For the 20 years of the Equality Forum in Philadelphia, lawyer Malcolm Lazin has been its guiding light. It's a legacy of tense times and sometimes slow ones, but he sees this year's as a turning point.
"Let me give you an example," Lazin said. "We have a military panel. In past years, we would be lamenting 'Don't ask, don't tell.' Now, people are out and serving in the armed forces. Things are really different."
In addition, Lazin said, Equality Forum will be welcoming a big star in the LGBT political community, Houston Mayor Annise Parker, only the second female mayor of Texas' largest city - and the largest city in the country with a gay mayor. Parker will receive the International Role Model Award at the International Equality Dinner on Saturday night at the National Museum of American Jewish History.
Organizers describe the forum as the largest annual national and international LGBT civil rights summit. There is no registration, but an estimated 15,000 people attend the events over several days, said spokeman Chip Alfred.
Israel is the "featured nation" this year, with its ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, scheduled as keynote speaker for the dinner. It is a homecoming of sorts for Oren, whose name was Michael Bornstein while growing up in West Orange, N.J. He has two graduate degrees from Princeton University is Israel's ambassador to the United States.
"Tel Aviv is one of the international gay hot spots," Lazin said. "We expect a lot of Israelis to come in - on both the substantive and the party side of the forum."
The main party will be in the Piazza at Schmidts in Northern Liberties, the forum's home the last three years after a move from Old City. SundayOUT! is planned from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday, mostly in the courtyard near Second Street and Germantown Avenue. Entertainers include American jazz and hip-hop singer Neon Hitch, Israeli pop star Shorty, Israeli gay-scene DJs Maya Jakobson and Elad Magdasi, and Tel Aviv drag performer Osher Sabag.
On the substantive side, in the late afternoon Friday there are the National Legal Panel (4-5:15 p.m.) and the National Politics Panel (5:30-6:45 p.m.) at the National Constitution Center, Sixth and Arch Streets. Among the political panelists are Andrew Tobias, treasurer for the Democratic National Committee, and R. Clarke Cooper, the executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans.
The Saturday afternoon panels at the Doubletree Hotel, 237 S. Broad St., include those on sports, youth, the military, and same-sex marriage. The sports panel (1-2:15 p.m.) features Philadelphia Flyers scout Patrick Burke (whom Lazin calls a "dedicated straight ally"), a founder of the You Can Play Project, which promotes LGBT participation in sports, and athletes who have come out including University of Pennsylvania tennis player Jason Magnes, the chair of Penn Athletes and Allies Tackling Homophobia (PATH).
On Friday night there is a drag show and party at Tabu on South 12th Street from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., and what the forum is calling the Stimulus Party at iCandy, on Washington Square West, from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. On Saturday night, after the International Equality Dinner, there are competing "Girls" and "Boys" parties - the Girl Fever party is from 8:30 p.m. to 2 a.m. at Sisters, 1320 Chancellor St., while the men will gather from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. at Voyeur, 1221 St. James St.
The forum offers an arts component as well.
All weekend from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., the Open Lens Gallery at the Gershman YM-YWHA at Broad and Pine Streets will display the works of David Adika, an Israeli photographer (admission is free). Plays and Players Theater, 1724 Delancey Place, will have a performance Saturday at 7:30 a.m. ($15) of The Twentieth Century Way, a police drama set in the gay subculture of Los Angeles just before the start of World War I. There are about a dozen free programs at the University of the Arts' Terra Hall, 211 S. Broad St., from presentations on gay travel to adoption options for LGBT people, Saturday afternoon from 12:30 to 4:45 p.m.
Photography Exhibit. Featuring David Adika. 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday- Sunday, Open Lens Gallery, Gershman Y,
Broad and Pine Streets. (Free).
Collaborative Programs. 12:30-4:45 p.m. Saturday, Terra Hall, University of the Arts, 211 S. Broad St. (Free).
International Equality Dinner. Honoring Houston Mayor Annise Parker and featuring keynote speaker Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador to
the U.S., 7-10 p.m. Saturday, National Museum of American Jewish History, Fifth and Market Streets. ($200).
Drag Show and Party. 8 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday, Tabu, 200 S. 12th St.
($5 between 8-9 p.m.; $10, 9 p.m. and later).
Music, dance, arts. Noon-7 p.m. Sunday, Piazza at Schmidts, Second Street and Germantown Avenue ($10 adults, $5 students).
For more information, call 215-732-3378 or go to www. equalityforum.com.