Philadelphia is a city steeped in history. The story of our nation comes alive through a rich collection of oral histories, art, written documents, artifacts, and primarily from stories. Some stories never make the official history books because of bias or prejudice. Some stories are lost. Some stories are kept close in their circles, passed around as treasured memories that are to be kept safe. Queer Philadelphia History is a story that not many people have heard, and through our work we have sought to tell it. Through the research we have done and the work of Bob Skiba (archivist to the William Way Center archives and blogger at thegayborhoodguru.wordpress.com) , we have compiled a brief history of the queer community in Philadelphia. It is a story to be shared. It is our story. It is your story.
The History of Philadelphia is a queer one. While being the founding city of our nation, Philadelphia also has an extensive queer history. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, Philadelphia saw a flourishing underground scene of house parties, eventually culminating in queer speakeasies. In the 1940’s, the term Spruce Street Boys comes into popularity as queer people continue to use their underground network to meet and connect. Eventually, in the midst of the homophile movement, the Reminder Day pickets take place, and the reaction of law enforcement leads to a large-scale immigration from Philadelphia to New York. Many of those that left would eventually come back, but the absence of many community members left a meaningful hole in the fabric of the community.
Following the events of Stonewall and the beginning of the Gay Liberation Movement, several organizations specifically for queer people were organized and officially founded. The first pride parade in Philadelphia is held in 1972. In the 2007, Philadelphia officially recognized the Gayborhood and outfitted it with rainbow street signs and mounted rainbow street flags. As recently as 2017, the rainbow gay pride flag was made an official flag of the city.
Click the above link to view an interactive timeline that weaves together Philadelphia history and queer history.
Philadelphia Queer History is woven into the history of the city itself. This timeline serves to show that while Philadelphia was hitting major milestones on a city-level, the Philadelphia queer community was growing and thriving. From humble beginnings as Maxine’s was founded as the first “gay bar” to the legalization of marriage equality in all 50 states, the Philadelphia queer community has been here and will stay here.
Map of Queer affiliated places in Philadelphia
Bob Skiba, archivist of the William Way and blogger extraordinaire at thegayborhoodguru.wordpress.com created this map of Philadelphia queer history and culture. Click on the pink triangles to learn more about the city’s queer history.