community,” José de Marco, an organizer with ACT UP Philadelphia, said in an email. 

De Marco was planning to take part in the protest event “Take Back Pride!! PHILLY PRIDE PRESENTS MUST GO!!!!!” that ACT UP, Philly Trans March and Disrupt Philadelphia had been organizing. As an AIDS activism organizer, de Marco also stressed the need for Pride organizers to provide more HIV/AIDS awareness.  

“Pride no longer makes HIV infections a priority which is still prevalent in queer men and trans women,” they said in an email. “Now that the HIV epidemic is impacting Black and Latinx and men and women with trans experience it is an afterthought with a few organizations handing out rainbow condoms.”

A recent report issued by the CDC found that 51% of trans women surveyed in Philadelphia are HIV positive, and a 2019 City of Philadelphia report found that non-Hispanic Black MSM have the highest prevalence of rates of HIV by race and transmission risk.

In terms of a vision of future Pride activities, trans activist Kendall Stephens said Pride “definitely [needs] more QTBIPOC voices. Young voices as well — I would love to see some of our teenage and young adults have an input on how Pride should look. It shouldn’t just be a 21 and older celebratory event. It should be inclusive of everyone of all ages, of all backgrounds. Seeing a leadership made up of all of the varying intersectional identities that make up the complete demographic of our community I think would be ideal.”

VinChelle, a local drag queen of color who manages events at Voyeur and Woody’s, participated in one PPP parade and hosted four or five OutFest events. She told PGN that she hopes for some major changes to Pride events in Philly.   

“I would like to see it be a little bit more inclusive,” she said. “I would like to see who actually is on the board of the quote unquote company that’s going to be taking over. I would like to see a big change — I want to see a lot more diversity; I want to see more events. That’s another thing, [PPP] could have been doing a lot more, they had such a big platform. I want to see a lot more things happen.

“Obviously a lot of people are planning on doing things, but that’s kind of the other thing that I’ve been dealing with – a lot of people have been messaging with me. One thing that we should do is maybe all have a conversation, and I think that’s where it’s lacking in Philadelphia, how everyone communicates. Now I think there’s going to be 18 different Prides.”

VinChelle also spoke about the need for PPP leadership to take accountability for their actions.

“Everyone just wants to quickly leave and run, but no one wants to be accountable,” VinChelle said. “They shouldn’t have been doing a majority of the stuff they were doing in the first place.” 

Ultimately, queer and trans community members want to see a Pride that reflects the diversity of Philly’s LGBTQ communities, and that prioritizes dismantling the systems of oppression that originally gave way to Pride. 

“I really hope that Pride will be whatever the queer and trans community want it to be,” de Marco added. “I’m hoping we start dealing with a lot of social injustice issues, that we start paying attention to systemic racism that a lot of queer, Black and Latinx [people are experiencing] out there. Maybe some of the politically aware white queer folks will start to dismantle some of these systems that have been in place for many years, like Philly Pride. But it’s a chance for the queer community to come together and address a lot of these issues and make Pride be whatever the community wants it to be.”