Ep. 4: Our streets
What does it take to rebuild a community in real time? On this episode, we’re going to zoom into the process. You’ll meet the diverse group of organizers that’s trying to reclaim Pride and create a new event. You’ll hear about their struggles and their triumphs — and ultimately, their plans for Pride. An LGBTQ organizer from another city weighs in. And then, we hear about yet another violent incident in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood, which made the group rethink everything.
ABDUL-ALIY MUHAMMAD: Today we are assembled to imagine a new Pride. To imagine a new Pride in Philadelphia.
MICHAELA WINBERG, HOST: A few queer and trans activists were standing outside Philadelphia City Hall. It was a hot June day back in 2021, and they had a gallon of water on hand to stay cool.
At that very moment, a shift was happening in the city’s LGBTQ community. Just days earlier, the organization that ran Philly Pride for decades had collapsed over accusations of racism and transphobia.
Now this new group was taking over.
AM: OK? Is that exciting to y’all? ‘Cause that’s exciting to me.
MW: The new organizers, like Black nonbinary activist Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, were hype.
They had seen firsthand how Philly Pride Presents hurt people — and they vowed to build something different. Something revolutionary. They were finally the ones steering the ship, and they were bringing the entire community along with them.
The only thing more intense than their excitement was their commitment to their ideals.
AM: So we came up with points of unity, things that we will hold as values as we move forward.
MW: And they had a lot of ideals.
AM: We agree that no cops should be at Pride. We agree that Pride must be about community and not corporations. We agree that Pride in Philadelphia must be a Black and brown, LGBTQIA-led event. We agree that Pride must be… we will pay attention… must be accessible to disabled communities, deaf and hard of hearing communities, people who speak English as a second language. [fades out]
MW: It took Abdul-Aliy three minutes just to read these points of unity out loud. And they didn’t even finish them.
AM: I know that’s a mouthful. I’ll stop there. The rest of them are listed here. I didn’t read about three of them. And there’s subcategories to them that I also did not read. [fades out]
MW: So the group had high standards.
But when a reporter asked them about their actual plans for Pride, they didn’t seem to have any.
AM: So the question is about structure of the event. I’m sorry, I’m sweating. Um, hmm. I can’t speak on that right now. And we haven’t talked about it.
MW: Welcome back to March On: The Fight for Pride. I’m your host, Michaela Winberg. In this episode, we’re going to zoom into this new group organizing Pride. Their process, their struggles and their triumphs.
I followed this new Pride group for the last year. Attended a bunch of their meetings, and interviewed their members. I heard their plans for Pride as they unfolded in real time.
The first time we all met in person was in October 2021. And they had decided on a name. They were calling themselves the PHL Pride Collective.
They organized a weekend retreat at an LGBTQ nonprofit called GALAEI in North Philly.
At the retreat, everybody sat outside, in a circle, right in the middle of the street. Sometimes they had a campfire going in the middle.
It was sorta like a group brainstorm. With free food and music. And this vibe that it was a place where you could dream big.
RETREAT ATTENDEES: Okay, they’re organizing. [laughter] Okay, they’re calling in their ancestors. Oh shit! [fades out]
MW: This retreat was literally overflowing with ideas.
RETREAT ATTENDEE MONTAGE:
Can y’all put a mini golf course? Can y’all do ax throwing?
Even like queer hikes or something.
A gay family barbecue on big ass Fairmount Park. I love that.
I would love to do a field day. Like sports! Oh yay! Some people like sports.
Sober spaces and like sober events, or there’s panel discussions, or there’s conversations on mental health.
It opens up an opportunity to have Pride events all over the city.
MW: My head started spinning. I was looking around the group, counting the number of people who were willing to work on this event. And then the number of months they had left until June.
How were, like 20 people gonna make all this happen in eight months?
RA: And I’m like, damn, bitches. Okay. Y’all want a lot!
MW: Even though some of the ideas seemed unrealistic, the exercise gave the group permission to dream. It made people feel like they had agency. Like they were a part of something.
