It should come as no surprise that the Equality Forum makes its home in Philadelphia. After all, the city has always been a city of firsts: first colony without strictures against religion, first lending library, first capital, and first gay rights march.
This year a trip to Philadelphia on April 26-May 2 will allow you to educate yourself about the state of our rights, go to some fun parties, and immerse yourself in history. Remember the bulk of that history focuses on an end to tyranny, oppression, and state churches – something the far right in DC would like the nation to forget.
“We began as PrideFest in 1993. After several incarnations our Director Malcolm Lazin incorporated the group as the Equality Forum in 2003,” says Communications Director Chip Alfred. A testament to how closely related our community is, Alfred before his move north, wrote with the Express. “Equality Forum 2010 marks our 18th event.”
The International Equality Dinner takes place on Saturday, May 1 at the National Constitution Center. David Boies and Ted Olson are the recipients of the 15th Annual International Role Model Award. CNN will receive the 8th Annual International Business Leadership Award.
Each year the Equality Forum chooses a different focus. This year, they have chosen Africa, in light of the controversial anti-gay bills proposed in several African nations. Equality Forum touts this year’s event as the “best-ever” Global LGBT summit.”
“Overall we have 45 programs, parties and social events,” added Alfred.
There are 25 panels, with unique highlights such as Obama’s LGBT Appointees Panel. For the first time the Forum will host a National Sports Panel with Gail Shister the first out female sports writer in the country, highlighting the toxic effects of homophobia among athletes. All panels and discussions are free of charge.
The big party, on May 2, Sunday Out on the Piazza takes place in the largest, private urban renewal space in the country. There will be live entertainment from noon-7 and also promises a National Same Sex Commitment Ceremony. Three clergy members have been confirmed to highlight Project 1138. This is to make the LGBT community aware of the 1,138 federal benefits we are denied without marriage.
In addition to the Equality Forum, early spring is an excellent time to see America’s “most historic square mile,” known as Olde City.
“Philadelphia is an often overlooked destination for LGBT travelers. The gay rights revolution started with a march on Independence Hall 4 years before Stonewall, not to mention great nightlife,” said Steve McCann of Phillygaycalendar.com, the main online destination for all that’s gay in Philly.
Malcolm Lazin of Equality Forum has also produced a documentary film, “Gay Pioneers” which examines in part the 1965 protest in front of historic Independence Hall.
So, check into a gay friendly hotel and when you’re not busy with Equality Forum events make sure to visit such historic sites as Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House, and Franklin Court.
On a side note: skip going into Independence Hall. The actual Liberty Bell is housed in an elegant glass pavilion across Market Street. Do go into the Betsy Ross House and decide for yourself whether her story is apocrypha or history.
Architecturally the elegant, subtly baroque and gay-friendly Christ Church is not to be missed. This is where the Founding Fathers—and not to “forget the ladies,” as Mrs. Adams said to John—Founding Mothers worshiped. This is also where the United States broke with the Church of England to become the Episcopalian Church. Admission is a suggested donation.
Pick another afternoon to wander south from Center City, the epicenter of town, to the Italian Market, the nation’s largest outdoor assemblage of everything from pasta to Chinese eggplant. Now…what to do about that cheesesteak? In Philly – as everyone there knows – disagreeing over where to get the best cheesesteak can end friendships.
Either begin your walk with a steak from my favorite, Jim’s at 4th and South Streets, or end your tour of the Italian Market on South 9th Street with a steak from Pat’s or Geno’s at the end of the market. The two rivals, across the street from each other, both claim to have invented Philly’s most unhealthy, luscious sandwich.
When you finish up your walk through the Italian Market, make sure to visit 1 of the city’s most dynamic communities. Only a few years ago East Passyunk Avenue was an unvisited relic. However, low rents and plenty of space have brought many new faces to the area.
Quaint, LGBT-owned and friendly businesses sit alongside mom-and-pop Italian restaurants. The area is a testimony to how a few dreamers can vitalize and rescue an area from stagnation. Many of the restaurants however are BYOBs, so make sure your hotel points out the nearest state store if you wish to imbibe at the many casual yet upscale eateries along Passyunk.
I hope you enjoy your time in Philadelphia. It should come as no surprise to you to learn that I’m a native. Granted, I might be a little biased about Philly but once you visit you’ll be too!