An Insider’s Guide to LGBTQ Philadelphia
Photo: David Farré / Flickr
Born and raised in the Philadelphia area—and “[planning] on dying here as well”—Rebecca is the co-founder of Beyond the Bell Tours, a social enterprise putting the people back into people’s history by creating inclusive tours that highlight marginalized communities and histories.
“We share stories about amazing Philadelphians who rarely [have] their stories shared as part of the mainstream American narrative that gets showcased through tourism,” Rebecca says. “Many guides joke that Philadelphia is a ‘City of Firsts’ for America—and it’s no different when it comes to LGBTQ+ history. The first picket protest (the Annual Reminders) … the first LGBTQ sit-in (Dewey's) … and the longest continuously operating LGBTQ bookstore (Giovanni’s Room) are all cultural touchstones for queer history not only locally, but nationally,” she adds.
It’s these places and events—and the activists behind them, from Barbara Gittings and Gloria Casarez to Charlene Arcila and Kiyoshi Kiromiya—that Rebecca and her co-founder Joey introduce travelers to on their Philly Gayborhood and LGBTQ History Walking Tour. “Expect to go deeper into Philadelphia and hear about some of the stand out queer history that makes Philadelphia significant,” she says.
There are few people more qualified than Rebecca to take you on a journey through queer Philly (literally, she wrote her thesis on inclusive tourism)—and her LGBTQ Philadelphia guide acts as the perfect roadmap for planning an out-and-proud trip.
Your guide to LGBTQ Philadelphia
Philadelphia’s LGBTQ neighborhoods
“Don’t be afraid to stay in the Gayborhood,” Rebecca says. The Castro in San Francisco and West Hollywood in LA may colloquially be known as their respective city’s “gayborhoods,” but Philadelphia is the only city in the United States—probably the world—whose LGBTQ heartland is officially named the Gayborhood. “[But] queer Philly people are actually pretty spread out,” Rebecca adds, recommending West Philly, Queens Village, and Old City as other places for LGBTQ travelers to base themselves.
Where to learn about Philadelphia’s LGBTQ history
First established in 1973 and recognized by Pennsylvania’s historical marker program as a “refuge and cultural center” for the LGBTQ community, Giovanni’s Room is Rebecca’s favorite tour stop and one of Philly’s can’t-miss institutions. The oldest continuously running LGBTQ bookstore in the US, the store—which takes its name from James Baldwin’s 1956 classic of gay literature—“is a magical place,” Rebecca says: “It’s a place you could spend all day in. It is visually delicious and … unique in its history, but also in what it is today. A bookstore is a special place and Giovanni’s Room is one of a kind.”
Rebecca also recommends the William Way LGBT Community Center for its art exhibits and famous mural, Pride and Progress, that depicts a Pride festival amid Philadelphia’s landmarks.
The best places to get a drink and meet others
“Cockatoo is a must for a Philly visit,” Rebecca says, as is seeing drag or burlesque at L'etage or The Painted Mug Cafe. Rebecca also recommends Writer’s Block Rehab for its cocktails, Level Up Bar and Lounge, and LGBTQ dive bar Stir. For late-night endeavors, “Sway hosts incredible POC-centered parties … and Lezcronymz is another amazing resource for events,” she adds.
During Pride Month, Rebecca says SWEAT, the self-proclaimed “outdoor mega LGBTQIA+ party of the summer,” is the event she most looks forward to. The city also plays host to OutFest every October, celebrating National Coming Out Day with a block party, drag shows, bar crawls, and more.
Must-visit LGBTQ-owned institutions
The South Street Art Mart is “a queer Philly must,” according to Rebecca. A queer- and Black-owned retail store in Philadelphia’s South Street shopping district, the Art Mart features everything from Philly magnets to Golden Girls light switches, all produced by local indie artists.
Rebecca also cites Young American Hard Cider & Tasting Room—a small batch cidery and tasting room in historic Germantown—and Halloween, a jewelry store and “secret wild space that few explore,” as two LGBTQ-owned locales worth straying off the beaten path for.
All about Philadelphia Pride
A brief history of Philadelphia Pride
Philadelphia’s first Gay Pride Parade took place on June 11, 1972. Organized by the likes of the Gay Activists Alliance, Radicalesbians, Homophile Action League, and student groups from Penn State and Temple University, the event saw thousands march from Rittenhouse Square to Independence Park. The occasion was marked by dancing, celebration, and speeches from Jerry Curtis, a member of the Homophile Action League, and Barbara Gittings, the “lesbian pioneer who staged the [country’s] very first picket protests for LGBTQ rights,” Rebecca explains.
Half a century later—and under new leadership from the PHL Pride Collective—Philly Pride returns to its roots, replacing the parade with a march, to honor Philadelphia's heritage of LGBTQ activism and emphasize the ongoing fight for LGBTQ rights.
The importance of Pride
“Pride demands continuous evolution as our community and community needs evolve,” Rebecca says: “I can only say what Pride means to me this year in 2022. For me, Pride means that honoring and telling LGBTQ stories has never been more urgent. There were 238 anti-LGBTQ bills filed [in the US] this year alone. It is time to return to our roots, check in with history, learn from our ancestors, and celebrate Pride as loudly as possible.”