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Ring Their Bell

Ring Their Bell


Inspired by gay life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, some neighborhoods choose to celebrate their inalienable right to be separate but equal. Located in the historic heart of Philadelphia and proudly flagged by rainbow-colored street signs, the hotbed of LGBT activity affectionately called the Gayborhood -- the Washington Square area bordered by Chestnut, Pine, South 11th, and South Broad streets -- has become a respected cultural center by both focusing and fostering gay creativity.

To commemorate the 40th anniversary of this territory, which has enjoyed remarkable revitalization in recent years, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation will present a "grand reopening" of the Gayborhood July 10-25. "Philadelphia's Gayborhood is situated near an area with a great deal of history and visibility for LGBT community members, businesses, and organizations," explains Jeff Guaracino, the tourism group's vice president of communications. "The reopening will be a celebration of this area, which has evolved into a destination for dining, shopping, and nightlife while maintaining its authenticity and historical significance. It's a visible, meaningful way to present all that the Gayborhood has to offer."

Honoring the crossroads of colonial charm and contemporary comforts, indoor-outdoor block parties will toast the Gayborhood's lavender landmarks like Giovanni's Room, the oldest queer bookstore in the United States, founded in 1973. The summer rechristening will also spotlight newly refurbished gay-owned establishments like Q Lounge + Kitchen and the Westbury bar, which radiate a well-worn warmth that's as welcoming as old warhorses like Woody's, a wildly popular gay haunt for 30 years, and Tavern on Camac, a laid-back piano bar-dance club occupying a space that has housed gay bars since the 1940s. The William Way Community Center, a longtime LGBT hub, will display archival photos of the Gayborhood's transformation for the occasion.

To pull off this event, the GPTMC has partnered with the Philadelphia Gay Tourism Caucus and QFest, Philadelphia's International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. The 16th annual QFest, which runs July 8-19, will premiere a short documentary on the Gayborhood's history featuring candid interviews with the city's senior gay activists and their greener gaybors. "The fact that Philadelphia's LGBT community has its own territory has helped define who we are and who we're becoming," says Thom Cardwell, development director of QFest and a founding board member of PGTC. "Many of the films that have premiered at our summer film festival reflect and reinforce that collective and diverse community identity."

The reopening gala caps a seven-year spurt in the Gayborhood's growth following GPTMC's 2003 launch of "Get Your History Straight and Your Nightlife Gay," a revolutionary LGBT tourist-baiting public relations campaign, which capitalizes on the bustling gay district's proximity to Philly's mainstream tourist attractions like Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and the National Constitution Center. This harmonious mix of past and present is what most defines the Gayborhood's casual elegance while attracting an eclectic crowd. In the shadow of monuments dedicated to our nation's freedom, cobblestone alleyways lined with antique stores lead to sleek, trendy lounges serving progressive cuisine and pricey martinis. Around another red brick corner, a colorful stretch of freshly painted murals draws the eye to a cozy dive bar pouring dirt-cheap pints -- all a mere stone's throw from the site of the 1960s Annual Reminders, some of the country's earliest gay rights demonstrations.

No doubt marked by the May-December marriage of classic and modern aesthetics in the City of Brotherly Love, the Gayborhood community's shabby-chic vibe integrates the polished affluence of coastal gay meccas like Manhattan with the quaint camaraderie of more concentrated gay hoods like Chicago's Boystown or the French Quarter's Fruit Loop in New Orleans. "Think Provincetown or Fire Island Pines," says regular Philly drag performer Mimi Imfurst, "minus the swimsuits and attitude." Though its manifest rainbow-flagged street signs, erected in 2007, may suggest a contrary impression, the Gayborhood has not seceded from the union entirely; however, having their own stomping ground has shaped the LGBT locals' familial, fiercely independent spirit.

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Brandon Voss