As you may have read in two past issues of the magazine, we covered the 50th anniversary of the very first gay rights protests in the United States. Those mass protests were held in front of Independence Hall on July 4, 1965. Every year thereafter, also on July 4, “remembrance” protests were held. Up until the Stonewall riot of 1969, these non-confrontational and non-violent protests were the largest of their kind in the world. They helped shape what would eventually become Philadelphia’s gay pride parade, which began in 1970.
Visit Philadelphia was kind enough to extend the invitation to me to cover the 50th anniversary celebrations and events. I had just written the travel feature on Philadelphia, with which I was assisted by Mark Segal of Philadelphia Gay News as well as Visit Philadephia. I thought I did a very good job on the feature, but I had never been there before. Now I was offered the chance to experience Philadelphia for myself, and I could barely contain my excitement.
I flew up to Philadelphia on Thursday, July 2, and arrived in the morning. After a quick stop at the hotel to secure my luggage, I was walking to my first event. My hotel, the Loews Philadelphia Hotel, is located on the corner of 12th and Market in Center City. Six blocks away is Independence Mall, where Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Independence Visitor Center and the National Constitution Center are all located. I walked to the “gay pioneers” historical marker, located off to the side of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.
It was a very bittersweet moment, because the event was a wreath-laying ceremony, honoring the brave men and women who advocated for equality, but sadly passed on before marriage equality could be a reality nationwide. Jim Obergefell was selected to place the wreath next to the marker. His husband, John Arthur, died before marriage equality would be recognized in their home state of Ohio. He sued to have his marriage (performed in another jurisdiction) recognized in Ohio, so he could be listed as a spouse on his husband’s death certificate. The case, Obergefell v. Hodges, eventually decided marriage equality nationwide. It was an honor to be in his presence, and definitely a huge honor to meet him, speak with him, and shake his hand. We are all indebted to him. His husband did not die in vain.
After the event, I went back to my hotel to freshen up before I explored the gayborhood. The Loews Philadelphia Hotel is a five-star luxury hotel which has won the AAA Diamond Award the past ten years in a row. The service was absolutely superb: the concierge and the front desk employees were very helpful and they did everything possible to ensure that my stay was as comfortable as possible. My room was on the nineteenth floor, overlooking the city. The views were amazing. So was the room itself; I felt like I stepped into a chic documentary one would see on the Travel Channel.
In the late afternoon, I met with a friend of mine who lives in the city for some drinks. We stopped at the Tavern on Camac, one of the oldest gay bars in the city, for happy hour. A lady was behind the piano, singing everything from showtunes to pop hits. As we sipped our drinks, he gave me the lowdown on all the places I must see in the gayborhood before I returned to Florida. Sadly, I didn’t get to visit most of the places he recommended, but by that point I had fallen in love with Philadelphia, so I knew I’d be back very soon. I’ll just have to see even more sights next time!
In the evening, there was a 50th anniversary party and reception held at the National Museum of American Jewish History, located just past Independence Mall. I got to meet Elad Strohmayer, Israeli consul for the Mid-Atlantic region, and his husband. They met at Tel Aviv Pride last year, and after a whirlwind courtship, they were married at the museum in January of this year by none other than Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Mayor Nutter is a big advocate for equality and was one of the first signatories of the Mayors for the Freedom to Marry pledge. Mr. Strohmayer insisted that I should see the exhibit dedicated to them on the first floor. They donated their kippot, both rainbow-colored with Stars of David on them, to the museum. Now they are a part of American Jewish history!
Read about day 2 tomorrow, Saturday July 11.