Philadelphia’s More Color More Pride flag was hoisted into the air Thursday afternoon at City Hall to kick off Philadelphia’s 29th-annual OutFest, the world's largest National Coming Out Day festival.
About 40 people, including city officials, LGBTQ folks and Jess Guilbeaux, who appeared on “Queer Eye” season three, attended the event, which took place two days after the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing arguments in three groundbreaking cases that will determine whether civil rights protections against job discrimination extend to the queer community.
Evan Thornburg, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, opened the ceremony by saying an anti-LGBTQ ruling by the court wouldn’t affect Philadelphians because of the city’s Home Rule Charter, a type of local constitution that establishes a municipality’s government structure and the extent of its power.
“No matter what happens, your rights in Philadelphia as it pertains to anti-discrimination in your employment are solid,” Thornburg said, adding, “No matter what, you can not experience discrimination for being LGBTQ at work in Philadelphia.”
She also noted that Mayor Jim Kenney is a co-chair of the national Mayors Against LGBTQ Discrimination Coalition, which has more than 350 members across all 50 states.
Kenney is expected to approve three LGBTQ-inclusive bills that City Council passed this month. The first strengthens policies shielding trans and gender-nonconforming youth from discrimination, while the second requires a gender-inclusive bathroom be installed on every floor of City Hall. The final piece of legislation modernizes the definitions of “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” in The Philadelphia Code.
Councilmember Helen Gym, who introduced the “inclusivity package” of legislation, said National Coming Out Day, which takes place Oct. 11, is for young people questioning whether they feel safe coming out under a “treasonous traitor” president who “abus[es] immigrants, LGBTQ, trans people, women and others all across the country.”
“Coming out is about taking a stand and being proud of who you are in a world where so many may want you to hide,” Gym added. It is the most basic form of activism and self-advocacy, the refusal to stay silent, to live in your truth and to be your truest and most authentic self.”
The flag-raising was the first since the departure of former Office of LGBT Affairs Executive Director Amber Hikes, who resigned from her post this summer after accepting the role of chief diversity officer at the American Civil Liberties Union headquarters in New York City.
Thornburg urged the crowd Thursday to expand the concept of coming out to include not only queer folks, but “those of us who are LGBTQ with families and the children who live with us, and the children who can't be honest about the people that love them because of not being able to come out.” Having been raised by two gay men in the 1990s, Thornburg said she never had to come out, but was closeted about her family.
“My home was full of magic and love, I was able to be the person that I am, I get to tell people that I was never forced into a dress, I was never told to conform in my gender or how I presented myself,” Thornburg said, “but I could never tell anyone who gave me that power and who supported me in that.”
Gilbeaux, who moved to Philadelphia from Kansas, said she couldn’t think of a better place to call home and has been “overwhelmed with warmth and love and hugs and amazingness” since arriving. She stressed the importance of Thursday’s event taking place on World Mental Health Day, and told listeners “it’s OK to come into your identities and yourself slowly,” and to be kind and patient with yourself in the process.
“Coming out is something that I feel like you have to do to yourself first before you come out to anyone else,” Gilbeaux said. “It doesn’t have to be this big grand event, you don't have to do a YouTube video or an Instagram Live about your identity. It’s just something that you need to feel in your heart first and then find the closest person next to you or text someone or even write a letter to no one about your identities and start there.”
Jorian Rivera, a gay man from North Philadelphia, attended the flag-raising because he said it’s important for queer folks to show up to represent their communities and find out about support the city can provide.
“When we show up in numbers and we have the city's back in showing up in numbers, we show progress, we show change, we show that there's something in movement,” he said. “It might not be a fast movement like we expected it to be, but we're getting somewhere.”