May 4-10, 2006
Naked CityBelles of the Blue Ball
It's taken 17 years, but Philly's premier gay ball now has a lesbian main event.
: mike m. koehler
The Sapphire Fund contributes to the health and well-being of Philadelphia's LGBT community. Malcolm Lazin's Equality Forum has done everything from pursue the legislation of international LGBT civil rights to produce documentary films like Glenn Holsten's gay-themed Saint of 9/11. Each of these organizations has helped make the Blue Ball what it is. This year for the first time, Equality Forum and the Blue Ball are partnering to serve educational and party needs.
But where's my ladies at? In the past, Blue Ball hasn't been as lesbian-oriented as it should've been. Not to some in the lesbian community.
"Why would they think about it?" says Tracy Buchholz, the women's event chair of the Sapphire Fund, matter-of-factly. "I didn't go to the Blue Ball, ever. It was geared toward menall of its advertising, its fliers. Why would I want to go?"
So, for its 17th year, Blue Ball will share the limelight with Philadelphia's lesbian community with Emergea main event for lesbian ladies, thrown by ladies and acting as the female counterpart of the illustrious annual Blue Ball event, Fusion.
"The boy's party has long been a success," says Buchholz. "It's time for women to take the stage. The fact that Sapphire Fund throws such a successful Blue Ball party it seemed like a perfect fit."
From everyone who posed for their advertising, to the photographer, from interns to the marketing team (led by Tami Sortman of the Altus Group), Emerge is a dynamic woman's event with an all-lesbian cast of characters.
"I think Blue Ball's tried to give the lesbian community some recognition, but just needed the right people to get the ball rolling by taking the reins and cracking the whip," says Kaitlin Cattie, a Temple University student interning for the Sapphire Fund.
It's just that Philly's lesbian market has remained untapped. The Blue Ball has always had an almost all-male board. Buchholz knew women who went. Admits readily that other women made great strides toward flying the lesbian freak-flag. Like the women at Sisters. And Ladies 2000.
But still, Blue Ball wasn't a place where Buchholz or any of her friends could unite. Blue Ball never had women as its focal point.
Matthew Ray, Blue Ball's press and promotion director, agrees that it's not been about any particular brand of exclusion that's found the Philly's lesbian community out in the Blue Ball's cold.
"For almost two decades our mission has been, in some permutation, to raise money for a communitynot just one specific sex within the [LGBT] community," says Ray.
Ball beneficiaries The William Way Community Center, Mazzoni Center and the Attic Youth Center provide much-needed care and assistance to gay men and lesbians. Blue Ball's success has made programs available that directly benefit lesbian communities.
"I truly think that while the lesbian community wasn't neglected in past years," says Buchholz, "we never quite understood the potential of it."
It's a potential that Emerge is showing all sides this year.
"Nobody is ever excluded," says Ray. "Anyone with hours and a kind heart is welcome to volunteer, and anyone with the ticket price is welcome to attend. I'm not thinking about who I don't want to come to the partyI'm thinking about how I can get everyone to the party."
Then Ray pauses. "Perhaps the nature of this event is male-dominated, and that's a terrible shame."
Despite the involvement of clubs like Sisters and members of the board and planning groups identifying as lesbian, the majority of the Blue Ball's organization has been male.
Still, as the fliers and ads for Emerge feature women, little else about this year's Blue Ball festival says lesbian. No one will confuse the boy's main dance event, Fusion, with the women's Emerge.
"We're more of an addition to," says Buchholz of her bash. "We're only just testing the waters." Emerge and all of its constituents and supporters need this first shot to be one heard throughout the community and responded to successfully so as to further the lesbian cause in Philly. "You get one shot at this sort of brand identity," says Buchholz.
Matthew Ray sums it up thusly: "I don't like to think about clashes between lesbians and gay males. Our community faces enough hostility, we don't need to be divisive. Enough planning. I wanna dance!"
Emerge Benefit Party, Fri., May 5, 9 p.m.-2 a.m., $10-$15, TPDS Club, 114 S. 12th St., 267-514-2088, www.blueballwomen.com.