Ep. 3: Who is Franny?
It’s time to answer one of the most important questions in this story: Who is Franny Price? The LGBTQ community is polarized on this one. Some people say the former head of Philly Pride Presents hoarded control, and left the city hanging without a Pride festival instead of responding to their calls for change. But others say that for decades, she worked hard to make a humble celebration into an empire. On this episode, we’ll try to get to the truth of Franny. We’ll unpack her history in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood, and her vision for Pride. You’ll hear from some of her closest friends and allies — and figure out what to make of the woman who ran Philly Pride for decades.
MICHAELA WINBERG, HOST: Hey, y’all. I am in the car today, because I am going to a little borough just outside Philly, called Folcroft, Pennsylvania.
I drove to this small borough in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Because the mayor of this borough is Franny Price. The same woman who ran Philly Pride Presents for almost 30 years.
And I wanted to find her.
“Hey, how are you? I was just wondering, is the mayor’s office in this building? Is she in today?”
Folcroft is not such a long way from the Gayborhood. Just a 30-minute drive from the heart of Center City Philadelphia to the main street in Folcroft.
It’s a small town by the airport. It’s just one and a half square miles with about 6,000 residents. It’s made up of brick townhomes and small businesses like hoagie shops, banks and pharmacies.
The personality of this town is spilled out in its lawn decorations. There are the freshly manicured lawns — whose owners are clearly mowing them religiously. There are lawns with ornate swan statues and garden beds.
Other lawns have signs with messages like “Back the Blue” and “We support police, fire and EMS.”
Franny Price, a Democrat, was sworn in as mayor of this borough in January of 2022.
In Folcroft, though, she goes by a different name: Franny DiCicco. It’s her maiden name, which she shares with a former Philadelphia city councilman. As far as I can tell, this is the first time she’s used her maiden name publicly in decades.
I’m here, in Folcroft, to help me answer one of the most important questions in this story: Who is Franny?
Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community is polarized on this one.
Some cast her as a villain. They say she hoarded control of Pride. That she was racist and transphobic — and she showed it explicitly in a few Facebook posts. They say that when it all hit the fan, she left the city hanging without a Pride festival, instead of responding to their calls for change.
But others sing her praises. To them, it’s like she’s the second coming of Ellen DeGeneres. They say for decades, she worked hard to make a humble celebration into an empire — with flashy performers and hundreds of thousands of people flocking to the city to see it.
Welcome back to March On: The Fight for Pride. I’m your host, Michaela Winberg.
In this episode, we’ll try to get to the truth of Franny. And figure out what to make of the woman who ran Philly Pride for decades.
Before we go too much further, I should clarify: Franny would not talk to me for this podcast. Trust me, I tried — with emails, text messages, phone calls, you name it. But because of how badly everything went down with Pride, she won’t speak to anyone in the media at all.
But I did talk to some of her closest friends. You’ll hear from them a little later.
And I found this interview Franny did with Bob Skiba, the curator of the archives at the William Way LGBT Center. Franny shares details all about her life, and her history with Pride.
It’s from June of 2020, about a year before the whole organization dissolved, and Franny ghosted.
So let’s start at the beginning. Franny grew up in Kensington, a historically working class neighborhood in North Philadelphia. You can hear that in her accent.
And she was a natural-born leader.
FRANNY PRICE: In my high school, I got the Harriet Lewis Special Service Award.
MW: That award was for boycotting school lunch.
FP: Because the food was so bad.
Like of lot a queer kids growing up, Franny struggled with her identity.
FP: When I was 20, my uncle knew that my friends and I were gay. And we kind of outed each other when my mom died. He said let me take you into town. I was just about 20. And I looked like a little boy back then. I probably weighed 118 pounds.
MW: Back in the ‘70s, she and her uncle made the pilgrimage — like so many others — to the Gayborhood.
As soon as she got there, something clicked.
FP: He took me, you know, to the bars in and then I just kept coming to them.
