After two years without a Pride festival in Philadelphia, the weekend-long celebration of the LGBTQ+ community is returning in June – reimagined.
“PHL Pride 50: Our Community, Our Joy” will kick off on Friday, June 3. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Philadelphia’s first Gay Pride Day in 1972, which took place three years after police raided the Stonewall Inn in New York City, giving rise to protests and the gay-rights movement.
As a nod to those origins, this year’s events will honor Pride’s roots in activism: On Sunday, June 5th, there will be a march, not a parade; no floats, cars, fees of entry, or registration to join is needed.
The weekend will be focused on inclusivity, community joy, and the demand for LGBTQ+ liberation, said Lee Carson, a volunteer member of the PHL Pride Collective.
“We want to be intentional about this being a march in June, because we have to keep our eyes on the things that some of us still don’t have access to,” Carson said. “And the charge that we must remain vigilant about the things that we do have to try to protect them.”
PHL Pride is led by Black, brown, and trans members of the LGBTQ+ community, who are collaborating with organizers from the Philly Dyke March.
The change in format from parade to march is also about “dissolving that line [between participant and spectator],” said Eric Schroeckenthaler, another PHL Pride Collective volunteer.
PHL Pride Collective was created after the previous Pride organization, Philly Pride Presents, dissolved in 2021. Philly Pride Presents faced criticism after posting transphobic and factually incorrect and pro-police history of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in a Facebook post.
Schroeckenthaler emphasized that changes to this year’s “PHL Pride 50” is not just a response to the issues of previous Philly Prides, but is an effort to better serve long-standing needs within the diverse LGBTQ+ community.
“We want stories focused on us and not on the past,” Carson said.
PHL Pride Collective developed “Points of Unity,” a list of principles that have served as guiding stars while planning this year’s Pride events. The principles include: keeping members of the LGBTQ+ community safe; centering voices of color; honoring the legacies of LGBTQ+ activists of color; prioritizing local community businesses and Philly residents; and being accessible to people with disabilities and those whose primary language is not English.
The “Points of Unity” state: “PRIDE is explicitly inclusive of Trans people, Fat people, immigrants, Muslim folks, people who are HIV+, Black women/femmes.”
An emphasis on inclusivity and accessibility
The march will begin at 11 a.m. in front of the Constitution Center at 5th and Arch Streets, near where the “Reminder Day” demonstrations – some of the earliest pickets of their kind in the country – were held from 1965 until 1969.
There will be three stops along the route: The first stop will have a land acknowledgement honoring the Lenni Lanape people. The second stop will have speeches from people of color and trans community members. The march will then conclude on 12th and Locust Streets, in front of the site which previously held the iconic Gloria Caserez mural, which was painted over in 2020. There, the organizers will hold a tribute to LGBTQ+ elders and youth.
PHL Pride Collective organizer Carson was friends with Caserez, a treasured Philadelphia LGBTQ+ activist.
To end the parade at the former site of the activist’s mural, Carson said, “is really fitting, because it helps us to honor that space and what it meant to the Philly LGBTQ community for decades, and to honor Gloria.”
Around noon, the march will transition into a PHL Pride Festival in the Gayborhood.
The festival will have many different modes of access, according to its organizers. There will be a sober space for adults with a bar serving mocktails, including a DJ and a stage for performances. Families and children will have a dedicated space with age-appropriate programming, organized in collaboration with local community organizations, including the Attic Youth Center, Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence, galaei’s SPLAT program, Philly Family Pride, and the William Way LGBT Community Center.
To avoid the high energy of the festival, there will be a “Relaxation Zone,” a low-sensory space for elders, those living with disabilities, and anyone looking for a space for respite. The designated area will have comfortable seating, accessible bathrooms, and low acoustic music.
“We understand that the LGBTQ community is large and diverse and we want to, as much as we can, create spaces for people to participate in ways that feel good,” Schroeckenthaler said.
Another aspect of accessibility and community safety: Philly police officers will not be within festival grounds, according to PHL Pride.
“We know that there’s a history of violence against Black and brown people by police, against gender nonconforming and trans people,” added Schroeckenthaler. “Inside the boundary we’ll be utilizing private security that for that day serve us, and not the state.”
There will also be social workers, mental health professionals, and people trained in de-escalation techniques on site.
“There may be certain things that are said or that people experience that could be a bit triggering,” said Carson, who is also a social worker. “So, in the interest of really being trauma-informed and trying to keep people safe … having those elements are really nice.”
Schroeckenthaler said the group’s Pride will continue to evolve, but the joy of coming together as a community, amid the violence across the country against LGBTQ+ people, is a constant priority.
“Gathering in community and being joyful can be really powerful,” Schroeckenthaler said. “It’s kind of like a rebuke of powers that want to control us, to force us into the closet, to make us feel afraid and like we need to hide … We refuse to hide.”
After not having Philly Pride for two years, Carson hopes Pride can be for youth what it once was for him as a young person.
“Particularly those who are just coming out and really look for Pride as a place where, at least once a year, they can come be around other queer people and have a good time and hopefully feel that they can completely be themselves.”
Saturdays just got more interesting.