Michael Hinson Way: A portion of Chestnut St. will honor the late activist

Michael Hinson smiles at the camera. He is a Black man wearing a blue suit with polkadot button-up and thick, black glasses.
Michael Hinson, Jr.

A street in the Gayborhood will soon honor Michael Hinson, a prominent LGBTQ+ activist and Philadelphia leader who died in 2022. A portion of Chestnut St. between 12th and 13th streets will become Michael Hinson Way. 

“When someone passes away, people forget about them, right? And the youth don’t know anything about them,” said Tami Sortman, a longtime LGBTQ+ activist who called Hinson one of her mentors. Street names are markers that she says “keep reminding people of how we came about — how the Gayborhood came about, the history of the LGBTQ+ community here.” 

What we have as a community has moved in such a positive direction, and we would have never done that without the help of all these people,” she said, underlining the various other people who are recognized on street signs throughout the Gayborhood — such as Les Harrison, Jeff Guaracino, Barbara Gittings and others. 

City councilmember Mark Squilla — who was involved in the first street sign to commemorate an LGBTQ+ Philadelphian — introduced a resolution on March 1 which passed unanimously a week later. Multiple community members spoke about Hinson’s work and legacy during the March 7 city council meeting. 

“Reflecting on my own journey, I am humbled by the realization that I would not be here without the direct mentorship of trailblazers like Michael Hinson, Jr.,” said D’Angelo D’Ontace Keyes, former commissioner for the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, who viewed Hinson as a father figure. 

D'Angelo D'Ontace Keyes offers testimony about Michael Hinson, who will soon have Michael Hinson Way named after him, during a recent city council meeting.
D’Angelo D’Ontace Keyes offers testimony about Michael Hinson during a recent city council meeting. (Photo: Lauren Rowello)

Keyes called Hinson a “history maker,” known for being a tireless champion for various marginalized groups of people —  including LGBTQ+ people of color, the HIV/AIDS community, and unhoused people. Those who were impacted by his leadership are in the process of launching the Michael Hinson Justice Institute to inspire the next generation of activists.

“Michael’s legacy is a testament of the resilience and determination of our people,” Keyes said in his speech. 

Keyes later told PGN that acknowledging Hinson’s importance “reaffirms Philadelphia’s commitment to creating a future where every voice is heard and our legacies are honored.” “Philadelphia lost a fierce advocate when Michael passed away, and we’re honoring him today in commemorating the incredible advocacy to which he dedicated his life as well as celebrating the lasting impact he’s had on the LGBTQ+ community and the Philadelphia community,” said Councilmember Rue Landau, who called Hinson a friend and colleague. “Michael was a pioneering figure in Philadelphia — actively working to combat the HIV/AIDS crisis and tackling homelessness head on as the head of SELF, Inc. He is dearly missed but we continue to see the impact of his life work every day, and I can’t wait to see those signs on Chestnut St.” 

“Most of the city council people know who Michael Hinson was and believe in everything that he has done for the city,” Sortman said, noting that the portion of the street named for him is where Hinson founded SELF, Inc., an emergency housing provider. It’s also a former location of Colours, a magazine turned wellness and advocacy organization founded by Hinson that specifically serves LGBTQ+ people of color. 

The idea for street signs that commemorate the work of LGBTQ+ Philadelphians came from the work of the Philadelphia Gay Tourism Caucus — a group that formed in the early 2000s to bring more LGBTQ+ visitors to Philadelphia and ensure they felt safe and supported here. The group collaborated with Hinson, who was serving as the city’s first LGBTQ+ liaison at the time. 

Councilmember Rue Landau stands with David Fair and D'Angelo D'Ontace Keyes — all LGBTQ+ leaders who knew and worked with Michael Hinson — after a recent city council meeting. Michael Hinson will soon have a street named after him called Michael Hinson Way.
Councilmember Rue Landau stands with David Fair and D’Angelo D’Ontace Keyes — all LGBTQ+ leaders who knew and worked with Michael Hinson — after a recent city council meeting. (Photo: Lauren Rowello)

“One of my goals was — how do we demarcate the Gayborhood so that when these travelers are coming into our city, they know when they’re here in the Gayborhood?” Sortman said. “So they can feel more safe, more comfortable and know where they are.”

The team wanted to create visible indicators of the neighborhood and hoped to print the word “Gayborhood” on street signs, but when the city wouldn’t approve the use of that language, they opted to place the now iconic rainbow banners on the signs instead. A few years later, dedicated streets followed with crosswalks to match

“Michael Hinson had a huge part in getting these signs put up,” Sortman said. “So when he passed away, I said, ‘These signs wouldn’t be here without his help. Putting him on them would pay tribute to him and the work that he has done in this community.’”

Newsletter Sign-up