Philly School District and Big Brothers Big Sisters host first ever student Pride

Clockwise from top left: Tyler Wims, director of Black Male Achievement for SDP; Dustin Timmerman, LGBTQ+ coordinator for BBBS Independence; Icon Ebony-Fierce; Tim McKinney, LGBTQ+ resource and program manager for BBBS Independence; Montrell Duckett, program coordinator of student leadership, SDP Office of Student Rights; Isabel Camarillo, BBBS Independence community-based match support specialist; Steph Gilmour, BBBS Independence director of school-based programs.

In a partnership between the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) and Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence (BBBS Independence), LGBTQ+ students got a chance to celebrate their identities at the district’s first youth Pride celebration on Sept. 23 at district headquarters. The event was open to all students district-wide, and drew about 150 people. 

“It went amazing, it went better than I could have hoped,” said Tim McKinney, LGBTQ+ resource and program manager for BBBS Independence. The youth mentoring organization has been partnering with SDP to produce a student Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) for the last three years, and they have organized a virtual district-wide GSA since the fall of 2020. 

“It was really cool to see some of the students who attended our virtual GSA last year attend the Pride event, because we had never been able to meet them,” said Dustin Timmerman, LGBTQ+ program coordinator for BBBS Independence. 

At the Pride event, students played games, partook in resource tables distributing swag and items including HIV testing kits and prophylactics, and enjoyed performances by Icon Ebony-Fierce. 

In addition to a performance to “Free Woman” by Lady Gaga, Icon facilitated interactive games including a runway walk and a lip-sync contest where the students could dance and have fun. Icon gave away gift cards to The Wardrobe, a nonprofit thrift store that provides clothing vouchers to LGBTQ folks and anyone with limited access to clothing. 

Icon went to Benjamin Franklin High School right near school district headquarters, so being involved in student Pride and seeing all of the resources and support for LGBTQ students proved meaningful to them, they said.   

“As a younger, queer-presenting person, it wasn’t the easiest for me,” Icon said. “They didn’t really have events like this when I was in high school. But to see that there was an event that centered youth, pretty much showed how far we came. It’s really important for things like this to happen because if we can’t have support for queer youth, then more likely kids are going to drop out. That leads to a rougher life, which is a usual thing for queer folks because they’ve been pushed out and ostracized by everyone, every community. I’m glad that things are way better and I get to see the youth live the life that we should have lived.” 

A host of other local organizations partnered with SDP and BBBS Independence to produce the student Pride festivities, including GALAEI, Philadelphia FIGHT, Students Run Philly Style, Bebashi’s TransNecessities Closet, Mazzoni Center, Temple University’s Queer Student Union, Philadelphia City Rowing, DJ Nic Rodriguez, GLSEN, United Healthcare, Free Library of Philadelphia, University of the Arts and Arcadia University. 

“One of our goals as a program is to make sure our students are connected to the compendium of services available to them outside of their time at the district, and to make those connections to the community at large,” McKinney said. 

Not only were students able to learn about Philly’s LGBTQ-centric organizations and the resources they provide, many Black and Brown students had a chance to interact with queer people from their own culture. 

“When I think of GALAEI, there were a lot of Latinx [students] that spent most of their time there, they had a big backdrop and lots of resources,” Timmerman said. “I just saw them interacting with adults that came from their culture and their background as well as other students there. [That] was really cool and something that we cannot create without partners.”

Timmerman estimated that roughly half of the LGBTQ students who take part in the GSA and/or attended the Pride event identify in the nonbinary or transgender spectrum, or are exploring their gender. 

“Last week was an absolute honor, I went home and cried because it was so cool to be able to see these kids just explode into who they are,” Timmerman said. 

McKinney told PGN that the student Pride event felt like a good practice run for what the student component of the new, reconfigured city-wide Pride celebration might be like. 

McKinney is also a member of the Youth Committee on the PHL Pride Collective, the new Pride organization that Black and Brown Workers Cooperative co-founder Abdul-Aliy Muhammad and GALAEI Executive Director Ashley Coleman have been leading. In the wake of Philly Pride Presents abruptly folding in June, 2021, the PHL Pride Collective team has been meeting to discuss producing a much more inclusive event that people of all races, genders, socio-economic backgrounds and walks of life can access. 

Because the 2020 and 2021 city Pride events were cancelled, “we all really needed this win and a reason to celebrate,” McKinney said. “It was a really hard year, and I hope it’s the hardest year we’ll ever have to endure. It did feel like a reemergence back into the world, and I think the adults had as much fun as the students did. We all really needed to feel like we made it.”

Philadelphia Gay News is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a solutions-oriented collaborative reporting project on poverty and Philadelphia’s push for economic justice.