Jason Evans: ’Tis the season for giving back

Jason Evans: ’Tis the season for giving back

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I’m a big friend of PAT.

If you don’t know PAT, it’s an acronym for Philly AIDS Thrift, a magical place where you can buy household goods, books and records, electronic parts you never thought you’d be able to find again and the hippest clothes from almost every decade in the past 50 years (and probably more). It’s also a great place to donate those goods you love but just don’t have room for anymore.

The main beneficiary of all the goodness is AIDS Fund, but the shop also supports 22 other organizations. To date, PAT has distributed more than $2 million!

If you want to get on Santa’s nice list by helping a good cause this holiday season, PAT always has room for more donations and new volunteers.

This week we spoke to one of the PAT board members, Jason Evans. In addition to his altruistic endeavors, many of you probably know Evans from the other good spirits he works with, as a Sunday bartender at U Bar. Also an activist, Evans has been giving back to the community since he got involved with LGBT health agency SafeGuards when he arrived in Philadelphia in 1996. Earlier this year, Evans was appointed co-chair of the Mayor’s Commission of LGBT Affairs.

PGN: Tell me a little about yourself.

JE: I grew up in Bucks County, Langhorne to be exact. I went to Neshaminy High School. The first time I moved into the city was in the summer of 1996. I started working at Woody’s as a barback and eventually became a bartender. I worked there and a few other clubs, including a few summers at Shampoo. I was a bartender and manager at the 2/4 Club and …

PGN: Wait, when did you work at the 2/4 Club (now known as Voyeur)?

JE: I’d say 1998-2003.

PGN: Oh, that was past my time. I worked there in coat check in the ’80s. So we’re both used to crazy late-night hours.

JE: Yeah, I don’t do ’em anymore!

PGN: So how old were you when you first started at Woody’s?

JE: I was 24, but prior to that I worked at the Cartwheel in New Hope.

PGN: Oh, so you weren’t a baby.

JE: To the city I was!

PGN: When did you come out?

JE: Oh gosh, well my mother’s birthday is in October and I took my mom out to dinner. I was 17 and I took her to the Cartwheel. I was so nervous and halfway through dinner I was about to tell her when she asked me, “So do you ever bring Theresa here?” Theresa had been my high-school girlfriend. I responded, “No Mom, I haven’t been with Theresa in over a year. I’m gay! I brought you here to tell you that!” She was like, “I knew this already. I’ve been here before with my friend Carol. Everything’s fine.”

PGN: Mom sounds pretty cool.

JE: Yeah, she’s real cool.

PGN: What’s a fun fact or story about your mom?

JE: Well, to start, she’s still around. I was just with her on Thursday. She still lives in the same house I grew up in. She’s not really a bar person, but she’s come downtown and met some of my friends. We’ll also meet up in New Hope; it turned out that a good friend of hers came out as lesbian — or maybe it was bisexual — so they’d come up once in a while when I was working there.

PGN: Was your mom her wingman?

JE: I don’t know; she was always chill, just laid-back about everything. She’s very accepting and not fazed by anything. She had five sisters and six brothers. All of our family is pretty much like that. Her father was a minister, but I never met him; he passed away before I was born. But we all grew up with a lot of unconditional love.

PGN: What does or did she do?

JE: She was a stay-at-home mom, thank God, and once we got old enough, she worked as a receptionist in a nursing home for several years. She has that nice, welcoming personality and gets along with everybody. She’s retired now.

PGN: And who is “we”?

JE: I have an older sister and brother.

PGN: And Dad?

JE: My parents separated, and he lives in West Virginia.

PGN: What’s a trait that you got from either parent?

JE: I’m a hopeless romantic. I got that from my mother. For me, those little things mean a lot, a rose or a particular song, any romantic gesture gets me. And I got all of that gene. My sister and brother don’t have it; I got their share.

PGN: So what song would someone play to woo you?

JE: Sam Cook! Or Etta James. Something from the ’50s or ’60s.

PGN: So after Neshaminy High School did you go on to college?

JE: No, it wasn’t my time. I’m actually in college now. When I turned 40, I enrolled at Community College of Philadelphia and took a few classes there and then I applied to Penn and got in. I’m about three-fourths of my way through to getting my undergrad degree, pre-law.

PGN: Congratulations! So in between schools, you’ve had quite the varied career. How did you get involved with the Eagles?

JE: I was looking for a job and saw an ad online. I applied but thought, Ah, that’ll never happen … It was when they’d just opened the new stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, and it was a game-day job working with VIPs. I got hired and at the end of the season the manager offered me a full-time office job. I ended up staying for four more years!

PGN: You’re like me with a history of varied jobs. Tell me about some of yours.

JE: Well, I worked for AirTran Airways and that was bizarre. I was interviewed for a job at the ticket counter and they sent me to Atlanta for training. At the training, you learned everything from ticketing to baggage handling. When I got back to Philly, they wanted me to handle bags and when I objected they said, “Well, here everybody does a little of everything.” They’d also promised me a flexible schedule, which also turned out to be false. But I turned out to be one of their best gate agents. I knew how to deal with people when they were angry because a flight was late or some other problem, so even if the schedule put me outside, whichever supervisor was on duty would put me inside instead. I also worked at the Franklin Institute. A friend brought me in when they were doing the King Tut exhibit the first time. Again, we were handling the VIPs, people or companies who would rent out the entire exhibit for a private tour or function. I did that for an entire season.

PGN: You’ve worked with VIPs in a lot of your jobs. What’s the most outrageous request you’ve had?

JE: Well, I worked at the 2/4 Club and let’s just say I’ve had some requests not fit for print!

PGN: So let’s jump back. As a young boy growing up in Langhorne, when did you first start realizing you were gay?