MW: Franny was going to art school, and she became fascinated with theater and nightlife.
So she went to one of the gay bars at the time, called Oz. And she says she asked the owner if he needed any help producing his shows.
FP: I said, if I build a backdrop for the show you have, will you teach me lights and sound? And he laughed. He goes, first of all, how old are you? I said, I’m 20. And he said, you know you gotta be 21 to be in this bar? I said, yeah but I think the law says you don’t have to be 21 to work in a bar. So we did that. I built them a backdrop. Me, a little 20-year-old dyke, never doing anything in my life other than going to school. I started learning lights and sound. And then the show went on the road, and I went on the road with them.
MW: Once she got a taste of the Gayborhood, she couldn’t stay away.
And it’s easy to understand why.
FP: Look, when I first came out, my whole family didn’t accept me for a lot of reasons. And my friends became my family. They were the ones there when I had a broken heart, when I was sad, when something would happen. So my family values was with my community.
MW: Later, Franny says she got a job at the Morris Hotel.
The hotel was in the heart of the Gayborhood, across the street from a big, white church on 13th Street. It’s not open anymore — it’s been turned into apartments — but a few decades ago, Franny says it was a boutique hotel where celebrities would stay when they were in town to perform.
There, she says she got to meet some major stars. Katherine Hepburn, John Travolta, and her favorite… Patti LaBelle, a Philly native.
Franny got extra close to her.
The day that Patti LaBelle was supposed to check out of the hotel, Franny went up to her room to start the cleanup process. But it turns out, Patti hadn’t checked out yet.
FP: I opened the door and she’s standing there, stark naked. And you know what was funny, and I will never forget this. And it’s my favorite thing in the whole world. When I opened that door, she covered her eyes and said, Oh. [Laughter] I said, I am so sorry. She said that’s okay. If you don’t mind, I’m gonna stay till Monday. Oh my god, I could not believe it. But what was so funny is how quick she, you know, covered her eyes.
MW: These close encounters with celebrities seemed to make an impression. After rubbing shoulders with legends, Franny came to love the stardom, the theatrics.
Soon, that sentiment would find its way to Pride.
In the early ‘90s, Franny wasn’t totally satisfied with how the resurrection of the annual parade was going.
She got an idea for how to spice things up.
FP: It was a kind of boring walk to Penn’s Landing. So I put an ad in a paper that we were looking for movie star look-alikes.
MW: At the time, Franny was working at a video store in the Gayborhood — which she would later take over, as owner.
So when the parade passed by the store, Spruce Street Video, Franny had a bunch of queer and trans people dress up as celebrities and movie characters.
Wanna guess which one she was?
FP: And you know, I was the godfather. And I posted that picture a couple of weeks ago, where there was a lot of us. We had Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe, Ann-Margret, Grace Jones, Patti LaBelle and Prince.
MW: In those early years, she organized a bunch of musical numbers for the parade.
She says she just wanted to make it better.
FP: This is about making our parade entertaining. This is what we are — the creative and talented community. And this is what we’re going to do.
MW: Franny had a star-studded vision for Philly Pride… and she was becoming a local celebrity in her own right. She married a popular Black drag queen.
Coming up: You’ll hear more about that, and how some of her closest friends felt about what Pride became.
TROY EVERWINE: Charles and I sat in our apartment crying, that we had come so far. We were on network television. Our celebration. ‘Cause I’m old enough. And certainly Franny is, and certainly a lot of people are to remember when gay bars didn’t have windows.
MW: That’s next, on March On.
Welcome back to March On: The Fight for Pride. I’m your host, Michaela Winberg.
Franny’s love of stardom wasn’t just apparent at Pride. It reached her personal life, too.
She married a local legend, who was renowned in Philly’s LGBTQ spaces. A man named Les Harrison, one of the first Black drag queens to integrate nightclubs in Philadelphia. They met at one of his gigs, and she ended up running his lights and sound. Franny also taught him how to sew, so he could make his own gowns.
