Though it’s not as large or visible as in New York or San Francisco, there has long been a thriving gay community in Philadelphia. As far back as the 1930s and ’40s, underground gay house parties and social networks existed not only in Center City but in West Philadelphia, Germantown, and other areas. There was also a group of mob-owned gay bars centered around 13th and Locust Streets—the area that remains the nexus of gay culture in Philly today. This east-of-Broad, south-of-Market neighborhood, also called Washington Square West, is most commonly called the “Gayborhood.”
A pivotal change occurred in Philadelphia in 1965 when a group of protesters began an annual July 4 march in front of Independence Hall.A pivotal change occurred in Philadelphia in 1965 when a group of protesters began an annual July 4 march in front of Independence Hall. Four years before the Stonewall Riots in New York ignited the worldwide modern gay rights movement, this period began the era of openness in the city. Gays and lesbians began to come out in increasing numbers and to claim their rightful place in the community.
Today, Philly’s gay community is a highly visible and important part of the city, with several dozen clubs, bars, lounges, bookstores, boutiques, restaurants, and shops catering to it. Local politicians court the LGBT crowd for support and dollars, and the media gives wide coverage to various pride festivals and events, including Equality Forum in late April and early May, the Pride Parade in June, and OutFest in October.
Outside of Center City, the gay community is a little more circumspect, and unfortunately flashiness and PDA can draw unfriendly attention in some places. The Tourism Board website has a section geared towards gay visitors to the city, including gay-friendly hotel accommodations and special event packages. There are several hotels and bed-and-breakfasts in the Gayborhood, with plenty of others nearby. The William Way LGBT Community Center (1315 Spruce St., 215/732-2220) is the city’s largest gay and lesbian center, filled with resources and information, and the online calendar has the most comprehensive guide to gay-friendly events, venues, organizations, and clubs. The Philadelphia Gay News is a publication that offers a calendar of events and articles and is available in print or online.
Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Philadelphia .