Philadelphia, the United States’ birthplace, is proud of the roles it has played—and plays still—in the founding, furtherance and celebration of the LGBT civil rights movement. The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection has more nationally significant historic markers than any other city in the nation, with two recent additions: the AIDS Library, formed as a resource during the peak period of the U.S. HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s, and a marker just outside the Pennsylvania Historical Society, home of the collection of John Fryer, a Temple University psychology professor who submitted testimony that aided in declassifying homosexuality as a mental illness. Today, visitors to Philly can easily explore sites where LGBT history was made and enjoy spots all over town where queer life thrives.
To see and do it all, visitors need to spend at least a couple of nights, and that’s made easy with the Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package®, offering free parking and more perks.
Here’s an essential itinerary for visitors interested in Philadelphia’s LGBT history and present:
Historic Philadelphia District:
Perhaps not surprisingly, the Historic Philadelphia district, the original city, played a vital role in the birth of the United States’ LGBT rights movement. Between the Delaware River and 7th Street and Vine & Lombard Streets are the colonial yet contemporary neighborhoods of Old City and Society Hill—and Independence National Historic Park, home of the Liberty Bell, symbol of the abolitionist movement and freedom in general. 6th & Chestnut Streets
- Reminder Day Marker at Independence Hall – Independence Hall was the site of the United States’ first major LGBT rights demonstration on July 4, 1965. A state historical marker commemorates this peaceful protest—and the four that followed each July 4 through 1969—known collectively as the Annual Reminders. 6th & Chestnut Streets, nps.gov/inde
- Old City – In 1973, Quaker landlords defied then-commonplace discrimination against LGBT tenants by renting the storefront at 60 N. 3rd Street to the gay owner-operators of the city’s first LGBT coffeehouse. The shop was the direct predecessor to the William Way Community Center (see below), a safe space for the community to socialize. Today, the surrounding neighborhood vibrates with art galleries, independent boutiques, historic sites, bistros, bring-your-own-bottle (BYOB) restaurants and bars—and Menagerie Coffee, a stylish and inviting lesbian-owned cafe. Old City, between the Delaware River & 6th Street and Walnut & Race Streets, oldcitydistrict.org; Menagerie, 18 S. 3rd Street, menageriecoffee.com
- Arch Street Meeting House – The historic home of a more than 200-year-old Quaker “Friends” congregation hosted 300 LGBT activists in February 1979 to plan the Philadelphia Conference, the first national demonstration of lesbian and gay rights in Washington, DC. That October, that march would attract 100,000 demonstrators and would define a national civil rights movement. Visitors can view the historic marker outside the meetinghouse and are welcome inside. Hours vary seasonally. 320 Arch Street, (215) 627-2667, archstreetmeetinghouse.org
The center of Philadelphia’s gay residential life and culture since World War II, the blocks between 11th Street and Broad Street, Pine Street and Chestnut Street earned their nickname—the “Gayborhood”—during an October Outfest event in 1995. In 2007, Mayor John Street dedicated rainbow street signs around the neighborhood. Since then, the rainbows have multiplied, adorning more street signs (72 in all), homes, businesses and even the crosswalks at 13th and Locust Streets.
