It turns out that Philly is not only home of the cheesesteak, the Liberty Bell and Rocky Balboa; it’s a birthplace of the LGBT civil rights movement as well. Five years before Stonewall, 40 LGBT individuals held a demonstration there, and the event became annual from 1965 to 1969, setting the stage for Stonewall. Ten years later, Pennsylvania became the first state to implement a government commission on sexual minority issues.
This April 28 through May 4, The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection will host its 16th-annual Equality Forum for the advancement of LGBT civil rights. Equality Form began in 1993 as weekend event called PrideFest Philadelphia. In 1999, it became the week-long PrideFest America. By 2003, the event had grown to include international programming, so the board of directors renamed it again to reflect this change. Today, Equality Forum is the world’s largest annual LGBT rights symposium. There is no registration fee, and many programs are free of charge.
“The gay community in every aspect of our city is vital and important,” Pennsylvania congressman Chaka Fattah told here! TV at last year’s forum, “and we’re opening up the door to make sure everyone understands that.” The 16th-annual Equality Forum will feature 63 programs, including panels, parties, speaking engagements, documentary screenings, award ceremonies, networking opportunities and other special events.
Highlights include the International Equality Dinner, which will take place at the National Constitution Center (525 Arch Street) on Saturday, May 3. Guest of honor New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson will receive Equality Forum’s 13th-annual International Role Model Award. In addition to expanding anti-discrimination laws in his state, the pioneering politician signed into law New Mexico’s first hate crimes legislation for crimes based upon sexual orientation and gender identity, and provided health insurance for domestic partnerships.
“Governor Richardson has been a longtime supporter and friend of the GLBT community,” says Equality Forum Executive Director Malcolm Lazin. “[He] has repeatedly used his political standing to champion GLBT civil rights.” The Governor is one of several straight allies slated to participate in this year’s forum. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, the honorary dinner chair, is another. As last year’s International Role Model, Martina Navratilova, said in her acceptance speech, “The bottom line is, it’s not really about gay rights, it’s about human rights.”
This year’s international panel will focus on Gays and Lesbians in the Muslim World, with panelists Afdere Jama, editor of Huriyah; Arsham Parsi, founder of the Iranian Queer Organization (IRQO); John Scagliotti, creator and executive producer of PBS’s In The Life; and Parvez Sharma, director of the documentary A Jihad for Love, which will be screened on Friday, May 2 at 7:30pm. A Q&A with Sharma will follow. A Conversation with Irshad Manji will take place a the National Constitution Center, where Manji will discuss her best-selling tome, The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith, and her PBS documentary, Faith without Fear. According to Equality Forum Executive Director Lazin, “The assertion of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that there are no gay Iranians reflects governmental and religious denial and oppression. Given the importance of Islam on world events and our community, Equality Forum 2008 will examine the status and plight of gays and lesbians in Muslim nations.”
Federal elections and politics will be another focus of this year’s Equality Forum. “The 2008 elections will have a profound impact on GLBT civil rights, from the hoped-for passage of ENDA to the likely nomination of supreme court justices,” says Lanzin. “Equality Forum 2008 brings together federal and state elected officials and major community leaders for that discussion.”
Related programs include the National Politics Panel, moderated by Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff, the National Military Panel, moderated by SLDN director Sharra Greer, and the National Legal Panel, moderated by National Lesbian & Gay Law Association executive director D’Arcy Kemnitz. A Conversation with Barney Frank will be held at the National Constitution Center, and congressmen Patrick Murphy and Joe Sestak will be honored at the Liberty PA/Equality Advocates Pennsylvania Statewide Reception.
Equality Forum’s 9th-annual Art Exhibit at the University of the Arts (211 S Broad St) is free to all throughout the week, and will feature the work of photographer Duane Michals, including his acclaimed portraits of various gay and lesbian authors and artists from around the world. The exhibit will also feature The Facts of Life, a retrospective of Michals’ distinguished 40-year career. A lecture presentation by the artist will take place at the Elaine C. Levitt Auditorium (401 S Broad St) on Wednesday, April 30 at 2pm, free of charge.
Health and family programs include Body Image Issues for Gays and Lesbians and the 11th annual James Wheeler National Youth Panel, led by GLSEN regional coordinator Christian Fuscarino, and featuring various high school activists.
Collaborative programs include Women’s Health: What Do We Need? What Do We Want? What Can We Get?, Baby Making in the 21st Century: Assisted Reproduction Questions for LGBTQ Parents and Growing up with LGBTQ Parents: A National and Local Perspective.
Visibility programming will include Is Queer the New Gay?, the National Transgender Panel, the National GLBT History Panel and the National Racial Issues Panel: The Latino/a Community. Collaborative programs include Transgender Role Models and Bisexuality: A Panel Discussion, among many others.
The Business Equality Panel will be led by moderator Sally Susman, Estee Lauder’s Executive Vice President for Global Communications. Collaborative programs include What the Supplier Diversity Initiative Can Do for Your Business, Being Out & Equal in the Job Market and Lesbians and Money: How to Avoid Extra Taxes and Plan for Your Future.
Enjoy a late afternoon BB”Q” in Philadelphia’s “gayborhood” (13th St btw Walnut and Locust) on Saturday, May 3, 5–8pm. Stop into nearby hangout Pure (1221 James St) for the Liberty PA/Equality Advocates Pennsylvania Statewide Reception at 5pm. Both events are free of charge.
On Sunday, May 4, Bishop John Spong will deliver a sermon at the 4th-annual National Interfaith Service at Philadelphia’s historic Christ Church. Bishop Spong is an international leader in liberation theology, and was the first Episcopal Bishop to ordain an openly gay priest.
The week will culminate in Old City on Sunday, May 4 with SundayOUT!, Philadelphia’s largest annual LGBT street festival, featuring over 120 artisans, community organizations and food vendors. Triumph Brewing Company will host the official SundayOUT! party.
Speaking of parties, Equality Forum presents two women’s bashes at Sisters (1320 Chancellor St): the Divas & Dudes Drag King Review on Wednesday, April 30, and Hip & Fit: The Search for the Hottest Lesbian in the USA! on Saturday, May 3, presented by Girl Fever. Ladies 2000 will host an Emerge event at Pure with $2 cocktails from 9–11pm. Blue Ball will host three more: Cocktails and Comedy at Stir (1705 Chancellor St) on Thursday, May 1; Black and White at Transit (6th & Spring Garden Sts) on Friday, May 2; and the Emerge Women’s Closing Party at the plush, shagadelic Bleu Martini (24 S 2nd St) on Sunday, May 4, where DJs Kit and Phoenix will be spinning up a storm from 3 to 9pm. This lounge-style restaurant and bar is totally pimped out with zebra-print furnishings, native-stone paneling and mood lighting for a fully “Super Fly” experience. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Sapphire Fund, a community-based, non-profit organization which supports the health and well-being of Philly’s LGBT community. For tickets, visit emerge.sapphirefund.org.
That’s the scoop on Equality Forum 2008. For travel and accommodations information, a complete schedule of programs or to purchase tickets for specific events, visit equalityforum.com.