This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City. While celebrations, honorariums and memorials have been rooted in the Big Apple, the world also took notice — from news organizations, corporations and the film industry to tourism agencies.
“The impact of Stonewall was for the first time ever LGBTQ history was authoritatively told to the world through mass media,” said Jeff Guaracino, president and CEO of Visit Philly, Philadelphia’s official tourism marketing agency, adding, “Our history has never been told before that way.”
An out gay man, Guaracino has an emotional investment in remembering the riots that spurred LGBTQ equal rights and organizing. But as an innovative businessman, he also sees the economic importance of celebrating diversity during a historic year.
“Diversity and inclusion is a core value of not only Visit Philadelphia, but for me personally,” Guaracino said. With a budget of $1.25 million put behind a marketing campaign rooted in diversity, Guaracino added he feels “proud to have this platform on which to educate people about not only the importance, but the economic good business decisions to market and warmly invite travelers of all backgrounds to Philadelphia.”
And educate he did. A busy year of marketing left Visit Philly walking away with many prestigious awards. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s 2019 Diversity & Inclusion Awards Gala will recognize the local tourism agency with the Outstanding Association Award, alongside PHL Diversity and Prospanica Philadelphia.
The award is given to organizations that create awareness about the importance of diversity. Visit Philadelphia staff said its entry highlighted the LGBTQ-focused campaign “Philadelphia Pioneers on the Road to Stonewall” and its Latinx-oriented campaign “Filadelfia, You Gotta Feel It.”
Along with the Outstanding Association Award, Visit Philly won the Innovator of the Year Award, the highest honor given by GayCities, a gay travel website, for putting Philadelphia on the LGBTQ travel map. That process began 15 years ago with the queer marketing campaign “Get your history straight and your nightlife gay,” and continued this year with the Road to Stonewall campaign — which also won gold in the 2019 HSMAI Adrian Awards competition. Finally, Visit Philly was awarded two of the top industry awards this year from the U.S. Travel Association.
The Road to Stonewall campaign, specifically the float that appeared in both Philadelphia’s Pride Parade and World Pride 2019 in New York, was funded in partnership with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and dmhFund. Dan Anders, board member of dmhFund, said of the award-winning float’s conception, “It was important to recognize that although Stonewall is a very important moment in the LGBTQ movement, there were many other moments that were important that preceded it, including the annual Reminder Days in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, as well as some other events in Washington, D.C., where Frank Kameny, among others, were protesting treatment of LGBT individuals, and so our concept … was to show that there were things on the way to Stonewall.”
The most important aspect of the float were those pioneers riding it, he said, “including [LGBTQ pioneer] John James and others who had participated in the earliest of protests.”
Guaracino said the float centered on Philadelphia’s contributions to the movements before and after Stonewall. “It was incredibly moving and touching for us as a company” to present the Pioneers float, Guaracino added, “because we knew that was our part to make sure, in the midst of all the parties and celebrations, that we can contribute to reminding people about the pioneers themselves.”
Philadelphia had 45 million visitors in 2018, a record for the five-county region, Guaracino said. He said he believes the way to continue growing that number is by continuing to attract diverse populations.
Along with the Road to Stonewall float, Visit Philadelphia took over Penn Station during World Pride 2019 by displaying images of LGBTQ couples and painting stairs in the colors of Philadelphia’s More Color More Pride flag. Additionally, the “You Gotta Feel It” campaign kicked off its three-year $1.5 million campaign at Penn Station with a takeover of its own.
“We know that LGBTQ is a complete rainbow, including Black and Brown and every color and background. By very definition, LGBTQ is multicultural,” Guaracino said. “Also we know that especially Philadelphia is a very attractive destination for LGBTQ travelers. We are well known on the map for being a popular and welcoming city, and we do it all year long. It's not just during Pride month or Hispanic heritage months.”
Guaracino spoke tenderly about a short film Visit Philadelphia produced called “I Am Stonewall: Ribbons of Hope.” It showed local and regional people decorating the Pioneers float.
One family arrived with a transgender child, and the experience was emotional for all members of the group, Guaracino said.
“That’s what we do here at Visit Philadelphia,” he added. “We have people making memories through travel, and our job is to tell the world how great Philadelphia and the region is.”