Philly Pride March 2022
The Philly Pride March of 2022 was a return to the roots of the LGBTQ community of Philly and you could feel it in the revelry of the marchers.
For those not familiar with the goings-on of the Philly Pride scene, there used to be a Philly Pride Parade. But in 2021, the entire board collapsed and disbanded following strong criticism from community members, in particular BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) and gender-diverse folks.
I shared many of the criticisms, which included exclusion of marginalized members of the community, heavy corporatism, and the police presence, among others. The PHL Pride Collective, led by BIPOC and transgender folks, formed from the community to take Philly Pride back to its roots with a march through the city and a strong focus on events and safety for the most marginalized LGBTQ people.
Philly Pride 2018 was my first ever Pride Parade. I remember feeling a sense of jubilation on my way there—but was ultimately disappointed by the parade. I remember precious few community groups and non-profits marching in the parade by themselves or in groups. The vast majority of the floats and people were marching under corporate banners. And that’s to say nothing of the complete lack of BIPOC-led groups and protest groups there.
In their place seemed to be police—a surprising number, which was visibly unnerving to many of the people there. These feelings were compounded during the Festival part of the Pride Parade, which I had to pay $15 to get into. I thought that it would be, as the name suggested, a festival. There was indeed a stage where drag queens performed, but the entire rest of Penn’s Landing was covered with booths.
Now, if the booths all had been community members and non-profits, it wouldn’t have bothered me that much. But I didn’t pay $15 to enter the Festival just to get a rainbow-colored wristband from a corporation. The whole affair was saccharine and sanitized, and I felt less like I was being celebrated and more like I was being sold to. After discussing the matter with other people my age, it seemed like I wasn’t the only one.
Unfortunately, because I am immunocompromised, it was unsafe for me to join the 2022 March, given the levels of COVID-19 in the community. This is not a dig at the March—large gatherings of all kinds with unmasked people, outdoor or otherwise, present too much risk for people like me. Rather, it’s part of a larger conversation about structural accessibility for such events during the pandemic. I am very hopeful that I’ll be able to join next year.
That being said, I do know people who took part in the March and who shared their experiences with me*. I have to say—I am quite envious of them.
The biggest theme that kept coming up in my conversations with marchers was “community.” There was a real sense of being a part of something bigger in the March, and the PHL Pride Collective’s goal of inclusion was felt. There was the March itself, which started in and passed through locations important to the history of queer organizing in Philly, and the Festival, a collection of community spaces and events in the historic Gayborhood of Philly.
One person I spoke with, who is autistic, noted that there was a “low-sensory space” with quiet music, comfortable seating, and accessible bathrooms for those who needed them. Marchers noted that the speakers illustrated the diversity of our community, with speeches from BIPOC and gender-expansive folks front and center.
Some who had gone to the Philly Pride Parades spoke to the lack of large corporations and police, which led to a much more communal and invigorated atmosphere. It felt like the March was designed around the needs of the marchers instead of the needs of sponsors and stakeholders.
Multiple people said they made new friends and found community spaces they weren’t previously aware of. Those I spoke with had almost exclusively positive things to say; what little negativity there was, was unavoidable: parking for any event in Philly is a nightmare, and the March was no different.
Having spoken on The Altern podcast (@thealtern on Instagram) with Dr. Scout, one of the co-chairs of the 1993 March on Washington, I’d hoped that the exhilaration and euphoria that he described would be recreated in this March. And by all accounts, it seems to have succeeded with flying rainbow colors. ▼
*Names withheld to preserve confidentiality of youth participants.
Julian Harbaugh (they/them) is the Youth Peer Leader at CAMP Rehoboth. When they’re not writing, they can be found teaching their four rats new tricks, walking their dog, and roaming garage sales looking for antique philosophy books.