‘Everybody has a home here’: Upper Darby is having its first Pride festival

Pride Night at 2312 Garrett Bar in Upper Darby, 2021. It was the first Pride related event hosted by U.D.T.J. Bottom row from left to right: Elijah Neal, Ashely Rose, Valentina Kariouk, Dyamond Gibbs, BJ Bryant. 
Top row, left to right: Ophelia Hotass, Kyle McIntyre, name unknown. Minus Ophelia, the other people are the organizers of the Pride Festival and members of UDTJ. (Courtesy of UDTJ)

Pride Night at 2312 Garrett Bar in Upper Darby, 2021. It was the first Pride related event hosted by U.D.T.J. Bottom row from left to right: Elijah Neal, Ashely Rose, Valentina Kariouk, Dyamond Gibbs, BJ Bryant. Top row, left to right: Ophelia Hotass, Kyle McIntyre, name unknown. Minus Ophelia, the other people are the organizers of the Pride Festival and members of UDTJ. (Courtesy of UDTJ)

Pride Month is coming to a close, but it’s not going out quietly. Though the Philadelphia Pride March and Festival has been canceled, Upper Darby is planning a festival of its own Sunday, June 27 — and its organizers say its a huge milestone.

“It is going to be Upper Darby’s first Pride festival,” said Kyle McIntyre, the logistics coordinator.

From noon until 6 p.m. at Upper Darby High School, there will be a myriad of performances, vendors, and family-friendly activities for everyone to enjoy.

UDTJ — whose name stands for Understanding, Devotion, Take Action, and Justice — is the group behind the festival. The organization started as a Black Lives Matter protest group shortly after the killing of George Floyd by police last year in Minneapolis. However, the Upper Darby-based collective has since transitioned to other efforts, such as community service and food drives. It is even in the process of starting a local mural arts program.

The idea for the festival came from UDTJ events coordinator BJ Bryant.

“It was their idea to start the festival. And it was going to originally be something very small. We were just going to have some kid events — just a little kind of get-together. But as time went on, it evolved. It grew. And so did the festival,” McIntyre said.

It took just 31 days to pull together, but the organizers expect a couple hundred people to take part in the celebration.

There will be nearly 50 vendors, such as LGBTQ-owned businesses and nonprofits. Food trucks will be parked nearby and ready to serve. There will be activities, face-painting, and water ice for the kids. Expect appearances from local drag performers, too.

Though the festival hopes to provide a fun atmosphere, it also aims to provide needed services by hosting a vaccination clinic and on-site rapid HIV-testing.

“We will also have speeches from some very important LGBTQ activists,” McIntyre said.

One of the speakers is the aunt of Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, a Black trans woman who was murdered and left along the Schuylkill River last year. Her death made national headlines in the wake of an “epidemic of violence” against trans women of color.

McIntyre said the selection of the events and speakers was purposeful.

“I think one of the big things we’ve been trying to accomplish a lot with this festival is to bring awareness, especially to the recent struggles of our trans, [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color] community members, and all the intersectionalities,” McIntyre said.

Damien Warsavage, founder of Upper Darby Pride and local school board member, will also be speaking at the festival.

Warsavage initially had plans of his own to begin a Pride festival here several months ago, but the uncertainty of the pandemic dissuaded him. He thinks that UDTJ’s festival will be one for the ages.

“They’re just going to knock it out of the park,” he said.

Earlier Sunday morning, Warsavage and Upper Darby Pride will host an LGBTQ event at Collenbrook United Church.

“We will be having an outdoor church service for approximately, maybe 45 minutes to an hour. Nothing too heavy, very light, very fun, family-friendly. We’re also going to have an outdoor church band, as well as outdoor karaoke, some fun, and crafts for kids as well as adults,” Warsavage said.

At first, he said, there was some confusion about the two events and their possible connection. But concern about any potential drama between the groups can be put to rest, Warsavage said — he’s happy Pride Month will finally be properly celebrated in Upper Darby. No one owns Pride Month, he said, and “as many celebrations that need to take place as possible should happen.”

“I’m really super happy and super proud of these young folks who actually are pulling off a larger event than what I’m doing, and they’ve been getting a lot of good guidance and feedback, including from myself, and I cannot wait to see what they do,” Warsavage said.

Both Warsavage and McIntyre described how difficult and challenging it has been to live in Upper Darby as members of the LGBTQ community.

In a couple months, Warsavage will have lived in Upper Darby for 30 years, but at one point as a student, he was thrown out of the school system. He said it was because he was openly gay and experiencing homelessness.

Now, he said, circumstances in Upper Darby have finally changed for the better.

“This is like a dream come true,” Warsavage said. “I’m so glad to have lived long enough to see it. Knowing how many people we just recently lost as a nation as a whole, with all things considered. We’re just really blessed. I feel very blessed.”

McIntyre echoed Warsavage’s sentiment.

“I never really thought that I would see the day where we’d have a Pride festival — definitely not on this magnitude. And so it’s a very exciting time for a lot of us,” McIntyre said.

Though Upper Darby is the focus of these two events, the organizers are extending a hand to the entire Philadelphia region.

“Everyone is welcome, and everybody has a home here,” McIntyre said.

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