Gay Old Times

Philadelphia may be one of the most gay-friendly cities in America, but it wasn’t always that way. Tracking down the gay pioneers who first settled in the blocks between Broad Street and Washington Square, Amy Korman hears tales of courage, crisis, community, drag queens and Frank Rizzo — and chronicles the making of the place we call the Gayborhood

Larry Kane, longtime Philadelphia news anchor and author: The establishment did not have a positive view of the gay community. When gays started becoming a political force, there was tremendous animosity from straight people.

Mark Segal, founder and publisher, Philadelphia Gay News:  From 1965 till ’69, every July 4th, men and women would march outside Independence Hall for gay equality. It was very orderly, with the men in suits and women in dresses. They wanted to fit in and show society what they were like. Stonewall [in 1969] changed that overnight. We were demanding, rather than saying “Please let us have our rights.”  And by the way, I was at Stonewall.

“Fun, but frightening.”

In the wake of the Independence Hall rallies and New York’s Stonewall riots, gay Philadelphians began to emerge into the sunlight and insist on equality. The LGBT neighborhood moved east as the ’70s kicked in, and coalesced in the area between Washington Square and Broad Street, south of Chestnut.

Rick Piper: In 1972, I moved to Center City, and being born and raised in Trenton, I thought it was the coolest place in the world. But then, you kept your head down, you stayed in the dark, you went to places you hoped no one would know you went to — bars and after-hours spots. There were a lot of options of places to go and be with other gay folks, but they were not places of great comfort. There was a sense of being in a ghetto, cordoned off, in some sense protected — but also a great sense of vulnerability.

Larry Kane:  The neighborhood was totally different in the late ’60s and ’70s, and this is not a gay issue, but just an issue of general crime. It was more than transvestites and -prostitutes — it was an area of transition. You’ve got the anti-war protests going on around City Hall, and on the other side of Broad Street, an emerging subculture, with gay and lesbian nightclubs. Ira Einhorn used to spend a lot of time there. It was not the kind of place you would take your date, or your wife, for a stroll.

Zack Stalberg, president, Committee of Seventy: I think people definitely avoided moving there, especially heterosexuals who didn’t want to be confused with homosexuals. I remember people saying, “An agent took me to a great apartment — if only it was three blocks west. I don’t want anyone to confuse me with a homosexual.”