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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Tour showcases untold stories of LGBTQIA+ community in Philadelphia

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Rebecca Fisher, co-founder of Beyond the Bell Tours, guiding a tour in front of Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room. PHOTO: KELLY SHANNON ’24/THE HAWK

The Center for Inclusion and Diversity (CID) partnered with Beyond the Bell Tours on Nov. 12 to offer St. Joe’s students an educational tour about the history of the LGBTQIA+ community in the Gayborhood in Center City, Philadelphia.

The Gayborhood is located in Midtown Village in the Washington Square West area in Center City and has been a meeting space for the LGBTQ community for many years.

Imani Briscoe, program specialist for Inclusion and Diversity Experiential Programming (IDEP), said the main reason for organizing this event was to shed light on some of the untold histories within the Gayborhood. 

“In light of TransDay of Remembrance on 11/20, the CID wanted to ensure visibility and education around the significance of the LGBTQ+ community within Philadelphia through an interactive and engaging program,” Briscoe wrote in response to written questions from The Hawk.

Mural by Barbara Gittings. PHOTOS: KELLY SHANNON ’24/THE HAWK

Beyond the Bell Tours offer participants a journey through the neighborhood and educates them on the historical locations and figures of the LGBTQ community.

“They [historical figures] are central to the realization of our American story,” said Rebecca Fisher, co-founder of the Beyond the Bell Tours.  “I felt that in this place where we come to learn about American history, that it was important to centralize them in the American narrative, and there’s no better place to do that than in Philadelphia.”

Fisher said many of these untold stories are about LGBTQ people of color, who are often overlooked in the history of the Gayborhood.

“Not discussing racism on a tour of the Gayborhood would be not only dishonest but would uphold a narrative about the Gayborhood that upholds white supremacy,” Fisher said. “I navigate the complexities by educating myself about the many readily available QTPOC [queer and trans people of color] sources available out there about these issues and instances.”

Mural of Lil Nas X by Ash Ryan.

Fisher said she hopes the tour becomes a starting point for attendees and they are inspired to learn more about the prominent activists, like Gloria Casarez, the first director of LGBTQ affairs in Philadelphia.

Ilana Seager van Dyk, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in clinical psychology at Massey University, New Zealand, and a participant on the tour, said as a professor of queer-related psychology, the issues go beyond being a member of the LGBTQ community.

“I think these issues are bigger than just Philadelphia,” van Dyk said. “They’re broad human issues that I think we can all relate to and have navigated in our own cities.”

The tour also took note of historical LGBTQ landmarks in Philadelphia, such as the Mazzoni Center, which is a health center focused on LGBTQ health and well-being, only two of which exist in the United States, according to Fisher. 

Other stops on the tour included the John C. Anderson Apartments, an LGBTQ-friendly senior housing facility, Philly Aids Thrift, a thrift store that supports local organizations involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS. and Giovanni’s Room, the nation’s longest continuously-operating LGBTQ and feminist-focused bookstore, founded in 1973.

Rachael Sullivan, Ph.D., assistant professor of communications, attended the tour and said she hopes all students will gain a better understanding of history from it.

“It might seem strange for you to visit a gay neighborhood,” Sullivan said. “There’s actually so much history there that relates to Philadelphia, not just about LGBTQ history, but it’s really about the history of the city and how the arts developed in the city and how there was segregation.” 

Fisher said a primary goal of the tour is to remind people of the struggles the community has faced in past decades, especially in Philadelphia.

“[We want] to put the people back into people’s history, which is the goal every day, I think,” Fisher said. “And to shed some light and bring some awareness to some of these amazing narratives and honor some of these people every day.”

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Kiley O'Brien
Kiley O'Brien, Assistant News Editor
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