VALENTINA ROSARIO: So if we do this as Philadelphia, New York is going to see it, Chicago is gonna see it and they’re gonna say, Oh, my fucking god, that is fucking amazing. This is 2021, and this is what we need to be doing right now.
MW: That’s Valentina Rosario, an Afro Latina trans woman.
VR: I want to be in a space where I’m with an 8-year-old, a 62-year-old, a 95-year-old, and be like, I see you, I see you, I see you, I see you, I hear you. And we’re in this space together.
MW: This retreat was not at all what I expected.
I thought the goal was to plan the logistics of Pride — like picking the date of the event and figuring out how to pay for it.
But when I got there, I realized it was deeper than that. There were workshops that helped people start to move forward from the pain they’ve experienced in Philly’s LGBTQ community. In one exercise, people wrote down their fears and then burned them in the campfire. They were hugging and crying.
After everything bad that’s happened in the Gayborhood, this seemed like an attempt at trying to heal. And build deeper connections with each other.
But of course that wasn’t all they had to do. There was still a lot of work ahead. And coming to a consensus on the actual plans was another story.
Valentina called out one major sticking point.
VR: Location, location, location, location. That is the first thing you need to think about when doing a grand event.
MW: Location. The obvious choice would be the Gayborhood — the city’s dedicated space for the LGBTQ community.
But the Gayborhood is also a complicated space. Remember, after all the racism that has unfolded in the neighborhood — the dress codes, the ID checks, the protests and the hearings — not everyone feels safe there.
In recent years, it’s also been gentrifying. Many gay and lesbian bars have closed. A mural of a lesbian Latina activist was literally white-washed — painted over by developers. Some are trying to rename the neighborhood Midtown Village. Effectively erasing its queer history.
So the group wondered, should we give up the neighborhood completely, and host Pride somewhere else? Maybe a park?
Eventually, they came to a few agreements. Their event would be a march.
RA: Not a parade, but a march. A march, yeah. A march.
MW: But they also wanted the queer and trans community to have fun.
The second day of the retreat was led by a Black queer woman named Ashley Coleman.
She’s the executive director of the nonprofit where they held the retreat, and you can tell. She was clearly comfortable in the space. Ashley has an energy that’s gentle, but powerful.
ASHLEY COLEMAN: The other thing that I will say that has been really, I’ve been like rolling around in my head, since y’all mentioned about doing a march instead of a parade. And I’m wondering if this can be a yes, and situation. We have queer babies coming up behind us that will have never experienced a Pride parade, and the joy and the community that happens, and also us taking up space in a celebratory way. And I just want us to think about whether or not it’s something that we don’t have to shirk off and say, We’re not going to do this at all. Maybe there’s a yes, and. Maybe we do a march and a parade.
MW: So they landed on a march that ends in a street festival.
After the retreat ended, I wanted to check how people were feeling. I debriefed with Manny Frank-Lampon, a member of the group. They’re Latinx and 35 years old.
MANNY FRANK-LAMPON: It was very cathartic. And it was kind of a healing experience for me.
MW: But doubts were creeping in too. Manny was worried about capacity.
MF: The frank reality is that organizers of color are typically tokenized or taken advantage of, or not given resources to be successful at their jobs. And also are not put in positions when they’re given their jobs to feel like they’re secure.
And the reason why that’s relevant to the greater thing is because it’s all about having marginalized voices not be heard. You know what I’m saying? And we need to really reflect on that if we’re going to be an equitable experience, and equitable Pride for the people of Philadelphia.
MW: Just like Manny expected, capacity ended up being a constant issue.
Even though the group started off with dozens of members, people didn’t always respond to emails, or show up to meetings. Or they didn’t have the time to participate regularly.
Even adding new volunteers to the group was taxing. Recruiting them and catching them up on how things work was just more labor.
JOSHUA SMITHERMAN: There’s a lot more work to do than I realized. And we are short staffed.
MW: This is Joshua Smitherman, a Black queer man who’s been working on Pride’s marketing strategy.
JS: And it’s just like an aggressive realization. I think the demoralizing part is just like, I want to do everything. But there’s just only so much time in a day.