Together, Les and Franny had a child — a son, who they named after him.
Les died in the summer of 2020. Here’s what Franny said about him in his obituary, in the Philadelphia Gay News: quote, “I don’t have anything but fond memories of Les. We didn’t fight, we had this unique, loving relationship. Neither one of us was in love with each other, but we loved each other.”
TE: Franny was an out lesbian, married to an out, Black, gay man, legendary drag queen, first African American to run their own show in the city of Philadelphia. They have a mixed-race child together, who, you know, is an amazing human. And all you have to do is know Franny.
MW: That is Troy Everwine, one of Franny’s close friends — and one of few people from Franny’s side who would talk to me for this podcast. They’re white, and 56 years old.
I interviewed Troy and their fiance, Charles Tyson, Jr. at their home in South Jersey.
When Franny was accused of being racist, Troy didn’t agree.
TE: What do I think she thought when people call her a racist? I think she thought, you know, when? What could they mean? Yeah, I mean, if you were around her, it’s like, well, what are they saying? What are you saying? It’s kind of like, tell me you don’t know Franny Price, without telling me you don’t know Franny Price.
MW: The fact that Franny married a Black drag queen — and has a mixed-race child — is often used to defend her actions that alienated people of color. It’s like that thing people do, when they say they can’t be racist because they have a Black friend. As if a close relationship with a Black person gives you a pass on any form of discrimination.
Troy and Charles are an outspoken couple. They live in Troy’s childhood home in the suburbs, across the river from Philly.
On their block, you can tell which house belongs to them. There’s at least three rainbow flags out front. We talked at their dining room table, with a couple cats and dogs coming in and out of the room.
Troy and Charles are gutted over Franny’s fall from grace. They’ve been close friends for like, a decade.
But Charles actually met Franny when he was a kid.
CHARLES TYSON, JR.: Franny was a part of my life, my little baby queer life, before I met her officially, because she had Franny’s Place, which catered to queer youth. So I went there a couple of times with friends from the Attic Youth Center.
MW: Charles is a Black man, and he’s 46 now. He grew up in West Philadelphia, and hung out in the Gayborhood a lot as a kid. It was tough sometimes. He was too young to get into the bars, but he still wanted a safe space to have fun.
Franny offered him that. At the time, she owned a shop called Franny’s Place — that combination bagel and leather store. How Charles remembers it, she always welcomed queer kids inside. And it felt like meeting a celebrity.
CT: And she was if she was there, she would come over and say hello. But you know, I knew who Franny Price was like, Oh my God, she’s talking to me. It didn’t really imprint on my brain yet. You know, everyone knew her name because of Pride.
MW: Troy says Franny became known as someone who would take care of LGBTQ kids.
TE: So many people that would kind of come out or whatever, at home, and wind up homeless for a day or a week or whatever. And, you know, they’d go to Franny, and somebody would take them home, and somebody would take care of them. And Franny, would wind up talking to parents, you know, and kind of patching things back up and get them back together. And I mean, I’m not going to reveal the names, but people that you would have heard of who, she was an integral part of their lives as teenagers.
MW: As adults, the three became good friends. Troy and Franny met at a meeting of the LGBTQ police liaison committee — a group that works with Philly cops to try to make policing safer for queer and trans people.
They started hanging out. Franny would visit the bar that Troy and Charles owned in Northeast Philly. Troy started to volunteer at Pride and OutFest, running the table for the LGBTQ police committee.
They started to understand Franny. She could be rough around the edges sometimes — but she was unrelentingly loyal, and thoughtful in an unassuming way.
One year, Troy had to call Franny for a favor. They needed an extra table at OutFest for a new LGBTQ teen cafe they had set up in Northeast Philly.
TE: Where, you know, there’s just a dearth of resources for queer kids.
