The Union League Is Philly’s Hottest New Gay Club

How the A-Gays of the city’s premiere power club are making clout in town a little more fabulous.

There was a time, not so long ago, that Philadelphia’s gay community looked very different. There were the public institutions: the Philadelphia Gay News, Giovanni’s Room bookstore, Woody’s on 13th Street. There were those outrageous parades. And there were, of course, the bars—watering holes tucked away on Drury and Camac. Or, even further in the shadows, the seedy goings-on at the Adonis Cinema on Sansom Street. Today the PGN is teetering on the edge of obsolescence in an age when the Inquirer can write about Devan’s “male partner” with the dispassion paid a weather forecast. The parades are now more an excuse for brunch than a political statement. Internet hookup sites have practically run porno theaters out of business (though, oddly, the Adonis survives). Gay bars and clubs still thrive, but by choice rather than necessity. When Woody’s first opened in 1980, it was windowless; last year, floor-to-ceiling windows were installed, allowing a clear view of who’s inside. Nowhere to hide, because really, who needs to hide anymore?

This transformation has been long, but also surprisingly quick in many regards: Just 30 years ago, the idea of an openly gay politician in Harrisburg would have been inconceivable. So would gay marriage. Or even Ellen DeGeneres hosting a popular talk show for suburban housewives, and everyone … shrugging. Certain archetypes within gay culture remain: the twinks (young, pretty), the bears (mature, hirsute), the party boys (gym by day, club by night) and the elder statesmen (cut from the Quentin Crisp literati cloth). But out of this, a new demographic has been carved in Philly, one perhaps best captured by the term coined by author Armistead Maupin: the A-Gays.

In Maupin’s seminal Tales of the City, published in the ’70s, the term is an indictment of the craven scenesters who turned early urban gay life into Lord of the Flies. In Philadelphia, it now symbolizes the op­posite—men of status like the Union Leaguers, savvy networkers scheduling power lunches to discuss deals and strategic partnerships (with occasional after-work drinks to discuss Magic Mike). Put all of their W-2s together and you’d have one formidable investment group.

“Some of the battles have been fought,” Brad Richards says. “Not all of them are won. Twenty years ago, we wanted to not be fired from work. I just want to marry my partner. In the League, it’s the same idea. There’s acceptance, you’re in, but sometimes there is no table for you. You have to create your own.”

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  • SameOld

    The real untold story here is how, after the article appeared, the Union League Board went after and disciplined many of the members pictured on the cover. Shows how much things have NOT changed.