On the morning of Sunday, June 12, 2016, I woke up feeling pure joy. I knew that later in the day I would be participating in my first Philly Pride Parade, marching down Market Street with my best friends, members of Stonewall Sports – Philadelphia and the Philadelphia LGBTQ community. But then I looked at my phone.
I read reports of a mass shooting at a gay Orlando nightclub called Pulse. I was deeply saddened by the news, but I kept it at some distance. I had a parade to march in, an event I’d been looking forward to for months. I marched. And I loved it. There’s nothing like being outside, and being championed by thousands of Philadelphians.The day was filled with sunshine and celebration.
Then came Monday. And it hit me hard: Forty-nine people had been targeted and murdered simply because they were gay. I started sobbing on my way into work and took long bathroom breaks during the day to hide my tears. I was crying for the loss of those 49 people, the pain their friends and family were going through, the realization of how far we still have to go and the fact that something like the Pulse tragedy could have happened right here in Philadelphia.
Since the Pulse shootings, the Philly gay community has had a rocky ride. In September, confusion and indignation shook the community when Woody’s, the Gayborhood’s most well-known bar, enforced a dress code that prohibited sweatpants and sneakers, a move that many saw as racist. A month later, a video was published on YouTube that showed the owner of iCandy, another popular Center City gay bar, using racial slurs. This incident ignited outrage and debate as well as a hearing with the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.
Both of these events underscored divisive issues that have been percolating in the Gayborhood for decades: Some people of color, women and transgender people feel unwelcome and unsafe in the community. Amidst all the debate and outcry, the city’s LGBTQ Affairs Director Nellie Fitzpatrick lost her job.
Since then, conversations are happening and it feels like progress is on the horizon. Recently, the new LGBTQ Affairs Director Amber Hikes had the pride flag redesigned to reflect the contributions of the black and brown members of the community.
On Sunday, hundreds of LGBTQ Philadelphians will participate in the National Pride March in Washington D.C., held in part to honor the 49 victims who will forever be part of Pride Month for us — even if President Trump chooses not to acknowledge Pride Month.
Next Sunday (June 18), Philly will have its own celebration, pushed back a week in deference to the national event. Pride is a time to come together without fear of discrimination or hate to celebrate identity—gay, lesbian, transgender, black, brown and white.
Like a lot of 20-something LGBTQ people in this city, I’ll honor the day in my own way. I’ll march again with Stonewall Sports-Philadelphia, a non-profit recreational sports league that donates all of its proceeds to local LGBTQ charities. Then I’ll head to the Gayborhood, which feels like a second home to me and is a magnet for Pride attendees from out of town.
But I know that this time will feel different. It has to. I’ll be even more proud of the beautiful and passionate community that I’m part of, a community that, like any other, has flaws and is working hard to address them. I’ll be more determined to defend the rights we all have gained against all who would threaten them.
And when I wake up on Sunday morning, I’ll be thinking about those 49 people–and hoping that a look at my phone doesn’t put another hole in my heart.
Jodie Eichel is a born and raised Philadelphian, digital marketer and the Communications Director for Stonewall Sports – Philadelphia. You can reach her on Twitter at @Jeiches.