MW: The table for the teen cafe was going to be a few blocks away from where Troy usually sat, with the LGBTQ police committee. It was a little inconvenient, but Troy told Franny it was fine, that they’d make it work.
But then, a few days before OutFest, Troy saw Franny at the police committee meeting.
TE: And Franny caught up to me as we were leaving, and she said, You’re welcome. And I said what? And she said, I moved the library’s table over next to you so that it’s going to make life easier. And I said I didn’t ask you to do that. And she said, Yeah, I know. Just say thank you.
MW: It did make Troy’s life easier. Because they got to introduce everyone they knew to the team at the teen cafe.
TE: It was opening the opportunities for guests for the teen cafe. And, you know, it grew to about two dozen kids. As a result of OutFest. But it was just, I didn’t even ask for a favor. I just checked on something. But it stayed in Fran’s mind, and decided that that made more sense.
MW: It was this resourcefulness that Troy saw in Franny.
She was a talented event planner, who could see an entire festival playing out in her mind. She could smooth out the logistics, especially for the people she loved.
And when it was all finished, she’d come back with that same stubborn but well-meaning attitude, telling them: Just say thank you.
That wasn’t the last time Franny was there to support Troy and Charles. When COVID-19 forced them to close their bar in 2021, Franny showed up to help.
TE: How many truckloads did she bring in from the bar when we were moving? I had some big stuff that wouldn’t fit into the SUVs and stuff that were scurrying around with at that point. And Franny said, well, I got the truck, you know. And Nick will come help me — Nick, who works at the video store. And they did, and they did. A\nd I think I tried to give her gas money, and she just stared at me like, you’re not serious. I’m like, well, I’m going to give Nick some money. And she’s like, I already paid him. So I think I probably did slide some money, but not to Fran. Because she’s like, no. And there are a million stories like that.
Some people just see her as so gruff and quiet and maybe even unapproachable. But that’s just Fran. But if I called her right now and said, I need anything, she’d be here.
MW: Franny’s friends say she was just as dependable when she was organizing Pride.
CT: That’s one of my favorite things is like, you don’t necessarily see her doing the work because she’s so busy doing the work.
MW: Charles has a point here. It’s no small feat, organizing Pride.
Franny built the event into something big. Something consistent.
With the revenue she earned from charging for tickets, she managed to book celebrities to perform — like comedian Margaret Cho, talk show host Wendy Williams, and Fran Drescher from that sitcom “The Nanny.”
It started to hit Troy, just how big Philly Pride had gotten in 2019. That was the first year that it was televised.
TV NEWS: Good afternoon everyone, and welcome to Independence Mall and the 2019 Philadelphia Pride Parade on this beautiful day. I’m meteorologist Adam Joseph.
TE: Charles and I sat in our apartment, crying. Crying that we had come so far. That we had come so far, we were on network television. Our celebration. ‘Cause I’m old enough, and certainly Franny is, and certainly a lot of people are, to remember when gay bars didn’t have windows.
CT: And I’m sitting there live-tweeting it, like it’s the Oscars, you know, like this is happening. [Laughter] I am watching the Philadelphia Pride Parade on my television. And it was beautiful. It was just beautiful.
MW: That would be the last Pride as we knew it in Philadelphia. A huge in-person festival under Franny’s leadership.
But it wasn’t beautiful to everyone.
Remember when Franny tried to make a group of LGBTQ police officers the grand marshal of the parade in 2016? Queer and trans people had a huge issue with this, especially because Pride was born out of a protest of state violence.
The interesting thing, though, is that back in the day, Franny would have agreed with them.
FP: As an old activist, right, and I like to call myself an elder now, we never wanted police at any of our events.
MW: That’s right. The woman who tried to name LGBTQ officers grand marshal originally didn’t want the police at any events. So what changed?
FP: And then when 9/11 happened, oh my God. I cannot tell you. Because it wasn’t social media then, but there was emails. I bet you in one day, we probably had almost 150 emails saying, how are you protecting us? Everybody was scared.