- Dining – In the past 15 years, 13th Street has become the neighborhood’s own restaurant row. It’s here that enterprising businesswomen Chef Marcie Turney and life and business partner Valerie Safran took a chance on their first venture, Lolita, an intimate and inventive Mexican bistro—with amazing fresh-fruit margaritas. Today, the duo owns and operates nearby Spanish destination Jamonera, all-American Bud & Marilyn’s, gourmet market Grocery, Italian/Mediterranean Barbuzzo, along with two gift shops—one with its own chocolate-making studio, Marcie Blaine. But that’s not all: The street is also home to happening hidden Izakaya and coffee shop Double Knot, modern Asian Sampan, lounge-like upscale taqueria El Vez, fancy wine bar and ristorante Tredici Enoteca, stylish pizzeria Zavino, New American stunner Maison 208 (with the city’s only retractable roof), chouquettes and eclairs at pristine bakery J’aime French Bakery and some of the world’s best gelato at Capogiro. 13th Street between Locust & Chestnut Streets
- Shopping – Independent shops have set up their own stakes in the neighborhood too. Don’t miss the clever handmade soaps and products at Duross & Langel (which doubles as a men’s grooming lounge and salon), hip and Philly-centric finds at gift shops Open House and Verde, thoughtfully curated Japanese housewares and beauty products from Rikumo, going-out and intimate fashions for guys at Nutz & Boltz, global jewelry at Bella Turka, original and vintage jewelry at Halloween and throwback Philly (and some other) sports team and fan gear at Mitchell & Ness and Shibe Vintage. Between 11th & Broad Streets and Pine & Chestnut Streets
- Nightlife – The name of the after-dark game is: Don’t stay in one place too long. Bar hopping rules the night in these parts. Energetic partiers can be found partaking in singalongs at piano bar Tavern on Camac, casually knocking a few back at Writer’s Black Rehab, Toasted Walnut or Knock, flirting at dance club Voyeur, imbibing at beer spots (Boxers, Brü, Ubar) or socializing at the granddaddy of them all, mega club, bar and lounge Woody’s, a Gayborhood staple for decades. Between 11th & 13th Streets and Pine & Chestnut Streets
- AIDS Library Historical Marker – Founded in 1987, this community library was the nation’s first to dedicate itself to the delivery of information on HIV treatments, nutrition and history. Today, the safe center continues to offer referrals for nearby and national resources and provides the public with free computers. Today, it is part of the Philadelphia FIGHT network of community health centers. 1233 Locust Street, 2nd floor (wheelchair accessible), (215) 985-4851, aidslibrary.org
- William Way Community Center – The city’s LGBT community center occupied several buildings from 1976 to 1995 before settling into its very own spot in 1996. William Way opens its doors 365 days a year, offering a variety of life services, including community art shows and celebrations, for the LGBT community. On the block-long western exterior wall of the building, artist Ann Northrup’s mural Pride & Progress depicts portraits of LGBT Philadelphians through the years. 1315 Spruce Street, (215) 732-2220, waygay40.org
- Gloria Casarez Mural – The 12th Street Gym, the neighborhood’s de facto official athletic center, bears artist Michelle Angela Ortiz’s painting of the late Gloria Casarez, the City of Philadelphia’s first director of the Office of LGBT Affairs, founding member of the Philly Dyke March, longtime community activist and Philadelphia native. A City Council resolution renamed the block where A Tribute to Gloria Casarez stands “Gloria Casarez Way.” Casarez helped ensure Philadelphia adopted the nation’s broadest possible LGBT-rights protection during her time in City Hall. 204 S. 12th Street, muralarts.org
- John Fryer Historical Marker – This new Pennsylvania Historical Society marker honors the late activist John Fryer, M.D. In 1965, the University of Pennsylvania expelled Fryer from his psychiatric residency program on the basis of his homosexuality, then deemed a mental illness by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1952. In 1972, Fryer, a faculty member at the Temple University School of Medicine, offered an electrifying anonymous testimony that resulted in a committee that helped lead to the APA’s 1973 declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness. Northeast corner of 13th & Locust Streets, phmc.pa.gov
- Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room – The country’s longest-running LGBT bookstore opened along South Street in 1973 and relocated in 1979 to its current Pine Street location. The unofficial community and cultural center is named after James Baldwin’s trailblazing novel and now operated by Philly AIDS Thrift, a nonprofit secondhand shop located at 710 S. 5th Street. Proceeds from both stores go to people living with HIV & AIDS. A state historic marker resides outside the corner shop. 345 S. 12th Street, (215) 923-2960, phillyaidsthriftatgiovannisroom.com
Center City West:
Philadelphians refer to their city’s downtown, the area bound by the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers and Vine and South Streets, as “Center City.” The Gayborhood and the Historic District are east of Broad Street. LGBT history and life thrives west of Broad, too. (Broad Street runs north and south between 13th and 15th streets.)
