The largest National Coming Out Day event will be held in the streets of Philadelphia for the 29th year. On Oct.13 from noon to 7 p.m, spanning 12 square blocks of the Gayborhood, the beloved block party known as Outfest features drag shows, DJs, contests, food and drinks.
The bulk of the attractions can be found on 12th and 13th Streets between Walnut and Spruce, with over 170 participating vendors, organizations and bars, like Tabu and Toasted Walnut. Some 30 local health organizations will also set up shop, and free STD and HIV testing will be available, including from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. A family zone will be available with activities for kids, including a moon bounce and face-painting, as well as an adopt-a-pet zone for animal-lovers.
“Outfest is everybody’s favorite,” said Franny Price, Executive Director of Philly Pride Presents, organizers of Outfest and the Philadelphia Pride Parade. “We try to make sure that we fill the needs of all the members of our community.”
Outfest’s annual OutProud Awards consist of several honors; some of the award recipients include Bob Skiba, curator of the Wilcox Archives at the William Way LGBT Community Center, among other things; Law Professor Lee Carpenter and local judicial candidate Tiffany Palmer and family; 19-year-old self-published poet and author Shawn Hazzard, and others. Michael Byrne will grace the crowd with the classic: “It’s a Beautiful Day in the Gayborhood.”
Soul singer and Broadway vet Frenchie Davis will headline the main stage entertainment at 13th and Locust Streets, and Philly’s own Henri David will act as master of ceremonies. Performers include Mr. Philly Gay Pride Hannibal Lickher, Miss Philly Gay Pride Karen Vonsay, and in-house performers from Woody’s, Tabu, Ubar and Tavern on Camac, Toasted Walnut, Boxers and Bob & Barbara’s, as well as Northeast Royals, Mikal Woods and the Royals Band Dance Line, a jazz and urban movement dance group.
Those with a competitive edge can participate in the famous penis-shaped bagel-eating contest, high heel race or the hula-hoop contest led by the talented Jennifer Alvarez. “She grabs people out of the audience, and they come up on stage,” Price said. “People look forward to it.”
Dozens of local LGBT nonprofits such as GALAEI, ACLU of PA, Philadelphia Voices of Pride and the LGBT Equality Alliance will have tables set up with giveaways, program information and trivia games — in some cases.
“It’s always a good time,” said Celena Morrison, director of programs at the William Way LGBT Community Center. “Folks are scantily dressed; some folks are dressed up in their wildest costumes. It’s a day where folks feel free to kind of let their hair down and embrace their identity and who they are.”
William Way will have a table with snacks, condoms, lubricants and information about the center’s programming.
DJs will have booths outside of participating Gayborhood bars, and Tabu will set up a TV screen outside so sports fans can catch the football game.
The ACLU of Pennsylvania will have a table with Know Your Rights civil liberties information and trivia focusing on constitutional rights.
“Part of the games is to gauge where LGBT competency is, specifically around their rights,” said Trans Justice Coordinator at the ACLU of PA Naiymah Sanchez. “This year, what happens in the Supreme Court will really gauge what levels we take this Know Your Rights information to.”
Sanchez said she wants the table to be engaging and fit the atmosphere of Outfest. “We know that when you’re going to Outfest, you want to party,” she said. So, when planning for the table, she asked herself, “How can I take myself and my volunteers from the table into the crowd? How can we party together and celebrate this time where we are free to come out and be who we are?”
The LGBT concert and marching ensemble Philadelphia Freedom Band will be recruiting new members, and although they are not officially performing, they will provide opportunities for a little bit of practice at their table.
PFB president and oboist Erin Worrell said the group gains the most new players at Outfest because it’s so centrally located in the community and talent is everywhere.
“They always get a lot of good performers on the stage, a lot of sing-alongs,” Worrell said. “It’s great seeing the crowd and just feeling that energy all over the place.”
Since its inception nearly 30 years ago, Philadelphia Outfest has grown substantially, from a small community gathering to an annual event that typically attracts up to 40,000 people.
“We’re growing and growing,” Price said. “And we’re going to have to take on more streets next year. It’s exciting knowing that this was a little tiny block party in 1990 and 1991, and now we’re 12 blocks.”