Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, is known for being the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence, the location of the First Continental Congress, and the home of Benjamin Franklin. Did you know that they also have a healthy gay neighborhood, and one of the earliest gay refugee spots?
Philadelphia has a lively and vibrant gay community, albeit one that is overshadowed by places like San Francisco, New York City, and Fire Island. Philly was where one of the first major queer rights protests was held, on July 4, 1965. In commemoration, they had a parade every year on that date for the next four years, until the Stonewall Riots in 1969. It was replaced by other marches after Stonewall.
One prominent place, and a historical landmark, is the bookstore Giovanni’s Room. After the store was founded, it became a refuge and cultural center for the modern queer civil rights movement, helping provide resources for those trying to gain legal rights.
Today, Giovanni’s Room is more than a bookstore; it also houses the Philly AIDS Thrift Store. The interior is multi-floored (four stories), and each floor contains a mixture of new books and thrift items. It’s nicely arranged and doesn’t feel overly cluttered, despite the limited floor space of east coast row houses.
Another place to visit is the William Way LGBT Community Center. The center is forty-one years old, having been established in 1974. It’s a brief walk from the bookstore, about three blocks away. The center has plenty of resources for both queer people who live in the city and visitors from out of town.
They showcase exhibits that rotate throughout the year. As of late 2015, one small exhibit focuses on local pioneer Kiyoshi Kuromiya and how he helped form queer history in Philadelphia. The center also houses an archive of historical documents.
In addition, like many other community centers, they provide a series of events for people within the community. The only thing lacking was any programming geared towards the bisexual community.
The area encompassing the center is full of restaurants, bars, housing, and boutique shops. There is no end to the list of things available. The Gayborhood is also no stranger to nightlife; there are an impressive number of bars in the area. Among them is the U Bar, just on the edge of the area, and Woody’s, a bar founded in 1980 that is a neighborhood landmark. There are a couple of local guides that can be used to find events, which includes Philadelphia Gay News; it’s Philly’s oldest and largest queer press.
While it’s not known for being a large epicenter of queer culture like San Francisco, New York, or Los Angeles, Philly does have a lot of history and things to enjoy. There is still a pretty active nightlife, even on a Monday night.
If you want to visit a place that’s not necessarily on the beaten track, and has a lot of history (both queer and not), then check out the Philadelphia Gayborhood.