“Volunteers do not necessarily have the time; they just have the heart.”
— Elizabeth Andrew
Happy birthday, Pride! You look good for 50.
As you well know by the time you’ve reached this page, it’s Pride weekend here in Philadelphia. Our own Philly Pride Presents is hosting its 31st annual celebration in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.
Philadelphia was one of the first cities with a gay Pride parade, in 1972. This year, the event will be televised for the first time and include several talented and exciting headliners, along with a record number of vendors and organizations — and, of course, a dance party and a ton of food and fun.
A lot of labor goes into this yearly spectacular, with more than 75 volunteers onboard this weekend. Among them is Stephanie Love, and she has the inside story.
PGN: Tell me a little about Love — Stephanie Love. Do you live up to your last name?
SL: I try to. I try to be kind to folks and show them love. It’s something I learned from my mother and father and extended family. Treat people with respect and kindness and care — that’s what we do. And hopefully it comes right back at you.
PGN: How long have you been with Philly Pride?
SL: I’ve been volunteering with them since 1997.
PGN: Wow, you’ve put in some time!
SL: Yeah, I started as a regular volunteer; then I became the volunteer coordinator for a quick minute and then became the registration coordinator, which I’ve been doing for about 12-13 years now.
PGN: So you’ve seen the festival grow over the years.
SL: Absolutely, absolutely!
PGN: What has been surprising or exciting about the changes?
SL: Well, even though we’re bigger, we’re still pretty grassroots. At the festival, we have nonprofit organizations more so than people selling wares, which has always been a biggie for Philly Pride.
PGN: To me it seems like, back in the day, most corporations wouldn’t touch gay events and now they’re clamoring to be involved.
SL: Yeah, but that’s what I mean about us being grassroots — we never really sustained ourselves on them from the beginning. That’s why we’ve been able to keep going no matter what. We build it around the community, not so much the corporations, which is kind of cool.
PGN: Who or what are some of the more interesting groups you’ve seen participate?
SL: The motorcycles are absolutely a biggie for me — biggie, biggie, biggie. In part because the top of the park is where registration is located. I don’t ever get to see the parade, but a lot of times I do get to see the motorcycles come in. They’re kind of hard to miss!
PGN: What are some of your responsibilities?
SL: Being the registration coordinator is a cool job because I get the opportunity to know pretty much everyone who is at the event, because they all have to go through me. I get to talk to everyone. It gives me an opportunity to meet people from different organizations from all over the area, because they’ve got to come through me. I love it.
PGN: How early does you day start on Pride Day?
SL: I get to the area about 7 a.m. and registration starts at 8 a.m. We go until about 8-8:30 p.m., depending on how long it takes to break stuff down.
PGN: So that’s about a 13-hour day.
SL: And we usually go out for dinner afterward. Sometimes we get lucky and one of the headliners comes with us.
PGN: That’s a nice perk! Who’s come out with you?
SL: Oh boy, my memory is bad. Aisha Tyler comes to mind. She was really cool.
PGN: Who was a favorite entertainer?
SL: Phyllis Diller, without a doubt. She was amazing. Unfortunately, I’m usually too busy at the desk to see much of the show, which is a shame because it’s going to be a good one this year. We have everyone from comedians Fortune Feimster and Ian Harvie — who is a transman who was on the TV show “Transparent” — to Broadway star Frenchie Davis, and Dawn Robinson, who was with En Vogue. There’s a Cher impersonator and performers from “America’s Got Talent” and “American Idol.”
PGN: That sounds amazing. What do you do for your day job?
SL: I work for Exelon Corporation — PECO. I’ve been working for PECO for the last 20 years. I work with customers that are starting new businesses in the community. They have to come through me to complete the application process.
PGN: Twenty years! You are dedicated, aren’t you?
SL: [Chuckles] Yeah. If it’s not broke …
PGN: What do you love about your job?
SL: Every day is a new experience. No two days are alike. Some days it’s small mom-and-pop stores; sometimes it’s big corporations like Acme or Walmart. That’s the same thing with volunteering with Philly Pride — no event is the same. You’re doing similar stuff but it’s not the same thing.
PGN: What do you like to do when you’re not working?
