Timeline of Lesbian/Queer History in Philly

Philly is known as the birthplace of American democracy, but did you know that many consider Philly to be the birthplace of the LGBT civil rights movement? With protests pre-dating Stonewall, Philly has a long history of LGBT “firsts” – here’s a look at some of the history relating to lesbian/queer women in the City of Brotherly Love & Sisterly Affection:

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Philadelphia lesbian feminist newspaper Wicce, featuring Rusty Parisi. Image courtesy of http://thegayborhoodguru.wordpress.com/ (via the William Way archives)

1963:     Rusty’s, the first lesbian bar in Philadelphia located behind where Moriarty’s Irish Pub now resides, begins to gain in popularity. The bar was named after Rusty Parisi, who was one of the first lesbian bar owners in the city.

1965:     Pioneering gay activists including Barbara Gittings hold some of the nations first protests at Independence Hall, which came to be known as the Annual Reminders, held every year from 1965 to 1969.

1968:     Under Police Commissioner Rizzo, raids on LGBT bars begin to increase. On March 8, 1968, Rusty’s gets raided, and many women were verbally abused by officers.

1973:     Giovanni’s Room, the oldest LGBT bookstore in the United States, opens up shop on the corner of 12th and Pine.

1975:     Members of LGBT group Dyketactics protest at City Hall over the death of Bill 1275, which (if it had passed) would have added “sexual orientation” to the Human Rights Code. Six of the women beat up that day by police filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia and the police department, marking the first time an American police department had ever been sued for excessive force by a gay rights group.

1976:     The William Way LGBT Community Center is founded as the Gay Community Center of Philadelphia, leasing its first home at 326 Kater Street. Today, more than 14 community based organizations call the 1315 Spruce Street location home.

1979:     The Mazzoni Center opens up, becoming the first AIDS service organization in Pennsylvania and the 4th oldest in the nation.

1982:     Philadelphia City Council passes the Gay Rights Bill with almost no opposition.

1988:     The first PrideDay LGBT Parade is organized to coincide with a rally planned by the Gay & Lesbian Task Force.

1989:     GALAEI is created for and by Latino LGBT individuals to respond to the lack of support and resources for the community during the HIV epidemic. Today the organization continues to work to represent the needs of people within the LGBT and AIDS communities.

1990:     Philly Pride organizes a block party around National Coming Out Day. Now known as OutFest, this annual event is held the Sunday prior to Columbus Day every October.

1993:     Two graduate students join forces at Voyage House and plan an eight-week “pilot” program to provide weekly, after-school support for LGBTQ youth. This program eventually became The Attic Youth Center, one of the largest community centers in the U.S. committed exclusively to serving LGBTQ youth and allies.

PrideFest Philadelphia (which eventually becomes the Equality Forum) is founded, and hosts 15 regional organizations over a two day period.

1995:     The Philadelphia Gay & Lesbian Film Festival, now known as QFest, is founded by TLA Entertainment Group. It’s the largest LGBT Film Festival on the East Coast.

1996:     Sisters Nightclub opens up on Chancellor St.

Equality Pennsylvania is founded in Philadelphia as the Center for Lesbian & Gay Civil Rights.

1998:     The first official Philly Dyke March is organized, from Kahn Park to Independence Hall.

1999:     Philly Black Gay Pride is founded to promote unity among African Americans who are sexual and gender minorities.

Pride & Progress Mural. Photo courtesy of http://muralarts.org


2002:     Ann Northrup designs the Pride & Progress mural on the side of the William Way Community Center. At 7,500 square feet, it is the largest LGBT mural in the United States.

2004:     The Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corp. (GPTMC) becomes the first government-supported tourism agency to cater to gay tourists via television, with the “Get your history straight and your nightlife gay” ad campaign.

2005:     Center City Philadelphia gets decked out in 140 Equality Forum Rainbow Flags, in addition to 40 Equality Forum Rainbow Flags on Independence Mall, making it the largest display of rainbow flags in LGBT history.

2007:     Mayor Michael Nutter dedicates 36 rainbow street signs to designate the blocks from 11th to Broad and Pine to Walnut as Philly’s official gayborhood.

2008:     Mayor Michael Nutter announced the appointment of Gloria Casarez to serve as his LGBT liason. She becomes just the second LGBT liason ever, and the first to report directly to the Chief of Staff. The Office of LGBT Affairs is formally created.

2010:     Mayor Michael Nutter hosts the first annual Rainbow Flag raising over City Hall to honor LGBT History month. The flag raising marked the first time the rainbow flag flew alongside the United States flag at any municipal building in Philadelphia.

Barbara Gittings Way at 13th & Locust

2012:     13th and Locust St. is renamed Barbara Gittings Way, in honor of the late Barbara Gittings for her work in spearheading the LGBT rights movement.

Philly gets a perfect score on LGBT Equality from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), becoming one of just 11 cities in the country to achieve a perfect 100.

2013:     Mayor Michael Nutter signs Bill No. 130224 into law. This bill signed into law the most extensive civil rights protections for LGBT people in the United States.

Construction begins on the John C. Anderson Apartments in the gayborhood, the nations first LGBTQ-friendly, low-income senior housing project.

Sisters Nightclub, the only lesbian bar in Philadelphia which had been around for 17 years, closes for good.

2014:     John C. Anderson Apartments officially open in February and residents move in.

Pennsylvania’s same-sex marriage ban is struck down, clearing the way for same-sex couples to begin marrying.

Giovanni’s Room closes in May due to financial hardships and inability to find a buyer, marking the end of an era. However, Philly Aids Thrift signed a lease on the space and officially re-opened it in October as an outpost of their successful thrift store.

Have an event of LGBT historical significance to add to this timeline? Email philllesbian@gmail.com with the information!


  1. I’m sure you know that the LGBT community center was not called the William Way center until recently. I was among the many volunteers that worked with Bill Way at the beginning of Penguin Place in 1985. Back then it was a “community center without walls”.
    The community center that opened in 1975, though ground breaking, closed less than a decade after it opened.

    Also, the Mazzoni center was known as PCHA. They had a small clinic on St. James street between Camac and 13th. If memory serves me correctly, they held STD outreach clinics at the bathhouses once a week. They were at the front lines of the AIDS crisis.

    Finally. I LOVE that you’ve taken the time to compile this list. I am an LGBT history nut.
    Philly should be proud of it’s LGBT history. It’s a rich one. 🙂

  2. Molly says:

    I always feel so humbled when I read something like this…I just can’t believe the strength and vision of the people who came before, who created hope when there wasn’t any, and created this future for us.




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