MW: Capacity was just one of the challenges that this new group was facing.
The Pride collective also struggled to get the event funded.
Soon after the retreat, the collective set up a GoFundMe, with the goal of raising $50,000. It got almost no traction, raising around $4,000.
Elicia Gonzales, who proposed to her wife at Pride back in episode one, had joined this group as a member. And she was worried about their finances.
ELICIA GONZALES: I wish that philanthropy and local foundations would just be knocking on our door to give us money. But that hasn’t happened yet. And we don’t want to go down the path of being corporatized. So we don’t want to just be, like, sponsored by Comcast, you know, so the money aspect and the fact that we’re trying to do things different and reimagine things in a different way. But also, we can’t be anti-capitalist ‘cause money pays performers… feels like a little bit of tension. It’s going to be interesting to see how it untangles, but I would not be involved if I didn’t have hope.
MW: The collective’s drive to keep corporations out of Pride kept coming up against the reality of the bottom line. Their dreams, tempered by their capacity.
And they didn’t have much time to untangle it.
EG: One of the things that I feel like is pretty present is this push and pull of we have to take our time, we have to focus on our infrastructure, we have to focus on relationship-building and trust, pushed against the urgency of like, 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. Like they will have it be Pride, and it will just be more of the same. Like, we have an obligation to hurry up, you know? And both of those are true.
MW: While the collective toiled in real time, I decided to reach out to someone who’s been there before. Maybe I could glean some wisdom from someone who’s already thrown a Pride event in another city.
CIORA THOMAS: My name is Ciora Thomas, I’m 33 years old. I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
MW: Ciora Thomas is a Black trans woman, and she founded an LGBTQ nonprofit called SistersPGH.
Pittsburgh’s Pride organization had a similar fallout a couple years ago. But Ciora says she and her friends felt uncomfortable at their events long before that.
CT: It was scary as shit. Like, where white, cis, gay men think they can walk up to like Black trans woman and like, touch our boobs, or touch our body, or some shit like that. And back in the day, I’d be like, oh, yeah, hey, whoo. But now, that was fucking invasive as shit. Like that was disgusting. And you should not have been touching me without permission.
MW: There was another thing that really bothered her.
In 2017, Pittsburgh Pride named a gas company called the EQT Corporation as its primary sponsor. They’re known for fracking. Pride even changed the name of their event that year to honor the company, calling it the EQT Equality March.
At the time, Ciora was working as an environmental justice coordinator.
CT: And as I’m learning about frack water and pollution and all these things, it just clicked. All that pollution that goes to our neighborhoods, Black and brown neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. And that’s who are affected by the poor air quality, the poor water. We already got bad water, you know, up here. And while they were organizing this Pride event, they were actively fracking around Pennsylvania.
MW: So Ciora thought it was pretty messed up for Pride to name a company that does fracking as its primary sponsor. Let alone to rename the whole parade after them.
She wasn’t the only one who thought it was crazy. The Daily Show did a bit about this controversy.
It was done by Jaboukie Young-White, a Black, gay writer and comedian. In the video, he’s wearing a blazer over rainbow underwear.
JABOUKIE YOUNG-WHITE, THE DAILY SHOW: There is a specific issue with corporate sponsorship in Pittsburgh, and it involves the F word. No, not that. Fracking. Do you think that it’s appropriate that a fracking company is the sponsor for Pittsburgh Pride?
GUEST, THE DAILY SHOW: LOL. I think that it is completely inappropriate that a fracking company is a sponsor for anything.
MW: Just like LGBTQ people in Philly, Ciora was fed up with her local Pride. So she decided to throw her own. One that centered Black and brown and trans people — not corporations.
How hard could it be?
CT: I’m laughing because we, oh my God, that month we organized that within like a month. And I think that was the most stressful month in my life.
CT: I’m having, like, a PTSD moment, just like all the times it was just like, shit. And we’re trying and trying to organize these different spaces, and then you have different people in community who feel like they should be doing it, or like they’ve put in this amount of work. And it’s just really sad when I think about it.
