Philly Pride Week Takes on a Jewish Tinge

Rainbow flags filled the streets as Pride Week, a seven-day celebration of all things lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and asexual/ally, officially kicked off June 14 with the 27th annual Philly Pride parade. Philadelphia’s Jewish community showed its support and engagement with the festival and participants through two events. The first Jewish contribution to the festival actually came a few days earlier in the guise of the J. Proud Shabbat dinner at the National Museum of American Jewish History on June 12.

Some 70 guests from across all generations came to the event hosted by J. Proud, a Philly LGBTQA consortium of more than 20 institutions coordinated by the Jewish Family and Children’s Service. Guests were treated to a vegan meal courtesy of Rachel Klein and her South Philly restaurant, Miss Rachel’s Pantry, and speakers included state Rep. Brian Sims (D-District 182) and Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Mid-Atlantic Region Elad Strohmayer.

“It was an amazing, beautiful night,” said Phoenix Schneider, director of the LGBTQ Initiative for JFCS, which started J. Proud a little over a year ago.

It was also a unique event in that the museum itself bent its own rules to host the event — it does not generally do events on Friday nights because of Shabbat, said Julie Taylor, senior manager of donor relations and special events at the museum. Taylor added that having the museum host the event was representative of its goal to become an all-inclusive space.

The dinner was a “great place to further that” and provide a supportive community, she said. “It was nice to spend that traditional time with families and their communities together at the museum.”

The event was organized by the J. Proud event committee, comprised of Schneider; Steven Share, project manager for Spectrum Philly; and Warren Hoffman, associate director of community programming for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

Strohmayer talked about progress in Israel and related it to the fact that Pride Week in Tel Aviv is happening at the same time as Philadelphia’s, Schneider said, while Sims talked about issues on a statewide scale — “what are we doing now, what is the work that needs to be done as far as protecting and including LGBTQ folks,” he explained.

“When I think about it, it was really a special evening,” Schneider said. Sims and Strohmayer “were just remarkable. I was scanning the room when they were speaking and folks were just so tuned in — I could tell they were feeling inspired and connected.”

Creating that connection and feeling of community is what Schneider said was J. Proud’s goal for the evening and for Pride Week.

“We are really proud of the success of the evening because I base success not on the numbers but the testimonials of the attendees,” he said. “I’m still getting phone calls from people who are opening up about how special the night was and how needed the night was in the community.”

Schneider said he hopes the dinner will become an annual event alongside the programs J. Proud holds yearly for Chanukah and Passover.

The consortium was also the only official Jewish organization to march in the Pride Parade on Sunday, with a contingent of between 40 and 50 people.

“Our goal was to create a space for LGBTQ Jews to come together, celebrate, connect and feel like they could be free to be who they truly are and not just a space that’s celebrating being Jewish or celebrating being LGBTQ but celebrating being Jewish and LGBTQ,” said Schneider.

Another notable Pride Week event was David Carter’s appearance at the Independence Branch Free Library.

Carter is working on a biography of one of the most notable Jewish figures in LGBT history, Frank Kameny. Kameny, who is considered one of the co-founders of the LGBT movement and was responsible for organizing the first Annual Reminder outside Philadelphia City Hall in 1965, is set to be inducted into the U.S. Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor later this month for his work to end discrimination in the workplace.

Carter, who has previously written books on other notable figures and events about the movement, such as the Stonewall Riots in 1969, first began interviewing Kameny in 2006.

“I went back and forth in my mind of what I wanted to write next and a bio of Frank kept coming back up,” Carter said.

After dinner one night, he decided he could trace the history of the LBGT movement through this one person. He collaborated with Barbara Gittings, another key figure in the origins of the movement, and Kay Tobin. Carter credits both women for helping him find information and photos he used.

Working with Kameny and conducting at least 40 interviews with him helped Carter form a relationship he called a “privilege.”

“I think when you’re doing the biography of a person, you get the chance to really get to know the person and it’s really invaluable to a biographer,” Carter explained. “I’ve come to the conclusion that he was not only the most important person in the history of the movement for the U.S., but abroad as well. I think he is the towering figure.”

Kameny was fired from his job at the U.S. Army Map Service in 1957 because of his sexuality, which served as a catalyst for him to get involved with the LGBT movement’s origins, including founding the Mattachine Society in Washington D.C., attending demonstrations in New York City and signing people up to participate in the arduous struggle for gay rights.

“He didn’t let himself get distracted from always trying to do everything he could to achieve equality for LGBT people,” Carter said. “Frank wanted to sink his canine teeth to the calf muscle of the federal government until Uncle Sam said ‘uncle’ to him.”

What kept Kameny going for so many decades, often in the face of relentless opposition and indifference, he told Tobin, was the idea that “if he could change the mind of one person, it was worth doing.”

Contact: mstern@jewishexponent.com (215-832-0740).