Raise your hand if you’ve been to William Way LGBT Community Center. All those with hands down, please pass your gay cards to the front.
But seriously, if you haven’t been to the center, you’re missing out on a lot. Founded in 1974 as the Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Philadelphia, William Way has morphed and moved and grown throughout the years. (Some of you older radicals may remember when it was known as Penguin Place.) It has been at 1315 Spruce St. since 1997 and offers something for everyone in the community.
Named after activist William Way, the center houses a changing art gallery (currently featuring the uber-talented Natalie Hope McDonald), a cyber center (free WiFi!), a lending library (more than 14,000 books of interest to our community), an LGBT archive center (some of my stuff is there) and a ballroom (named after PGN publisher Mark Segal). You can rent rooms for meetings or events or join the roster of longterm tenants. There are group meetings open to the public, like the twice-monthly “Coffee Talk,” a gathering for people who identify as trans, genderqueer or non-binary and their allies, and the weekly drop-in social group TransWay. There are a bevy of programs for old and young, the religious and the spiritual. There are regular meetings for Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Debtors Anonymous and other recovery groups. Need someone to talk to? The Peer Counseling Program offers one-to-one counseling that is confidential and free of charge.
If you like to read, there’s the Reading Rainbow book club. If you prefer to write, you can join the Queer Writers Collective. There are movie nights and theatrical and music performances. The center has groups for bridge, mahjong and a variety of board and video-game nights. Want something more physically challenging? Take a class in tai chi.
I could go on, but all this goodness takes money. This weekend, WWCC will host one of the year’s most-anticipated annual fundraising events, Indigo Ball. One of the people tasked to bring it all together is this week’s Portrait, Erin Busbee.
PGN: If you were writing this column, what would be the first thing you’d ask you?
EB: Ha! Flipping it right to me. I guess I would ask how I got to Philly. I moved to Philly last Labor Day, just over a year ago. My partner and I were in a long-distance relationship. I was living in Ann Arbor and she was in New York. We both wanted to live on the East Coast, so we did a little research on Philly, bought a house here and just kind of dove in.
PGN: What made you choose Philadelphia?
EB: I was thinking of going back to school, and there are so many good choices here. I figured I’d find the place first and then the school, though it’s usually the other way around. Philadelphia is a great option and much more affordable than New York or D.C. My partner also wanted to stay east and didn’t want to move to somewhere remote, so Philly was a good choice for her too. We love it.
PGN: What do the folks do?
EB: There are four of them. My mom worked as a phlebotomist and my stepdad worked for the city in the water department. My dad is currently in charge of housing and placement, working with the homeless in a mediation program. He was recently selected to do national trainings because Cleveland apparently has model programs for mediation, housing and homeless issues. My stepmom does sales/acquisitions for large companies.
PGN: What did you study at Michigan?
EB: Cultural anthropology and Spanish.
PGN: So you didn’t want to be employed …
EB: [Laughing] Pretty much! I chose the future-employment hard route.
PGN: What was a favorite class?
EB: There was a class I took called “Anthropology of the Body” that was really interesting. It was about how we perform culturally through what we wear, how we hold ourselves and what it says about us.
PGN: What did you do after college?
EB: I got a travel fellowship and I traveled the world for eight months. I went to Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, South Africa, Swaziland, Thailand and The Philippines.
PGN: What? I’m so jealous!
EB: It was pretty amazing. A dream come true — to have someone just say, “Here’s some money, go travel the world and have adventures.” I’ve always loved travel and always loved immersing myself into a different culture, talking to people and learning different languages. I always wanted to study abroad but as a student athlete on a scholarship, there was never time. Track has such a long season, there was never really an opportunity to go anywhere.
PGN: What was something that surprised you?
EB: Well, I did a lot of research, so there were no big surprises. I think there were more internal lessons learned. Going from place to place so quickly, I realized how much I value familiarity. It wasn’t a trip where you go and come back or stay a few days; it was city-hopping almost every day. And though it was incredible, it was exhausting trying to find people and make new friends each time. I realized how nice it was to be at home, where I could walk down the street and bump into people I knew and say hi, or walk into a neighborhood store and have the cashier say, “Hey Erin, how are you doing?” I thought, Wow, that’s never going to happen here. Once I came home, I really valued those casual interactions and appreciated my friends much more. I still think about it to this day.
PGN: When did you come out?
EB: [Laughing] I did it a lot. The first time was in high school. My freshman year, I told a teammate who was out. I went to school with my best friend and my cousin and there was already gossip about me, so I was dragged out of the closet and it was pretty messy. However, I then came out to my mom that January, right after my 15th birthday, and then she came out to my aunt and my grandma for me. It trickled out to the rest of the family, including my dad, over the rest of the year. It took folks a minute, and there were a few tears along the way, but no major drama.
PGN: Have you faced any overt
EB: It’s hard to say. It’s hard to know what type of discrimination I might be facing at any point in time — if something is because of my race, my gender presentation, if I’m facing misogyny or maybe homophobia if I’m with my girlfriend — or if they don’t quite know what I am and that’s the problem. I’ve never faced anything major; it might be just a tone. It’s interesting because I identify as queer or female. I come from a world of sports that immediately identifies you. You’re on the women’s volleyball or track team, which makes it pretty clear. But away from sports, people sometimes read me as male. So if I talk to someone about sports, just discussing my stats is telling. If I give someone my record in the long jump or race, the distance or time between a record woman’s jump and a man’s is pretty significant. So they’re going to know immediately from the length or time that it was a women’s event. I’m basically outing myself, gender-wise. It’s interesting. If I’m in the street and someone calls me “sir,” it used to bother me when I was younger, but now I just let it slide. When I look in the mirror, I just see me, sports bra and all.
PGN: That’s great. Describe what you do now.
EB: I came to William Way at the end of March as the development associate. But with the departure of my boss, I’ve taken over a lot of the development-director responsibilities, including the Indigo Ball. So it’s been a seat-of-my-pants initiation, but it’s going to be a great event. I’m getting a lot of help our former DD and the staff here, and from planner extraordinaire Noel Zayas.
PGN: Ah, you’re in good hands with Noel. I did his profile years ago and it’s one of my favorites.
EB: Definitely. It’s been a lot of learning and a lot of, “Let me get right back to you,” but I enjoy a challenge. I find that I perform really well when my feet are to the fire.
PGN: What can people expect at the ball this year?
EB: It’s going to be great, very elegant. We have a Gatsby-style theme in silver and gold — lots of food, hors d’oeuvres and then a sit-down three-course dinner. There will be live entertainment as well as dance music from DJ Robert Drake. We’re going to be highlighting the contributions of LGBTQ seniors, as well as awarding Lifetime Achievement, Humanitarian of the Year and the John J. Wilcox, Jr. Leadership and Service awards that evening, and we have a beautiful location, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Put on your finest and come join us for some fun!