LGBT culture in Philadelphia

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LGBT culture in Philadelphia
13th Gayborhood.jpg
Philadelphia gayborhood street sign on 13th Street

The development of LGBT culture in Philadelphia can be traced back to the early 20th century. It exists in current times as a dynamic and diverse culture with establishments and events held to promote LGBT culture and rights in Philadelphia and beyond.


The Philadelphia LGBT community has roots as far back as the 1930s and '40s. Early gay networks would meet privately at underground house parties and other private venues within Center City, West Philadelphia, and Germantown.[1] The post-WWII Center City area provided plentiful housing and urban anonymity that allowed the LGBT culture to meet hidden from public view.[2]

By the 1950s, a jazz, espresso, and beatnik culture was stirring things up around Rittenhouse Square and in coffee houses on Sansom Street, creating a niche for the city's gay community. The LGBT culture developing in Philadelphia invoked the first article published in America that recognizes a city's gay community and political scene titled "The Furtive Fraternity" published in Greater Philadelphia. The article describes political limitations the emerging gay community faced.[2]

Gay rights demonstrations were held at Independence Hall from 1965-1969 which marked the start of a new era for Philadelphia gay culture, as well as the district of Washington Square West.[2] The protesters marched on 4 July 1965 and continued for years following. "Reminder Day, " as it was called, was held publicly to acknowledge the inequality of rights for gay men and lesbians under the US Constitution at the time.[2] The LGBT rights movement was gaining speed in Philadelphia along with other LGBT actions prior to the Stonewall riots in New York City four years later.[1]

In 2014, gay trans man Lou Cutler become the first transgender man to be crowned Mr. Gay Philadelphia.[3]

"The Gayborhood"[edit]

Washington Square West, sometimes called Midtown Village, is referred to by locals as "the Gayborhood."[1] Since the 1920s this area was a mecca for fashion and entertainment. During the 1960s a transition from high-end stage performances and chorus lines into cheap adult entertainment took place. "Musical bars" on Camac and Quince Streets hosted gay and lesbian clientele but required a fee to mob connections for law enforcement to look the other way. The preservation of these bars around 13th and Locust Streets, through dealings with the mob, made gay culture appear more closely tied to illegal activity, which drew attention from the authorities.[2] The lumping together of prostitutes, drug dealers, and homosexuals provoked police raids on gay bars up into the early 1980s. During this time, demonstrations at Independence Hall for gay rights sought to raise the community from an underground and lascivious group into a more unified community and political entity.[2] This same area of the city remains an epicenter for gay culture today.[4]

This Washington Square West district was selected to undergo gentrification in the mid-1970s and up to one-fifth of the old structures were razed.[2] Shortly after the project began, federal assistance was discontinued and the district's demolished lots sat unoccupied during a long recovery period into the 1990s. Mayor Ed Rendell promoted a new era of gentrification which helped Washington Square West regain its footing and transform into a healthy, economically viable community by the early 2000s.[2]

In 2007, 36 rainbow street signs were mounted throughout intersections within 11th and Broad Streets, formally recognizing the Gayborhood as part of Philadelphia culture.[2]

Bars and entertainment[edit]

A diverse range of gay-friendly businesses and organizations are located within Philadelphia. Some of these destinations include bars, nightclubs, performance theaters, shops, health centers, restaurants, and adult theaters .[5] Popular bars and nightclubs include Knock, Stir, Tabu (former location of iCandy[6]), Tavern on Camac, The Bike Stop, U Bar (formerly Uncles), Voyeur (formerly Pure), Westbury, and Woody's.[7]


Mayor of Philadelphia John Street was elected in 1999 with the help of LGBT activists. After his election he selected over twelve LGBT persons to work in the transition team.[8]


The city hosts many events including Equality Forum, Blue Ball, Pride Parade, and OutFest.[1]

Mazzoni Center[edit]

The Mazzoni Center, established in 1979, is the only health care provider in Philadelphia that operates specifically for the LGBT community. The center's array of HIV/AIDS-related and general health services benefit over 30,000 individuals annually. Community programs are open to the public that include focus groups and outreach programs. Other health care services include HIV and STD testing, food and housing options, mental and behavioral health services, and LGBT legal services. The center seeks to break down cultural insensitivity that LGBT individuals may encounter in mainstream healthcare systems by communicating through knowledgeable health care and preventative services conselors.[9]

William Way Community Center[edit]

The William Way LGBT Community Center, founded in 1975, was founded as the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Philadelphia. It maintains an archive of local and regional LGBT information and culture, curates exhibitions, and offers community support.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Gavin, Karrie. "Philadelphia's Gay Scene: Gay History and Culture in Philadelphia". Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Skiba, Bob (12 February 2014). "The Roots of the Gayborhood, The Eve of a Milestone". Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  3. ^ "Lou Cutler Wins Mr. Gay Philadelphia 2014". Philly Mag. Retrieved 2019-04-26.
  4. ^ "Welcome to the Gayborhood" (PDF). Philadelphia Gay Tourism Caucus and Philadelphia magazine. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  5. ^ "Philly Gay Calendar". Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  6. ^ "Tabu to replace Icandy, the Gayborhood bar where owner used racial slur". Retrieved 16 June 2019.
  7. ^ "Bars and Nightlife in Philadelphia's Gayborhood". Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  8. ^ Haider-Markel, Donald P. Gay and Lesbian Americans and Political Participation: A Reference Handbook (Political participation in America). ABC-CLIO, January 1, 2002. ISBN 1576072568, 9781576072561. p. 145.
  9. ^ "Mazzoni Center: History & Mission". Retrieved 11 June 2014.