MW: It was then — after 9/11 — that Franny started to feel the weight. The pressure of keeping people safe. Tens of thousands of people, from her own community.
And Troy gets that. I mean, they were there with Franny on the LGBTQ police liaison committee.
TE: My philosophy is, you know, somebody needs to be at the table. When they give us a seat at the table, somebody needs to occupy it.
MW: Troy said they feel safer at events with the police there. It makes them feel like their community is being protected.
TE: You know, I want them to have their eyes and their training on who doesn’t belong there. Because that’s what I’m worried about. I’m worried about the people that will come in from the outside and hurt people that I love. Or want to hurt people I love.
MW: But there’s an important distinction to make here.
There is a difference between police patrolling your event to keep people safe, and the event actively celebrating them.
Franny says she chose to celebrate them because the LGBTQ police group had grown to a historic size.
FP: The year we’re offering them the grand marshal award, it was the fact that there was 115 officers that came out of the closet. I know for over 25 years that they’ve been closeted. And then all of a sudden there’s 115 of them that wanted to march so that now their partner who’s watching will say, wow, I didn’t know my partner was gay. So it’s like they have this job. It’s such a Catch-22. Do we send them back in the closet? I don’t know.
MW: But even Troy admits, trying to honor police — even gay police — at an event born of a protest of state violence? It was out of touch, at best.
TE: I’m not happy that Fran wanted to put them up on a float. And they understood that too, that was a misstep. And they hadn’t really done a lot of work. They had really just kind of reformed or formed at that point. But it was never nefarious. It was tone deaf, but not nefarious.
MW: And it seems like maybe Franny started to get that too. In that 2020 interview, she was starting to doubt whether police would have a table at her next event.
But that next event would never happen.
A year after this interview, Philly Pride Presents would completely collapse. Ostensibly over a few offensive Facebook posts — but really, over a long history of LGBTQ people feeling excluded and hurt.
I don’t know what was going through Franny’s head when her 30-year dynasty came to an end. But I know that Pride was important to her. It was her identity.
Just listen to how distraught she was in 20-20, when she couldn’t host the parade in-person because of the pandemic.
FP: It’s just been so depressing, because you don’t want to disappoint anybody. And a lot of people were looking forward to the parade and the festival. So you go through all these like, disappointment that you don’t ever want to disappoint anybody. You’re depressed because you spent a whole year working on this. You’re sad. There’s so many emotions going through this. And I like to think of myself as butch. But I think, in the last three months, in all honesty, I probably cried more than I did in my entire life.
MW: She cried more than she had in her entire life — just because one Pride parade had to be virtual. So you can imagine, losing control of Pride completely must have been soul-crushing.
When it all came crashing down, Troy says Franny gave them a call.
TE: How did she sound? Deflated, dejected. I don’t even know if angry is the right word, just really sad that it would come to this.
I think they just looked around at one another and said, enough, enough. If they want it this badly, if they want it badly enough to threaten us, if they want it badly enough to call our landlords and our jobs, and tell lies and call us racists and call us transphobic. We’re done.
I don’t agree with it. I would have fought. I would have fought. But I would have fought all along, every time a lie was perpetuated. I would have backed it up with the facts and the truth.
MW: Troy thinks Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community is the real loser in all this.
They say that by ousting Franny, we’ve lost something we may never get back.
TE: The way that this happened and went down is ugly. It just is. It’s ugly. It’s endemic of a larger problem that we have. That is really not understanding who our real enemies are, and creating enemies out of our family. And that’s just hard to watch. It’s hard to stomach. Franny is not the only person I thank for Pride and OutFest, but you know, she has been a pillar. That should be her legacy.
I mourn for the city. I don’t think we’re ever going to have quite what we did. And I think it’s a shame. And you know, I wish them well. I wish them well.
MW: In reporting this story, this is the moment I started to feel conflicted.