JE: Hindsight is 20/20, but I think I knew when I was about 4. I remember my sister had a poster on her wall of some singer — I can’t even remember his name now — but I remember looking at it and feeling, He’s awesome! He was on TV a lot and I was totally fascinated by him. [Laughs] In junior high, I had a huge crush on Alec Baldwin! So I kind of always knew. There was never an “ahha” moment.

PGN: Any extracurricular activities?

JE: Band, choir, acting … that sort of thing.

PGN: And now?

JE: I hate to say it, but I just don’t have time. I work full-time at Penn, I go to school part-time at Penn, I’m the co-chair on the Mayor’s Commission of LGBT Affairs, I’m on the board of Philly Aids Thrift and I work at U Bar on Sundays. Sooo …

PGN: Not much room in that schedule.

JE: No. Once a month, I go to dinner with a friend in a similar situation. We make a plan to get out of the house and catch up at some place neither of us has tried. And I’ve started working out with a trainer at 12th Street Gym, Joe Burke; he’s great! He becomes your friend and it doesn’t seem like work. It’s a big plus for me.

PGN: Tell me what the commission does.

JE: We work with the office of LGBT Affairs, which is overseen by Amber Hikes. We work on initiatives that the mayor and office would like to see, and in turn, we let them know what kinds of things the community needs and wants. We also help people in the community to communicate with each other, but a lot of it is getting people to the right resources. Often, we’ll have people say, “Oh, we really should have such and such” and we’ll say, “Actually, there’s a group or program already doing that” and just connect them to the services they need. Luckily, Amber has transformed the office and we are more outfaced, more accessible. You can always find someone on the commission to talk to. In my case, everyone knows they can find me at U Bar on Sundays. So if you need a commissioner, I’m there. People come in and ask questions and I don’t mind. If it’s something too complicated or too long to solve while I’m working, we can set a time for later.

PGN: Any programs you’re working on this month?

JE: There’s a city ordinance that says that single-stall bathrooms are not supposed to be gender-specific so we have a night planned where we are going to go around and check bathrooms in bars, restaurants and stores to make sure they’re in compliance.

PGN: That’s great! So let’s talk about what’s going on at Philly Aids Thrift, one of my favorite places.

JE: Mine too! Well, as you probably know, it’s a thrift shop that sells just about anything and our proceeds go to help in the fight against HIV/AIDS. This year’s special grant awards went to 23 Philly-area HIV/AIDS service organizations.

PGN: I love the fact that PAT gives free store vouchers to Philly HIV/AIDS service providers to give to clients in need.

JE: Yes, it’s great for people who might need new clothes for work or, God forbid, got evicted and lost everything; you can come to the store and get what you need. I don’t know if you’ve been there lately but that store has everything. We just expanded about a year-and-a-half ago and we now have a full-sized furniture section with the loveliest things up there. But the section I’m proudest of is our HIV-testing site right in the store. Testing is available on the weekends but I’m hoping we can expand that. I’m also working on expanding it to other testing because there’s more than just HIV/AIDS out there. For instance, syphilis is one of the silent STDs running rampant in Philadelphia and I don’t think people are as aware as they need to be.

PGN: PAT has expanded in two ways: not only the square footage at Fifth and Bainbridge streets but also the acquisition of the old Giovanni’s Room location.

JE: Yes! And I’m happy to say it’s doing very well. In addition to selling books and household items, we’ve also been doing book signings and readings at the location. It’s been very exciting. It’s helping get people back onto that side of town. It’s nice to see.

PGN: Yeah, the last time I was at the main store for something other than shopping was for a Fringe show. It was held in the furniture department so I got to sit on a barcalounger for the show!

JE: That’s great. We have a lot of community things happening in the store but we also get out into the community. The folks from the stores have tables at almost every function in the area. It’s not a gay store, it’s not a straight store, it’s a microcosm of people from all walks of life. And there’s something for everyone at the store. They’re great community partners. We just surpassed the $2-million mark for the amount of money we’ve donated to the cause.

PGN: That’s amazing. In addition to finding great things, it’s also a great place to donate stuff. I have two boxes next to my front door right now and one of the things I love at PAT is that everyone is so respectful. Some places turn up their noses at items — “Yeah, we don’t take those … ” — but PAT people always act as if everything you bring is gold: “If we can’t sell it, we’ll put it in front and someone will take it.”

JE: Yeah, they have great sales too! A room where everything is under $1 and special Sunday sales …

PGN: OK, let’s go to some random questions: Speak anything other than English?

JE: German. I just took two years of German at Penn, just don’t ask me to try to speak it at this hour.

PGN: Celebrity encounter?

JE: Oh gosh, a lot of them over the years. In the ’90s, I used to work at Palmer Social Club, which was an after-hours bar, and we’d get a lot of celebrities coming in after their shows at Shampoo, which had just opened. When I was at 2/4 Club, I remember Janet Jackson came in and it was really cool. One of the DJs at Palmer was dating Jill Scott — this was before she became famous — and she’d just hang out. On occasion, she’d grab the mic and sing with him, so years later when she blew up I was like, “Holy shit! I know her!”

PGN: And what’s working at U Bar like?

JE: It’s great! Over the years, I’ve worked several places — Woody’s, Voyeur, Palmer, 2/4, The Cartwheel, you name it — but after a while I didn’t enjoy the fast pace of having to get 100 drinks served in 30 minutes at a crowded bar. It’s great for banks, but I like being able to talk to people. That’s what we have at U Bbar. It truly is your neighborhood bar where everybody knows your name.

For more information about Philly AIDS Thrift, visit www.phillyaidsthrift.com.

For more information about U Bar, visit www.ubarphilly.com.

For more information about the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs, visit https://beta.phila.gov/departments/office-of-lgbt-affairs/.

 


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