Since 2007, community members and organizations have loaned or donated over 950 historical items representing different life experiences and other moments of historical importance to the standing collection of the Black LGBT Archivists Society. Artifacts and other memorabilia in this collection include newspaper articles, pins and buttons, photographs, brochures, protests materials, historical clothing and audio and visual recordings.
Ballroom & Houses
The Ballroom scene of Philadelphia has a remarkable history. Early trailblazers recognized the importance of creating spaces and opportunities for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth and young adults. These women and men found alternative ways to instill a sense of belonging and provide mentorship and performance opportunities through Ballroom events and vogueing—one of America’s true performance art forms.
Philadelphia’s first houses emerged in 1989 and 1990 with the House of Onyx, the House of Jahdu, and the House of Excellence. Since then, Philadelphia’s Ballroom scene has produced its share of Icons, Legends, Stars and Statements. The photographs and items related to the house and ballroom community speak to, and show, the important contributions and involvement of Philadelphia residents.
Bars & Clubs
Do you remember these bars: The Ritz, Wishes, Allegros, Ariel’s Nest, The Nile and Stars? Philadelphia bars have provided an important social outlet for visitors and residents alike. Not only were these “gay” spaces sites for dancing, drinking and socializing, they were also used as spaces to help organize communities of Black lesbians, gays, bisexual and transgender men and women. The legacy of, and the need for, such gathering spots continues to this day. Philadelphia is blessed to have committed party promoters, socialites, and club heads—men and women helping to ensure that the legacy of good music, good times, and good laughs continue.
In the 1990’s, Arrested Development inked a song titled “People Everyday.” This creative song shed light on the important contributions of Black people living in the United States. The artists also sang about the complexity of individual and group contributions in light of certain, unsavory behaviors. Nonetheless, and like this song attempts to demonstrate, Philadelphia is a city of giants who have lived the full experience of everyday people. Many of the photographs in this collection illustrate Philadelphians—everyday people with giant accomplishments: film makers; dancers; House Fathers; couples who have been together 30 or more years; leaders of organizations; supportive parents of gay children; church leaders; and fashion designers. “I’M EVERY DAY PEOPLE….YEAH YEAH.”
Black LGBT communities have found meaningful ways to organize themselves and speak collectively to social issues and opportunities for its members and other marginalized groups. Philadelphia’s premiere organizations serving the interests of the Black LGBT community can be found within this collection.
The West Set, a group from West Philadelphia, was formed in 1957. They were known largely for their large cabana parties and festivities during Penn Relay Weekend. Each year, they gave the Ms. West Set competition. Another organization known for its social gatherings and large parties was Mox Nix, a group formed in the mid– to late– 1960’s.
Within the collection, there are photographs from the 1979 Sallie Awards. The Asterisks gave these annual awards, which recognized, for example, “Best Bartender” and “Favorite Couples.” Community members voted on these categories through secret, mail-in ballots. Just Us and 9+1 provided travel opportunities for men and women of the group. Their travels included trips to Aruba and Provincetown, Massachusetts.
In light of the changing times of the 1980s and 1990s, Philadelphia Friends continues to join other chapters around the country for a weekend of social outings during Easter Weekend. The Attic Youth Center continues to be one of Philadelphia’s premiere organizations for serving sexual and gender minority youth.
HIV/AIDS ushered in a new type of organizing that focused on advocacy, quality of life and disease prevention issues for members of the community; specifically, it gave birth to Unity, Inc., The COLOURS Organization, Inc., and the Black Gay Men’s Leadership Council.
Penn Relay Weekend (PRIDE in Philadelphia)
Penn Relays, started in 1895, is the oldest track and field event in the United States, taking place the last weekend in April. In addition to the nearly 15,000 people who travel the world for this destination event, Black gays and lesbians have also made this trip to attend a host of parties and other social and educational events. The earliest photographs in this collection date back to April 1954 at a Penn Relay house party. The most recent photographs in this collection show the works of Philadelphia Black Gay Pride, Inc. — a trailblazing organization that has taken this tradition and organized parties and educational opportunities during the weekend and throughout the year. Their efforts over the past years has made the trip to Philadelphia the first stop in the United States’ Black Gay Pride circuit.
Collectively, these items serve as a testament to the existence, longevity and creativity of Philadelphia’s Black LGBT community; and, they seamlessly show that Philadelphia Black gay pride is as old, if not older, than Penn Relays. Black gays have a right to take pride in these accomplishments.
Philadelphia’s transgender community has often been at the forefront of accomplishments and achievements within the larger, Black LGBT communities. These men and women lived, and continue to live, their lives despite the larger society’s conventional thinking. The earlier photographs of individuals within Philadelphia’s transgender community—dating to the early 1960s—illustrate the freedom in which they lived their lives. By being themselves, they have continued to encourage others to exist in freedom.
Videos and Media
Philadelphia’s Black LGBT community consists of many talented creators of film and video. One in particular, Aishah Shahidah Simmons (photographed by Barbara Kigozi), has loaned three of her films to the exhibit: Silence…Broken (1993); In My Father’s House (1996); and, No! The Rape Documentary (2006). There are also several video tapes from past Crystal Balls—The COLOURS Organization, Inc.’s free, annual ballroom competition for house and ballroom community members from around the country.
For more information, please email Kevin Trimell Jones.