- Philadelphia City Hall – More than an architectural marvel (it’s the world’s tallest masonry building) and the seat of city government, Philadelphia’s City Hall is where, in 1982, Philadelphia became one of the first cities in the country to pass an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. It’s also where countless gay couples have come to marry and get their marriage licenses since May 20, 2014, when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted marriage equality. Broad & Market Streets, (215) 686-2840, phila.gov
- South Street – Center City’s colorful boulevard owes its vibrancy to the artists, hippies and gays who turned it into a welcoming enclave in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It’s where radical gay collective Gazoo founded Philadelphia’s Gay Liberation Front, the city’s first gay community center and the Royal Theatre, an early 20th-century African-American-owned cultural center where bisexual blues singer Bessie Smith performed—and near where she lived. Today, the street’s known for its Philadelphia Magic Gardens, cheesesteak shops and hangouts, including, on its western end, dive bar extraordinaire Bob & Barbara’s, home of Philly’s best-loved drag show, lesbian-owned Little Spoon Café and the eclectic, gay-owned boutique shop Workshop Underground. Between Front & 16th Streets
- Rittenhouse Square – The toniest of the five public squares laid out in city planner William Penn’s original plan, tree-lined Rittenhouse Square has been an alfresco sanctuary for LGBT Philadelphians dating back to the 1930s. Today, the park’s benches and grass are filled with all manner of Philadelphians, and the neighborhood around the park has grown into the city’s busiest center of business, shopping, dining and nightlife. 18th & Walnut Streets
- The Barbara Gittings Home – Oft considered the mother of the LGBT rights movement, Barbara Gittings, a Philadelphia resident from age 18, edited the nation’s first lesbian magazine, co-organized the Annual Reminders at Independence Hall (see above) and led charges both to promote positive LGBT literature in public libraries and to change the APA’s classification of homosexuality as a mental illness. A Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission marker honors the home she shared with photojournalist partner Kay Lahusen. A sign at 13th and Locust Street declares the thoroughfare Barbara Gittings Way. Home, 21st & Locust Streets
Beyond Center City:
From deep in South Philly, home of the cheesesteak and Philly’s sports pro arenas, to the Philadelphia Countryside’s most iconic Revolutionary War-era site, all the way to a bucolic Bucks County village, the region offers LGBT attractions to appreciate.
- Keith Haring Mural – South of Center City, circa 1987 We the Youth is an original work by out Pennsylvania native and artist Keith Haring, one of many murals created by LGBT artists or about the LGBT movement as part of Mural Arts Philadelphia. 22nd & Ellsworth Streets, muralarts.org
- Valley Forge National Historical Park – More than 200 years before “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was signed, challenged and repealed, Prussian military genius Friedrich von Steuben transformed General Washington’s ragtag army at Valley Forge into a professional force. Benjamin Franklin, who knew of what he referred to as von Steuben’s “affections for the same sex” recruited the Prussian as the Continental Army’s inspector general and major general. A bronze monument at Valley Forge honors his contributions. Approximately a 30-minute drive from Center City. 1400 N. Outer Line Drive, King of Prussia, (610) 783-1099, nps.gov/vafo
- New Hope – In the 1940s, the Bucks County riverside hamlet of New Hope became a popular destination for Broadway-bound performers and musicians. Since then, the artsy village has developed into a beloved destination for the LGBT visitors (and residents), offering both a respite from city life and more than a dash of stellar restaurants, bars and shops, the Bucks County Playhouse and antique and vintage stores. Each May, New Hope Pride Week & Parade starts with “Rainbow Flagdrop”—a mile-long banner on loan from Key West—along with a parade and fireworks over the Delaware River. The pool at The Raven is a popular summer destination for those seeking refuge from surrounding metropolitan areas. Approximately a 45-minute drive from Center City. visitnewhope.com, visitbuckscounty.com
VISIT PHILADELPHIA® is our name and our mission. As the region’s official tourism marketing agency, we build Greater Philadelphia’s image, drive visitation and boost the economy.
On Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website and blog, visitphilly.com and uwishunu.com, visitors can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages. Compelling photography and videos, interactive maps and detailed visitor information make the sites effective trip-planning tools. Along with Visit Philly social media channels, the online platforms communicate directly with consumers. Travelers can also call and stop into the Independence Visitor Center for additional information and tickets.