MW: Somehow, Ciora pulled it together. She called her event the People’s Pride. It started with a march, and ended with a community barbecue — with free food, music and dancing.
PITTSBURGH PRIDE CHANTING: Hey hey, ho ho. ETQ has got to go. People’s Pride will prevail. Our Pride is not for sale. [fades out]
MW: It wasn’t the giant parade people were used to. But Ciora said it was really special.
CT: I felt so liberated in that moment. I just felt safe. I can walk around, grab a rib off the grill. Like we were grilling and shit. We had music going, like, it was like a family reunion of, like, Black and brown queer folks with our allies. And it was really great. It was really, really great.
[PITTSBURGH PRIDE CHEERING]
MW: Except for the pandemic, Ciora has been organizing it ever since.
Meanwhile, the nonprofit that used to run the established Pittsburgh Pride collapsed in 2020, after its former board president was charged with crimes like forgery and impersonating a law enforcement official. There was also criticism that Pride wasn’t transparent about its budget.
Watching what’s going on in Philly now, Ciora says she’s almost reliving it.
CT: I do know, Philly’s a different animal. I know a lot of people in Philadelphia specifically, like a lot of Black and brown queer folks. And the stories I be hearing, I be clutching my pearls like, Oh, I thought Pittsburgh was bad. Like, oh, shit, Philly. Damn.
MW: Ciora offered some key advice for the Philadelphia organizers. Like, be really open about your finances.
CT: Those coins, keep that visible. ‘Cause you know that’s what the girls be saying. Where’s the money going? Where’s the money? What’d you spend it on? What’d you do this, what’d you do that? So you know, have your books together. Even if you gotta hire an accountant. We got an accountant, and I’m thankful for that lady every day.
MW: But most of all, Ciora wanted to tell them: Just don’t give up. The mission is too important.
CT: I would say, do your very, very best to work together as Black and brown queer folks. Because what white supremacy is hoping is that internal fighting is going to destroy the entire foundation that is trying to be built. And you give them that satisfaction when you’re not able to have a consensus of what the larger mission is.
MW: I could see what Ciora was saying playing out in Philly. The challenges of building a big event that are amplified for people of color.
Like, when Manny worried about organizers of color having the capacity to rebuild Pride. Or when Elicia was anxious about people not wanting to fund them.
At this point, I wanted to check back in with the Philly organizers. Coming up, we’ll hear how they turned all their big dreams into a plan of action.
AC: When I tell you, we cried happy tears. The mountain it was to learn how to get permits of this size, it was incredible. I was sitting in my office, and I shouted out to Tyrell, whose streets?
TYRELL BROWN: Our streets.
AC: Our streets. They’re our streets for the first time.
MW: That’s still to come, on March On.
Welcome back to March On: The Fight for Pride. So it was May of 2022 — about a month to go until Pride — when I linked back up with the Philly organizers.
And the collective had streamlined their process. They concentrated power into committees. The logistics team seemed to be running the show.
AC: I am Ashley Coleman.
MW: She’s one of the members who led the retreat back in October. Ashley is tall, with long braids, and usually wearing bright colors. She’s charming in a really professional way. Almost well-rehearsed. She calls me love, which definitely made me feel special. But then I realized, I think she might call everyone that.
I met up with her and two of the other organizers from the logistics committee.
MASO KIBBLE: My name is Maso Kibble.
TB: And I am Tyrell Brown.
MW: These three organizers realized if they wanted Pride to happen, they had to kick it into high gear.
AC: We’ve been working on this as a larger collective for a year. But we got to the point where we said, We’ve got to go. Yes, it’s scary. There’s a lot of work to do. Let’s make it happen.
MW: They pulled an all-nighter, and put together a proposal.
AC: And we put it on paper, went back to the collective, gave our proposal and got a unanimous: Let’s go.
MW: They planned for Pride to start with a march — think more of a protest, like Stonewall, than a parade. They’d gather at Independence Mall, the site of Philly’s original LGBTQ demonstration, the Annual Reminders. And they’d make a couple of stops along the way, including a tribute to the late Latina, lesbian organizer Gloria Casarez. And a land acknowledgement for Indigenous people.