SL: Well, I like volunteering, so I spend some time with veterans’ organizations.
PGN: What made you take up veteran causes?
SL: I spent some time with Uncle Sam as an army nurse.
PGN: From a nurse to the corporate world … Were you just tired of blood?
SL: Oh yeah, something like that. I worked with cancer patients and there’s only so much you can take of death and dying. You need a little break and mine turned into 20 years at PECO.
PGN: When were you in the military and what was it like for you?
SL: It was back in the ’80s, and back then women and men did basic training separately. It’s different now. I joined the military to help pay for college. I also wanted to travel and see the world, but it was mainly for college. I was attending Cheyney University, so I was in the Reserves, and then after I graduated, I just stayed on when I was given an opportunity to be in the active military. It unfortunately also included a tour in Iraq — but when you sign up, you’re a soldier and you gotta go where you gotta go. But I got to see a lot of great places like Germany and Hawaii, Japan and Korea, Rwanda and Iraq.
PGN: Did you have time to go off base and explore?
SL: Absolutely. I spent four years in Hawaii, and it’s probably my favorite of the places where I’ve been — the sea and the sand.
PGN: What was one of the best aspects of being in the military, aside from the travel?
SL: The people I got to meet along the way. You really become close to people in those situations. Most of them have become lifelong friends.
PGN: When did you come out?
SL: I got out of the military in ’95.
PGN: Ha! I meant as LGBT.
SL: Oh! Well, I’ve always been out.
PGN: Even in the military?
SL: That was a little different. I got into the military before the start of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era. So I was closeted, but it wasn’t a secret. I just kept it on the down-low because when I joined they were kicking folks out right and left. Then they started DADT, which actually made it worse. Before DADT no one really bothered me. I was an exceptional soldier so I think they just overlooked it, but under DADT, it allowed them to go after folks they weren’t bothering before. It prodded my decision to recognize that maybe it was time to get out — out, out, out.
PGN: Tell me a little about your family.
SL: My mother’s gone. She passed away around the time I got out of the Army. She was a registered dietician. She was a real people person. My father is retired. He spent 38 years working for the city and, before that, he was Army. There were 10 kids in his family, so I have a lot of extended family. I have two brothers — one of them is also Army — and I have an uncle who was in the Army too. That’s what made me think of it in the first place. I have a son who’s 30 and a grandson who just turned 1. We all still live in the same area — my dad, my cousins and brothers. I talk to or see some family member every day, and once a week we meet for Sunday dinner.
PGN: What’s the dish you bring to dinner?
SL: Nothing. I’m not even going to pretend. The question is just what’s my go-to spot to get takeout for my contribution. The only thing I will do on rare occasion is make my mother’s coconut cake, and then people beg for it, but that’s it.
PGN: An interesting fact about a family member?
SL: My dad was a boxer in the Army, and he had all these cool pictures of him in the ring that I loved to look at when I was a kid.
PGN: Did your son follow in your military footsteps?
SL: No, he’s a computer geek.
PGN: Any pets?
SL: We had a dog Champ when I was little, but he passed away. Oh, and my mother had a cat that I inherited. I remember it was a kitten when she got it and we were like, “Mom, what are you going to name the cat?” and she was like, “I don’t know, let’s just call him The Cat.” We ended up shortening that to TC and when people asked what it stood for, we’d just say, “The Cat.”
PGN: An award you’ve received that made you proud?
SL: When I was in the military they had an award called “Trainee out of Cycle.” I won that once, and that was pretty exciting.
PGN: What’s your favorite quote?
SL: It’s from Zora Neal Hurston: “Your silence will not protect you.”
PGN: What was the first job you ever had?
SL: I worked for a company called SPIN, Special People in the Northeast. I was the overnight occupational therapist. It was a great job; they were good to me.
PGN: Favorite lesbian film?
SL: “A Luv Tale.” It was directed by Sidra Smith and starred my all-time crush, Gina Ravera.
PGN: What are you looking forward to this year at the festival?
SL: It’s going to be wild this year. For the first time that I can remember, there is no vendor space left. And regulars, who tend to send in their applications late, are going to be upset. But this is a biggie! The 50th anniversary of Stonewall. Everyone is coming out!