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Philly’s 2021 LGBTQ ‘Pride lite’ festival canceled as group dissolves after backlash

The group had run the Philly Pride Parade for 28 years.

The newly painted crosswalk at 13th and Locust at 2019's Outfest. The organizers of Outfest, Philly Pride Presents, have disbanded.
The newly painted crosswalk at 13th and Locust at 2019's Outfest. The organizers of Outfest, Philly Pride Presents, have disbanded.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

Roiled by community backlash, the organization behind Philadelphia’s largest annual LGBTQ Pride parade and festival for the last 28 years has abruptly dissolved and canceled its forthcoming Pride festivities, The Inquirer has learned.

The organizers behind Philly Pride Presents did not respond to multiple phone calls, voice mails, emails, and Facebook messages — which were shown as having been read before the group took down its Facebook page late last week.

The disbanding of the decades-old LGBTQ organization and cancellation of its September “Pride Lite” festival — moved from the typical date in June, Pride month, due to coronavirus restrictions — is the latest chapter in a tumultuous saga for Philly Pride Presents.

The most recent controversy began with a Facebook post from the nonprofit group on June 10, which drew swift castigation from some members of the community for using transphobic language to describe patrons of New York City’s Stonewall Inn, whose actions during an uprising against police on June 28, 1969, are widely attributed as the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ rights movement. The post also drew scrutiny for casting police officers as victims, when LGBTQ people were subject to police abuse. Within hours, the post, and others regarding Pride month, vanished from the group’s page without explanation.

On June 17, the group posted an apology to its page, saying that its senior adviser in charge of making Facebook posts had resigned and that Pride organizers were “deeply sorry that these posts unintentionally offended and hurt the LGBTQ+ black, brown and trans community.”

Then again, within hours — after mounting online criticism, an earlier column from Philadelphia Magazine, and questions from a reporter — the group’s Facebook page disappeared altogether, and large portions of its website were removed from public view.

By Monday, Philly Pride Presents’ phone line was disconnected.

A city spokesperson said Philly Pride Presents “does not have a formal relationship with the City of Philadelphia” nor did the nonprofit 501(c) 3 organization receive any funding from the city.

But, Celena Morrison, executive director of Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs, said that the office “has heard and shared the community’s concerns regarding Philly Pride Presents’ social media presence.”

“While this recent development is still unfolding, we understand the community’s need for a new vision of what LGBTQ+ Pride looks like here in Philadelphia,” Morrison said. “The Office of LGBT Affairs has been in conversation with community leaders and activists as they prepare to reimagine Pride, and we look forward to supporting the many celebrations, rallies, protests, and programming already happening across the city, as the future of Pride in Philadelphia emerges — one that is reflective of the many diverse experiences of our city’s LGBTQ+ communities.”

» READ MORE: The Philly Pride flag, explained

Philly Pride Presents’ disbanding is “definitely a win, for the community collectively,” said Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, a West Philadelphia-based writer, organizer, and cofounder of the Black and Brown Workers Co-operative (BBWC), who for years has fought against racism in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood and worked to hold the Office of LGBT Affairs accountable to the concerns of many Black and brown members of the community.

According to Philly Pride Presents’ now-deleted “about” section on its website, the group is run by volunteer coordinators under executive director Fran Price and senior adviser Chuck Volz, who filled the roles for 28 and 29 years, respectively. Price is also currently running for mayor of the Folcroft Borough in Delaware County.

In non-COVID years, the group put on Philadelphia’s annual LGBTQ Pride parade and festival in June at Penn’s Landing and OutFest — billed as “the world’s largest National Coming Out Day celebration” — each October.

This year, to commemorate Pride month virtually, Volz told the Food Farms n Chefs podcast: “We’re doing something for gay history month every day, posting on Facebook, so people should look at it. It’s history in little bits, but it’s very interesting.”

Black and brown LGBTQ organizers are in the process of planning an event in place of the September pride fest, with details to come, Muhammad said.

“It allows for something new to be born,” they said. “It allows for something resonant with Black and brown queer and trans people in the city, for all LGBTQ folks in the city, to have a space that’s truly held by the people in our community.”

Kory Aversa, a public relations specialist and events planner active in the city’s LGBTQ community, also noted that despite the lack of a large Pride festival or parade this month, the website has cataloged other ways to celebrate Pride this June.

“The people involved in the parade have been doing this for three decades and have dedicated their lives to it,” Aversa said. “The Pride Parade should be a shining star of Pride Month every year, but we want to spotlight that Philly Gay Pride is a monthlong event.”

For Muhammad and other organizers who have long called out racial discrimination in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood, the issues didn’t start or end with a Facebook post.

“It’s the tale of two Phillys,” said Nic López Rodriguez, a Latinx queer activist who served as the executive director of Galaei — a queer Latinx social justice organization — from 2016 through 2018, before quietly stepping down. Rodriguez, now a professor at Jefferson University, said as executive director, they watched as other community leaders looked the other way, when it came to racist transgressions in the community. After tensions came to a head when video circulated of a popular Gayborhood bar owner using racial slurs, the city held formal hearings in 2016 on racism in the community and mandated anti-discrimination training for bar workers. But years later, Rodriguez said, it feels as though little has changed.

“Black and brown community members … we’re exasperated because we’re like, we’ve been saying, but nobody listens,” they said. “Because at the end of the day, we’re all this queer community and we have to all be sort of in brotherhood, but when it came to systemic racism, nobody wanted to actually face the truth of what is happening.”

The lack of outcry from white leaders in the community — before and after Philly Pride Presents’ apology — Rodriguez said, incensed him more.

“There is a saying in Spanish that accurately describes the silence of Philly’s LGBTQ leaders and that is: dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres — tell me who your friends are and I’ll tell you who you are. Their silence has proven exactly who they are, they have an opportunity to use their power to truly confront systemic change, and they have chosen to do nothing. They want us to forget this incident, but we’ll never forget.”

Muhammad, whose activism with BBWC helped lead the city to add black and brown stripes to the inclusive rainbow “more colors more pride” flag following upheaval around racism in the Gayborhood, said that the latest Facebook postings show that “clearly, we have more work to do.”

“That flag is a symbol, it doesn’t mean that the work has ended,” Muhammad said. “People saw it as a result of work that had been done, the end of it. It was just the beginning.”

Philly Pride Presents’ sudden and quiet dissolution, Muhammad said, “proves why we need something new.”

“If they cared about community, they would care about addressing the harm that they have been the source of in our community, and because they’re not up for the challenge of being accountable,” Muhammad said. “Their action or inaction or avoidance of accountability proves why Philadelphia deserves a Pride organization … that’s more reflective of Philly, that’s more reflective of the deep diversity that we have.”

Staff writer Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this article.