The march would end in a huge street festival. Unlike the old Pride festival, this one would be free.
And the festival would be in the Gayborhood. The heart of the city’s LGBTQ community, even with all its flaws.
At the festival, there would be multiple stages for performances. And dedicated spaces for families, for people who are sober, for people with disabilities.
Ashley said getting permits for all this from the city was a big step.
AC: When I tell you, we cried happy tears. The mountain it was to learn how to get permits of this size, it was incredible. I was sitting in my office, and I shouted out to Tyrell, whose streets?
TB: Our streets.
AC: Our streets. They’re our streets for the first time.
TB: The weight of knowing that the community was biting at the bit. And not even just biting at the bit because they’re thirsting for Pride, but because people need it. We need to see ourselves in community together. And we all have stories of Pride, where you’re walking down through the parade route, or you’re walking through the Gayborhood, and you see someone that you haven’t seen in 15 years. While we’re building Pride, while we’re reimagining it, we really wanted to build that stuff in, keep the good stuff and reach for what we can do better together.
MW: Better together. They really dug into that idea.
They partnered with the Philly Dyke March, a group that’s been protesting during Pride Month for years. There are also partnerships with local LGBTQ bars and businesses. And they’re working with community nonprofits to offer discounted food and free medical services at the festival.
But that’s not the only way they’re making the event happen.
Even though one of the group’s first tenets was that Pride should be about people not corporations, it turns out, the new Pride organizers are taking corporate money.
Ashley says this year, Pride is a $450,000 event. Fiscal sponsors and corporations will be footing the bill.
The new organizers defended this choice.
AC: You’re not going to see corporate logos splashed all over our festival grounds. There are not going to be any corporate representation in our march. So we’ll have a spot for corporations. And if adults want to go down there and get the stress ball that whomever, you know, provides, great. Go down there and get your stress ball or learn more about a bank that is sponsoring our Pride programming. However they’re not our focus.
MW: Look, I know that anti-capitalism is a struggle. It’s not easy. It often leaves organizers with two choices: Have a smaller event with no corporate involvement, or give your community the grand event they deserve — and accept corporate money. I get that.
Still, this felt like kind of the opposite of what they originally pitched. And the weird thing is, they wouldn’t tell me which corporations were funding Pride.
I thought back to my conversation with Ciora, the Pride organizer from Pittsburgh. She told me how important it is to be transparent about your finances. It didn’t seem like the Philly organizers were doing that.
I wanted to ask the group how another one of their big priorities was shaking out. Remember, they wanted no police in the entire Pride festival.
That’s something that the old organizer, Franny Price, and her allies, said couldn’t be done.
But Ashley said it could.
AC: We used an LGBTQ liaison to the police for communication purposes. ‘Cause of course, there is coordination that needs to happen in order to tell them, Hey, please, don’t come in and stay on the perimeter. After long processes, lots of conversations back and forth, we’ve come to a place that they feel comfortable with our model. And I think that it is, I know it is going to be successful. I know that we will be the blueprint for other cities to show how community can take care of community.
MW: How Ashley explained it, they got the police to agree to patrol the perimeter of the festival — not the inside. That is, unless someone makes a 911 call, or there’s a violent incident inside the event.
Ashley says she got the police to agree to the deal by hiring a private security company called Ingage Security. It’s run by queer people and people of color. And just in case there are conflicts inside the festival, there will be mental health providers and social workers on site to help de-escalate.
I checked all this with the Philadelphia Police Department, and they wouldn’t confirm this plan. They sent over a statement that said they don’t discuss deployment procedures. And that the Pride Festival will have “an adequate staffing level, including several LGBTQ+ liaison officers.
So honestly, I wasn’t sure whether police would actually stay out of the festival.
And then, just about a month before Pride, something unexpected and tragic happened. An incident that threatened to derail the whole event.
TV NEWS: A bouncer at a Center City bar is now facing murder charges. Authorities say he punched a patron, who fell to the ground and died several days later.
