The Attic rings in 30 years of giving LGBTQ+ youth a place to be themselves

Attendees at The Attic’s 20th anniversary gala in 2013.
Attendees at The Attic’s 20th anniversary gala in 2013. (Photo: Courtesy of The Attic Youth Center)

The Attic Youth Center will celebrate its 30th anniversary on Nov. 18 with The Attic Youth Center Presents: A Celebration of Queer Joy — Past, Present, Future, by honoring people and entities that have been fighting for LGBTQ+ visibility and equality. Since 1993, The Attic has been a place for queer and trans youth to go to get support, participate in programs and be their authentic selves.

“Thirty years ago — this was a time when the mainstream world didn’t believe that gay students or gay youth even existed, let alone using LGBTQ+ as an acronym,” said Jasper Liem, executive director of The Attic. “It really is marking how far we have come, but also how much more work there still is to do. I really believe that our youth are our future leaders; it’s always an honor to see how they grow and are changing the world day by day.”

Some of The Attic’s most impactful programs over the years, Liem said, include free mental health counseling services; the Life Skills Center, where youth can engage in activity groups, academic enhancement, case management and more; and The Bryson Institute, which provides “dynamic, interactive and educational trainings around best practices for working with LGBTQ individuals,” according to The Attic’s website.

“It was so important because it was a time when we had to go out there to schools and say, ‘no, we exist,’” Liem said.

This year, The Attic chose TS Madison to receive the OK2BU Award. Madison is a reality TV personality, actress, hostess and LGBTQ+ activist who became the first Black trans woman to take a lead role in and executive produce her own reality TV series: The TS Madison Experience. On a regular basis, she’s been a judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” has appeared in films and uses her social media celebrity to advocate for trans and LGBTQ+ rights.

“We wanted to honor TS Madison as someone who is an amazingly powerful Black trans woman who has used her platform and her audience to really be inclusive, and to send out that message that issues around gender for trans and nonbinary folks affect more than just the trans community,” Liem said. “She’s gotten out there to say, ‘our issues also affect reproductive rights. It also affects cis women and affects just anyone.”

The Attic will posthumously honor O’Shae Sibley, a Black gay man who was stabbed to death in New York earlier this year, with the Outstanding Alumni Award. A talented dancer who studied at Philadelphia Dance Company, also known as Philadanco!, Sibley frequented The Attic in his teenage years and infused the center’s dance, art and vogue groups with his passion for dance. Sibley often attended Philly Pride and Outfest events on behalf of The Attic, and was involved in other parts of the local LGBTQ+ community. Sibley’s family and friends will accept the award in his honor. Liem served on The Attic board when Sibley attended The Attic.

“It’s been an outpouring of just what a wonderful young person this was, how much he wanted to help support other youth in this space, even as one of our youth,” Liem said. “He really encouraged folks to explore who they were and get involved in dance, especially through vogue.”

Sibley was the kind of person who wanted to talk openly about conflicts that came up, Liem said. 

“He always wanted to figure out, ‘where do we meet in the middle,’” Liem said. “To see him want to engage and then be silenced is just heartbreaking.”

The team at the chemical and plastics manufacturer Dow Inc. will receive the Shawn Leavitt Outstanding Volunteer Award.Dow has some of the most LGBTQ+-inclusive policies and practices, including equal health, dental and life insurance benefits for same-gender partners and has established global minimum standards for paid time off for new parents and caregivers, no matter their gender or their biological relationship to their child. The Dow team has been volunteering with The Attic for more than a decade.

“I am also excited to honor Shawn Leavitt,” Liem said. “We’ve named our Outstanding Volunteer Award after him with his partner’s blessing.”

Leavitt, formerly The Attic’s board president when Liem was vice president, passed away suddenly in 2020. Leavitt worked in health care benefits for Fortune 500 companies, including Knight-Ridder, Safeway, The Coca-Cola Company and Comcast. When he died, Leavitt was senior vice president for Total Rewards at Comcast, where he was responsible for furnishing benefit programs for the company’s 164,000 employees.

“Shawn really exemplified what it meant to be of service to a community,” Liem said. “He was an amazing board member, he was a mentor to me.”

Leavitt was also involved in OUT at Comcast, the company’s LGBTQ+ employee resource group. Around the time of the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando in 2016, Leavitt wrote a letter to the entire OUT at Comcast group, which included hundreds of employees.  

“In some ways, he came out [to them],” Liem said. “A lot of people just assumed [he] must be straight. Basically he told his story in that letter, and how powerfully vulnerable that was.”

Finally, Dr. Carrie Jacobs, co-founder and former executive director of The Attic, will be honored with the Legacy Award. Jacobs and Daren Wade started The Attic in 1993 as an eight-week pilot program that offered after-school support for LGBTQ+ youth on a weekly basis. From there, queer and trans youth continued to participate, and Jacobs created the Youth Planning Committee with the help of youth input. That committee laid the groundwork for the center’s youth governance model and The Attic Speakers Bureau, which in turn led to the formation of The Bryson Institute. From there, Jacobs grew the center even further. 

“It felt really important to recognize how far [Carrie] brought this organization, and also to celebrate what’s coming,” Liem said. 

The Attic Youth Center Presents: A Celebration of Queer Joy — Past, Present, Future will take place at 6 p.m. on Nov. 18 at the Wanamaker Building, 100 E Penn Square. Visit for more information or to purchase tickets.

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