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Often, science-based museums are perceived as family affairs — something fun and educational for the kids while parents serve as chaperones. That is a perception that the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia’s premier science and technology museum, has been working to change.

About five-and-a-half years ago, the Franklin initiated its monthly Science After Hours program aimed at adults 21-plus. Remarkably successful, the event averages almost 2,000 attendees each month.

For this month’s Science After Hours, the Franklin wants to show Philadelphians that science is relevant to the LGBTQ-plus community. In observance of Stonewall’s 50th anniversary, the Franklin has pulled together a special Pride-themed Science After Hours, with programs and activities geared toward the LGBTQ community.

According to Adam Piazza, adult programs specialist at the Franklin Institute, the Pride edition of Science After Hours presented unique challenges. Traditionally, biographical information is provided about scientists whose work is relevant to the month’s programs or exhibits.

“That posed a particular problem,” admitted Piazza. “Historically, there aren’t that many scientists we know for a fact were LGBT. Given the oppressive nature of society in the past, and of the scientific community in particular, scientists in the past tended to keep their personal lives quite private. Any kind of personal scandal would likely get their work discredited.”

Nevertheless, proving true the old gay adage that “we are everywhere,” Piazza and his researchers were able to find a number of historically important scientists who are known to be LGBT.

The most tragic might be Alan Turing, an early computer scientist, who famously broke the Nazis’ infamous Enigma Code, which directly facilitated the Allied victory in World War II. Despite that achievement, Turing was brought up on sodomy charges and was forced to submit to chemical castration, which led to his eventual suicide. Turing laid the groundwork for the eventual computer revolution, which has transformed the modern world.

Perhaps the most famous LGBT scientist in history is Leonardo da Vinci, who, aside from being the most famous artist of the Renaissance, was an engineer and scientist centuries ahead of his time.

Aside from a trip through science history, the Franklin pulled together a series of programs and activities.

Timaree Schmidt — a local sexologist, writer, podcaster, professor, consultant and activist — will be giving a lecture on the current science behind our ideas about sex and gender.

“Science Can Be a Drag,” will feature three local drag performers, Tiffany Uma Mascara, Summer and Kotton, serving as “lovely assistants” to three Franklin Institute science interpreters for colorful and over-the-top experiments.

Interactive activities will focus on various rainbow-related themes. People will learn how rainbows are made, which will lead to an examination of prisms and spectrometers. Participants will be able to create various rainbow-colored mixtures that erupt from test tubes.

Some of the more social activities will include vogueing lessons conducted by members of the POSSE Project, Lamish Voltaire and Legendary Bubby Revlon. DJ Robert Drake will work the dance floor.

Several community organizations have partnered with the Franklin Institute to present Science After Hours: Pride. These include, among others, Philadelphia FIGHT, the Society of Women Engineers and GALAEI. 


Science After Hours: Pride presents at the Franklin Institute, 222 North 20th St., June 25, 7-10 p.m. Admission is $20 for members and $25 for non-members. For more information, call 215-448-1200 or visit fi.edu.

The historic marker outside Giovanni’s Room bookstore at the corner of 12th and Pine Streets in the heart of the Gayborhood reads, “Founded in 1973, the bookstore served as a refuge and cultural center at the onset of the modern lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) civil rights movement. The store provided resources to those working to gain legal rights for LGBT people.”

Francisco Cortes, the interim executive director of queer Latinx social-justice nonprofit GALAEI, will receive the Emerging Leader Award at the annual Tribute to Change ceremony hosted by Bread and Roses Community Fund.

The Department of Public Health, Thomas Jefferson University and pharmaceutical giant Gilead are among some of the biggest contributors to the 19th annual Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference, taking place in July.

Councilmember-at-Large Helen Gym introduced two bills aimed at protecting and expanding the rights of Philadelphia’s LGBTQ-plus community. 

One mandates the city’s youth organizations to implement policies protecting young trans and gender-nonconforming people. The other requires Philadelphia City Hall to install at least one gender-neutral bathroom on each of its floors.

“Trans rights are human rights and trans existence is not up for debate,” Gym said in a statement last week. “While we have a federal government hellbent on erasing transpeople, we in Philadelphia have an obligation to raise the bar for inclusive and supporting spaces. That means everyone should have the basic dignity of using a bathroom that feels safe and affirming. It means every young person in our city should be able to trust in and be protected by the institutions serving them.”

The youth-related bill would ensure that organizations serving transgender and gender-nonconforming youth have policies compliant with the School District of Philadelphia’s Policy 252, which outlines “safety, equity and justice for all students regardless of gender identity or gender expression.”

The institutions’ policies would have to meet or exceed the district’s policy standards on gender-segregated activities, culturally sensitive language choices, discrimination and harassment and more. Gym’s bill would apply to facilities including charter schools, after-school programs and residential treatment facilities.

The Trevor Project’s newly released National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 39 percent of LGBTQ youth — including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth — seriously considered suicide in the last year. Two-thirds of the LGBTQ youth surveyed reported that someone tried to convince them to change their gender identity or sexual orientation.

“We need to support youth in there now, and this bill is a strong step forward to ensure that youth-serving organizations are truly serving and supporting all young people,” said Hazel Edwards, interim director of the Bryson Institute at The Attic Youth Center. “If we believe that youth are the future, then we need to let them live in their authentic true selves, or unfortunately we could lose them to an oppressive system and never experience the power from our future leaders.”

Under the policy, staff also would undergo regular training on interacting with LGBTQ youth.

Gym said the city needs to “be bolder” about transgender and gender-nonconforming residents.

“I still think we have a long way to go to ensure that they feel like they can participate fully and are fully welcomed,” she added.

The councilmember’s second bill would vastly increase the number of gender-neutral bathrooms in City Hall, which currently offers only one, on the seventh floor. The mandate would build on 2012 legislation introduced by Mayor Jim Kenney, then a councilmember, that required new and renovated public buildings to have gender-neutral bathrooms.

“City Hall is the central gathering place for the public and it’s the most welcoming building in the entire city of Philadelphia,” said Gym. “We have one gender-neutral bathroom, which I guarantee nobody at all can really find.”

She proposed the bill so “everybody can feel welcome,” adding City Hall needs to “practice what we preach.”

Organizations like William Way LGBT Community Center and The Attic Youth Center helped shape the bills.

“In a time of increasing violence directed toward transpeople, it’s important that we continue Philadelphia’s historic leadership in advocating for and centering them,” said Chris Bartlett, executive director of William Way.

Julien Terrell, executive director of Philadelphia Student Union, said the proposed legislation goes beyond providing a welcoming space for trans and gender-nonconforming individuals.

“It’s also about challenging and shifting culture away from an oppressive and unnecessary binary to one that is truly honoring the realities of all young people,” he said.

City Council will address the bills in the fall, Gym said. 

6/13/19 5:00 p.m.

Updated 6/20/19 1:09 p.m.

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