MW: A security guard at one of Philly’s most popular gay bars punched a man named Eric Pope. He died a few days later.
LEE CARSON: I was watching the news, and then I saw the story. And I was like, whoa, like, what?
MW: That’s Lee Carson, a member of the PHL Pride Collective.
LC: I was definitely shocked that that had happened, particularly when you look at the video. And when I saw the video, and I mean, it just appeared like he was just dancing out in the street, like having a good time. Yeah, I understand that maybe he got a bit too intoxicated, so they had removed him, but he didn’t seem to be a threat to anyone.
For the guy to turn around and just, like, punch him as he did, it just made no sense.
MW: In a video of this incident, you see a man walking outside a Gayborhood bar. All of a sudden, a security guard walks up to him and punches him. Hard. He hits the ground.
This happened outside a bar called Tabu, which replaced iCandy after it closed. Remember, the bar that banned Timbs, and whose owner was caught on video saying the n-word?
Tabu’s management released a statement after Eric Pope died. It said that as soon as they found out what happened, they called 911, and they’ve been cooperating with the Philadelphia Police Department in their investigation.
The statement also read: “We can only comment that the bouncer involved was not an employee of Tabu and that the incident in question did not occur on our property.”
LC: For me, I always wonder, with these security guards, I wonder just how homophobic or not they might be like. Some people simply have to show up to do a job like any of us. And sometimes you get placed at a location that you don’t necessarily want to be. So for me, it’s a little disconcerting, wondering like, well, do any of those security guards have any kind of training or cultural humility?
MW: This incident had major ripple effects. It’s another one of those things that makes people question the Gayborhood all over again.
Members of the group wondered, should we cancel our plans for the Gayborhood? Some called it a red flag to still host the event there. Others said this conflict showed that the group might not be ready to throw Pride this year.
Maso told me that they had to grapple with all this head on.
MK: It was like a real gut punch. It caused us to have several meetings, we had to sit down, we had to reassess. And it made us really analyze the, why are we doing what we’re doing, right? And at the end, I think what really came back and what resonated with everyone is that, we’re really tired of coming together as a community in tragedy. And that ultimately, what we’re doing here is building an opportunity for our community to experience joy. And to commemorate our best moments. This is our 50th anniversary. It’s a big deal.
MW: I gotta be honest. When I heard their plan, it struck me that it didn’t align with what I’ve heard from some other members of the Pride group. People like Elicia, and Naiymah, the trans woman who was arrested in the Gayborhood. They both told me about the trauma people have experienced in the area.
But the logistics committee doubled down on their plan.
AC: Unfortunately, safety does not exist 100% anywhere. And Maso said it as well, if we pick this festival up, and we plunk it anywhere else in the city, or we put it on a boat, and, you know, sail it on the Schuylkill, there’s still going to be safety issues. All of the things that we’re discussing within our Gayborhood are issues that would be anywhere else in our city.
I’m gonna be honest honey, like, I’m not going to your straight bar. I’m not. I’m not going to. I want to be surrounded by people that look like me, that understand my experience, that I can kiki with. I can use my language with them. And I can let my hair down, wear what I want, be who I am. I don’t want to be in a space where I have to feel like I have to go back into the closet. ‘Cause honey, I did that. I came out in 1997. And I’m never going back in that closet. And I’m not letting go of our Gayborhood spaces.
MW: They had already planned a huge festival in the Gayborhood — and they were moving forward with it.
There was just a month left until the event. And it was still unclear if this group would live up to their goals. Would Pride actually feel revolutionary, or would it still feel corporate? Would police really stay out of the festival? And would people truly feel safe celebrating in the Gayborhood?
You’ll find out next week. When we take you to Pride.
PHILLY PRIDE CHANTING: What do we want? Liberation. When do we want it? Right now. Right now. [Fades out]
We’ll show you how it went. And how the LGBTQ community felt about it. And what it means for the future of Pride.
March On was reported and hosted by me, Michaela Winberg. Our producer is Taylor Hosking. Engineering and 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, Kenny Cooper, Sophia Schmidt 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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