Philly tourism trailblazer gets Gayborhood street named after him

A portion of 13th Street in Philadelphia's Gayborhood has been renamed for Jeff Guaracino, the 48-year-old CEO of Visit Philadelphia, who died in December of 2021. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A portion of 13th Street in Philadelphia's Gayborhood has been renamed for Jeff Guaracino, the 48-year-old CEO of Visit Philadelphia, who died in December of 2021. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

A Philly tourism legend now has a Gayborhood street named after him. He joins the ranks of other LGBTQ civil rights icons named on the rainbow-striped street signs.

City and tourism organization officials gathered on National Coming Out Day Tuesday to rename a portion of South 13th Street “Jeff Guaracino Way.”

“He was Mr. Hospitality,” said Sheila Hess, representative of the Mayor, who read a proclamation recognizing Guaracino. “Always thinking … how we need to put Philadelphia on everyone’s map.”

Guaracino led the tourism marketing agency Visit Philly — and before that, the non-profit Welcome America, Inc., which puts on the July 4th festival. He also wrote books, including “Gay and Lesbian Tourism: The Essential Guide for Marketing.”

Drag queen VinChelle performs at a street renaming ceremony in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood. A portion of 13th Street was renamed in honor of Jeff Guaracino, the 48-year-old CEO of Visit Philadelphia, who died in December of 2021. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

He’s known as one of the forces behind a revolutionary 2003 ad campaign that framed Philly as a gay travel destination: “Get your history straight and your nightlife gay.

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Guaracino passed away late last year at the age of 48, after a battle with cancer.

Drag performers VinChelle (left) and Brittany Lynn unveil the new Jeff Guaracino Way street signs at a ceremony in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood. The city honored Guaracino, the 48-year-old CEO of Visit Philadelphia who died in December of 2021, by renaming a portion of 13th Street. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Officials unveiled the new sign on the corner of 13th and Spruce streets and another one block away Tuesday, after a joyful celebration with performances by singer-songwriter Julian King and drag queens VinChelle and Brittany Lynn. Friends and coworkers shared stories about Guaracino’s passion and commitment to driving tourism to the Philly area.

“He loved this city,” said Jerry Guaracino, Jeff’s brother. “He’s always been one of my heroes and a visionary leader. So I’m just really thrilled he’s got to touch so many people’s lives.”

Jeff Guaracino’s brother, Jerry Guaracino (left) and fiancé, Joshua Thomas, speak during a ceremony renaming a portion of 13th Street Jeff Guaracino Way. The 48-year-old CEO of Visit Philadelphia died in December of 2021. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Street signs in Philly’s Gayborhood honor the likes of legendary LGBTQ civil rights activists Barbara Gittings, Edie Windsor and Gloria Casarez.

“Jeff was passionate about LGBT history,” said Mark Segal, founder and publisher of Philadelphia Gay News.

Mark Segal, publisher of the Philadelphia Gay News, speaks about Jeff Guaracino, the CEO of Visit Philadelphia who died in December of 2021 at age 48. To honor his contributions, the city renamed a portion of 13th Street Jeff Guaracino Way. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Segal, who was friends with Guaracino for three decades, paints him as a trailblazer being an “out, proud” executive at a major travel organization.

When Guaracino began promoting the idea of going after “the LGBT market,” Segal said, city and state officials “looked at us like we were totally off our mind.”

The “Get your history straight and your nightlife gay” campaign was the first attempt by a  government-supported tourism agency to attract gay tourists through television, according to the Washington Post. The campaign ended up winning awards and showing results in tourist destination rankings.

Audience members wave their arms to the music of ”I’m Coming Out,” during a street renaming ceremony in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood. A portion of 13th Street was renamed in honor of Jeff Guaracino, the 48-year-old CEO of Visit Philadelphia, who died in December of 2021. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“No one ever thought gay tourism was a business,” Segal said. “Today it is a multi-billion dollar industry founded by Jeff Guaracino.”

Angela Val, the current leader of Visit Philadelphia, said the “Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay” campaign remains her favorite that the organization has ever run.

Jeff Guaracino’s successor at Visit Philadelphia, Angela Val, speaks at a street renaming ceremony in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood. A portion of 13th Street was renamed in honor Guaracino, the former CEO of Visit Philadelphia, who died in December of 2021. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“At a time when gay marriage was legal in only one state and ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was still military policy, Jeff believed it was important, no matter what, to invite the LGBT community and travelers to visit our great city,” she said.

At the time, Guaracino framed the effort to attract LGBTQ tourists as good business.

“We then found out that aside from typically gay places, like Provincetown and Palm Springs, no big destination was making a large push,” he told the Washington Post. “We wanted to be the first.”

Kara Fox holds a sign while watching the renaming ceremony for Jeff Guaracino Way on 13th Street in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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