It’s hard to reconcile everything I’ve heard about Franny. How could someone who gave their whole life to the LGBTQ community, who found homes for young queer people, also be the person who hurt and excluded the most marginalized people in it?
How should we think about Franny now, and remember her legacy?
I got a lot of help with this question from Bob Skiba, who did that 20-20 interview with Franny. He’s a friend of hers, but he also thought she should have stepped down a long time ago.
Bob saw the good that she did for the community.
BOB SKIBA: I don’t think Pride would have happened over the past 20 years without Franny. \I know this. When I attend the Pride events and Franny is there, she has her hands in every single piece. She puts her heart and soul into doing it. The organization and Franny in particular, have done incredible work over the years. So I hope it’s not all pushed aside. Because I love Franny, I have a lot of respect for Franny.
MW: But he also understands: that control wasn’t serving everyone.
And if people aren’t feeling safe at Pride, that’s a huge indictment.
BS: If someone’s feeling excluded, it’s not about how I feel. It’s about how they feel. And that’s what you have to address. And that’s what you have to take into consideration. And if there’s one, one person who feels that way, you’ve got to look at yourself and say, why is that happening?
MW: Franny did have at least some measure of accountability. The nonprofit had a board that was made up of about half people of color.
But Bob thinks Franny needed to do a lot more listening to the rest of the community.
BS: You need more than one voice. You need more than one perspective, no matter how strong and no matter how good it is. Otherwise, you end up being a totalitarian organization by default. I’m sorry, the whole thing happened, but I’m not sorry. Because this may be what it took to instigate change. Much-needed change.
ABDUL-ALIY MUHAMMAD: Today we are assembled to imagine a new Pride. To imagine a new Pride in Philadelphia.
MW: When Philly Pride Presents fell apart, a new group formed in its wake. They’re taking up the mantle, trying to organize Pride at a time when tension is at an all-time high in the LGBTQ community.
AM: OK? Is that exciting to y’all? ‘Cause that’s exciting to me.
MW: Abdul-Aliy Muhammad is a Black nonbinary organizer who helped form the new Pride group.
They say they didn’t want Pride to go down this way.
AM: No one asked them to dissolve themselves. I think the community was asking for accountability. I think the community wanted to have a conversation, wanted to protest, wanted to make demands of the organization. But nobody wanted them to dissolve themselves. I think that this dissolution is a reactionary thing. And I think that it’s because they feel like they’re under attack.
MW: They set out to rebuild Pride. With no police, and no corporations. But soon realized they had virtually no funding.
And it hasn’t been easy. Franny didn’t exactly leave them with any trade secrets.
PRIDE RETREAT WORKSHOP: A lot of Black and brown folks, we don’t have the capacity, right? We aren’t, we don’t have the capacity. We don’t have the space. We’re dealing with housing insecurities, we’re dealing with food insecurities.
MW: Next episode, we’ll follow this new group as they try to create a more inclusive Pride. We’ll hear their dreams, and their struggles to achieve them. While the clock ticks, and the rest of the country takes notes.
PRIDE RETREAT WORKSHOP: How do we bring people in? So that way, we are listening to our community and building our community?
MW: What does it take to rebuild a community in real time? And what could happen if they fail?
ELICIA GONZALES: Y’all, if we don’t do this right now, it’s going to be taken away from us. Like other folks have already started organizing. Other particularly, like, cis, gay, white men are organizing in the city. They will have it be Pride, and it will just be more of the same. We have an obligation to hurry up.
MW: March On was reported and hosted by me, Michaela Winberg. Our producer is Taylor Hosking. Engineering by Adam Staniszewski. Sound design by Charlie Kaier. Original music by Seth Kelley. Cover art by Symone Salib. Our editor is Lindsay Lazarski. Special thanks to Danya Henninger, Peter Crimmins, Tom Grahsler and Gabriel Coan.
This podcast is a production of WHYY and Billy Penn. You can find us wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening.collapse
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