This week, downtown Philadelphia will be transformed into one big Gayborhood when Philly PrideDay kicks off Gay Pride Month with a daylong celebration that mixes equal parts activism and entertainment.
The festivities begin at noon, with a parade starting at 13th and Locust streets and making its way down Market Street to the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing, where there will be five hours of music, dancing and food.
The parade is quite a sight, similar to the Mummers—only more fabulous and without the winter chill. Honorees like Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown will ride on floats, and there will be plenty of oiled-up go-go boys and preening drag queens. The Flaggots, a gay color guard, will add flair with their precision drills and brightly hued flags.
One float will be carrying the parade’s Grand Marshalls, the band BETTY, whose credits include the theme song for The L Word . The trio has been making queer-friendly alt rock since the late 1980s and has performed at Philly PrideDay in the past. “It’s our favorite pride event in America,” says singer and cellist Amy Ziff. “The people are wild and wooly and enthusiastic. It’s one of our favorite places to perform.”
Some attendees even make it from the sidelines to the stage, like this year’s Mr. Gay Pride, Rough RydeHer, who’ll share a float with the Goddess Isis, Miss Philly Gay Pride.
Rough is a character created by Shanel Sherese, a local drag king. The performer, who only began doing drag a year ago, points out that one of the great things about Philly PrideDay is the opportunity it creates for locals. “You can start off on the sidelines and just by becoming active and involved in the community, you can end up in the parade,” she says.
The soiree has grown substantially since its inception. The event’s origins date back to the late 1980s, when an impromptu parade was organized to coincide with a gay-rights rally in Love Park. It was such a success that community members got together to make the happening an annual occurrence.
Now overseen by Philly Pride Presents, Executive Director Fran Price and Festival Chair Chuck Volz work for months with board members and volunteers to prepare for the festival, which draws both nationally known entertainers like this year’s headliner, the outrageously frank TV host Wendy Williams, and the support of national sponsors, including Stolichnaya Vodka.
Jeweler Henri David has witnessed PrideDay’s growth firsthand. The host of the city’s well-known Halloween bash, who describes himself as an impresario with a capital I-M-P, has been PrideDay’s master of Ceremonies for 20 years. “More and more people are coming out, if you’ll pardon the pun,” says David. “The parade has gotten bigger, and there are people on the sidelines and unsuspecting tourists by Independence Hall, and there are the residents of Center City. We have to do it for all of them, and it just gets better.”
Sun., June 10, noon. East Market Street and the Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing, Columbus Blvd. at Chestnut St. 215.875.9288. phillypride.org