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In 1993, gay lawyer/activist Malcolm Lazin helped found Philadelphia PrideFest to provide a platform for local gay-supportive businesses. In that first year, 15 organizations were spotlighted. In one room. In one weekend. Today, the event (which in 2003 became known as Equality Forum) has gone international, welcoming leading gay movers and shakers and drumming up support around the LGBTQ community's hottest of hot-button issues.
For our event highlights, we picked items from the hefty list of panel discussions that illustrate how far we've come in the Forum's 20-year history, and some that fire us up for the journey ahead. We also sprinkled in a few artsy nuggets, because come on, we can't spend the whole time being Serious Sallies.
13th Annual Gay and Lesbian Art Exhibit
David Adika takes an all-encompassing look at global culture through his camera lens. In EQUATOR, the Tel Aviv-based photographer highlights the distinctive bits — still lifes of household plants and jewelry, portraits highlighting hairstyles — but it's not done in a way to compartmentalize or create a sense of otherness. One of his most thought-provoking images is a diptych of a man and a woman wearing the same outfit, shot at the same range and gazing outward with the same bold facial expression. We know they're of different sexes, we think they might possibly come from different ethnic backgrounds, but that's beside the point, since at another level, they are the same. In his exhibit at the Gershman Y, Adika presents a body of work that further studies the imaginary divisions of cultures, genders and ages, and presents scenes of a dreamlike beach where everybody comes together. His goal is less that of an analyzer, more of a unifier. —John Vettese
Through Sun., May 6, 9 a.m.-7 p.m., opening reception Thu., May 3, 6-8 p.m., free, Gershman Y, 401 S. Broad St.
The Twentieth-Century Way
Tom Jacobson's play The Twentieth-Century Way caught actor Tom Raniszewski and director Karen Case Cook's attention after winning Best Overall Production at the 2010 NYC Fringe Festival. "We not only saw that it was brilliantly written," says Raniszewski, but that "it has an amazing underlying electricity." They produced it last August — "There's no excuse not to see this raw and riveting psychological drama," I wrote of it then — and revive it for this year's Equality Forum.
The play explores actual events in Los Angeles in 1914, when undercover cops entrapped homosexuals. Jacobson goes beyond exposing this shifty practice, pitting Raniszewski against Peter Andrew Danzig as actors vying for a police job. They play games laced with exaggerations and lies, peeling away layers both emotional and physical. The raw truth of their nakedness serves important themes: Though nudity is always controversial, Raniszewski explains, actors and audience alike need to "see it in context of the play's powerful message." Playwright Jacobson will attend the two Saturday performances. —Mark Cofta
Thu.-Sat., May 3-5, 7:30 p.m., Sat. matinee, 2 p.m., $15, Plays & Players Theater, 1714 Delancey St.
A Place for At-Risk LGBTQ Youth
For many of Philly's homeless population, local shelters are a godsend, offering stable living situations until they can get back on their feet. But for gay homeless youth, that's not always the case. "LGBTQ people have struggled in the traditional shelter system, being faced with discrimination, harassment and violence," says Leigh Braden, founder of Foyer of Philadelphia, one of the region's only shelter-service centers catering to gay young adults. The prejudice, she says, places them in the position of always having to search for a place to squat. "When they live ... moment to moment, they don't have time to think about what they want to do with the rest of their lives, like going to college or finishing high school." At this event, Braden will shine light on the problems facing Philly's LGBTQ homeless youth and share her accomplishments in helping hundreds of young people find shelter and opportunities to learn about career development and disease prevention. —Josh Middleton
Sat., May 5, 12:30 p.m., free, Terra Hall, University of the Arts, 211 S. Broad St.
National Sports Panel
Jason Magnes is an openly gay athlete. His Penn tennis teammates don't really care. It's hard to say which fact feels more remarkable.
"For my team, my coming out has actually had a positive impact," Magnes says. "It's hard to compete at your highest level when you're carrying that monkey on your back."
Given the homophobia permeating athletic circles, Magnes' experience can be considered the exception rather than the rule. Even as uniformed Army officers proudly come out and same-sex marriage makes strides, openly LGBTQ athletes are a rarity at all levels — particularly among men. "There aren't very many gay male role models in sports," Magnes notes. That may be an understatement: Not one competitor in America's four major sports has come out while his sports career is still active.
As the chair of Penn Athletes and Allies Tackling Homophobia, the junior hopes to create a dialogue about homosexuality and prejudice, one he says doesn't yet exist in the athletic arena. The goal is shared by the other members of this weekend's sports panel. "People are uncomfortable with the unknown," Magnes says. "There's a need to break the silence and get the conversation started." —Michael Gold
Sat., May 5, 1 p.m., free, Doubletree Hotel, 237 S. Broad St.
Claiming Queer Space in a Blue-Collar Town
With rainbows splashed nearly everywhere in the Gayborhood, there's no denying it's a safe haven for queers and those who love them. But the further you drift away from that flaming enclave, the harder it is to find a comfortable spot to let the gay out. For this panel, representatives of the Joliet, Ill. Community Alliance and Action Network (CAAN) and Northeast Indiana's Rainbow Serenity will share tips on how to develop gay-friendly spaces in rural, working-class settings. "It's about making queer spaces more prominent so [LGBTQ] folks know where to go," says CAAN's Gini Lester. "And to let those prejudiced types who think gay people only exist in big cities know we're visible." The session will be spent detailing everything from applying for grants and coming up with effective bylaws to soliciting the public support that's needed to keep community orgs afloat and agay. —Josh Middleton
Sat., May 5, 2 p.m., free, Terra Hall, University of the Arts, 211 S. Broad St.