An Essential Guide to LGBTQ Philadelphia
Historic spots, popular neighborhoods, top restaurants and more...
Philadelphia, the United States’ birthplace, is proud of the roles it has played — and plays still — in the founding, furtherance and celebration of the LGBTQ civil rights movement.
The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection hosted the country’s first major demonstration for LGBTQ rights, the Annual Reminders, in 1965.
And today, visitors to Philly can easily explore sites where LGBTQ history was made and where queer life continues to thrive, especially in the city’s Gayborhood and during annual events like Outfest and the Pride March & Festival .
Read on to explore this essential itinerary for visitors interested in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ history and present.
The center of Philadelphia’s gay residential life and culture since World War II, the blocks between 11th and Broad streets and Pine and Chestnut streets earned their nickname — the “Gayborhood” — during an October Outfest event in 1995. In 2007, Philadelphia Mayor John Street dedicated 36 rainbow street signs around the neighborhood. Since then, the rainbows have multiplied, adorning more street signs (72 in all), homes and businesses.
In the past 15-plus years, 13th Street has become the neighborhood’s own restaurant row. Enterprising restaurateurs chef Marcie Turney and spouse and business partner Valerie Safran took a chance on their first venture, Lolita, an intimate and inventive Mexican bistro with in-demand fresh-fruit margaritas in 2004. Today, the couple owns and operates all-American Bud & Marilyn’s , Italian trattoria Little Nonna’s , Mediterranean spot Barbuzzo and Good Luck Pizza Co ., as well as two gift shops. The street is also home to hidden upscale taqueria El Vez , plant-based destination Charlie was a sinner. , sushi and cocktail bar Double Knot , and a new outpost of Brooklyn-based Van Leeuwen Ice Cream .
You have your choice of fabulous entertainment and diversions as the bars and nightclubs of the Gayborhood come alive each night. On the main drags and charming side streets, culture and community come together with singing, dancing, burlesque, cabare, and more. Don’t miss legendary drag shows and performances by stars like Martha Graham Cracker , or grab a cocktail at classic neighborhood destination Woody’s . Other neighborhood faves include Tavern on Camac , Bike Stop , Franky Bradleys , Level Up , U Bar , and Knock . Cap off the night with dancing at after-hours club Voyeur .
Shopping in the Gayborhood
Independent boutiques have set up shop in the neighborhood, too. There are handmade soaps and products at Duross & Langel , hip and Philly-centric gifts at Open House and Verde , and throwback fan gear at Shibe Sports . Check out Lapstone & Hammer and Common Ground for the latest in sneakers and apparel.
The city’s LGBTQ community center occupied several rented spaces from 1976 to 1995 before settling into its very own home in 1996. William Way is available 365 days a year, offering a variety of programs, support services, events and meeting spaces for the LGBTQ community. On the block-long western exterior wall of the building, artist Ann Northrup’s mural Pride & Progress depicts a tribute to Philadelphia’s LGBTQ history and culture.
Take a guided tour through the Gayborhood and learn more about the city’s queer history with help from Beyond the Bell Tour. The group’s LGBTQ and Trans History tours recount the stories of Gay Liberation Front – Philadelphia cofounder Kiyoshi Kuromiya, explore modern history and current social issues in the neighborhood, and stop at important community sites like the Attic Youth Center, which supports LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness.
The country’s longest-running LGBTQ bookstore opened along South Street in 1973 and relocated in 1979 to its current 12th & Pine streets location. The unofficial community and cultural center — named after James Baldwin’s trailblazing novel — is now operated by Philly AIDS Thrift , a nonprofit secondhand shop located at 710 S. 5th Street. Proceeds from both stores go to people living with HIV & AIDS. A state historical marker is located outside the corner shop.
The Gayborhood got a fresh new mural at the start of Pride Month in 2021 when muralist Ash Ryan finished this three-story-tall tribute to pop star Lil Nas X. Bar owner Ram Krishnan commissioned the vibrant work on the outside wall of Writer’s Block Rehab. It honors the artist as an innovator and representative of today’s Black and queer culture.
This Pennsylvania Historical Museum & Commission marker honors the late activist John E. Fryer, M.D. In 1965, the University of Pennsylvania expelled Fryer from his psychiatric residency program on the basis of his homosexuality, which was then classified as a mental illness by the American Psychiatric Association (APA). In 1972, Fryer, a faculty member at the Temple University School of Medicine, offered an electrifying anonymous testimony that resulted in the APA’s 1973 declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness.
Where: 13th & Locust streets
This marker honors Philadelphia-born-and-raised Edith Windsor, whose activism and legal battle led to the Supreme Court’s dismantling of the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013. The legal decision resulted in federal agencies extending marriage rights to same-sex couples.
Where: 13th & Locust streets
This marker stands in front of the first office of the Philadelphia Gay News, one of the nation’s most award-winning weekly newspapers. Since 1976, the paper has covered critical LGBTQ issues, including the HIV/AIDS epidemic and marriage rights.
Philadelphia's Historic District
Independence Hall was the site of the country’s earliest organized recurring gay rights demonstrations, beginning July 4, 1965. A state historical marker commemorates this peaceful protest — and the four that followed each July 4 through 1969 — known collectively as the Annual Reminders.
Where: 6th & Chestnut streets
The historic home of a more than 200-year-old Quaker congregation hosted 300 LGBTQ activists in February 1979 for the Philadelphia Conference. Meeting attendees planned the first National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights. That October, the march would attract 100,000 demonstrators and define a national civil rights movement. Visitors can view the historical marker outside the meetinghouse and are welcome inside on select days.
In 1973, Quaker landlords defied then-commonplace discrimination against LGBTQ tenants by renting the storefront at 60 N. 3rd Street to the gay activists who founded the city’s first LGBTQ coffeehouse. This community space was the direct predecessor to the William Way LGBT Community Center, a safe space for the community. Today, the neighborhood buzzes with art galleries, independent boutiques, historic sites, bring-your-own-bottle (BYOB) restaurants and lively bars — and Menagerie Coffee , a stylish and inviting queer couple-owned cafe in Old City.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Philadelphia’s Historic District played a vital role in the birth of the United States’ LGBT rights movement. (See above.) Between the Delaware River and 7th Street and Vine and Lombard streets are the colonial yet contemporary neighborhoods of Old City and Society H i ll as well as Independence National Historical Park , home of the Liberty Bell , a symbol of the abolitionist movement and freedom in general.
Located outside The African American Museum in Philadelphia, this historic marker , authorized by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, honors Alain Leroy Locke for his contributions to Black art and culture. The Philadelphia native and Harvard University graduate was the first African American Rhodes Scholar, a writer, an educator, and a philosopher of race and culture. Like most gay men in the first half of the 20th century, Locke remained closeted throughout his life.
Center City West
A pioneer in the LGBTQ rights movement, Gittings, a Philadelphia resident from age 18 and a lifetime activist, edited The Ladder , the nation’s first lesbian magazine; co-organized the Annual Reminders at Independence Hall (see above) and led charges both to promote positive LGBTQ literature in public libraries and to change the American Psychiatric Association’s classification of homosexuality as a mental illness. A Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission marker at 21st and Locust streets honors the home she shared with photojournalist partner Kay Lahusen. (Note that entry to the home is not permitted). Across Broad Street, a sign at 13th and Locust streets in the Gayborhood declares the thoroughfare Barbara Gittings Way.
Where: 21st & Locust streets
The most elegant of the five public squares laid out in city planner William Penn’s original plan, tree-lined Rittenhouse Square has been an alfresco sanctuary for LGBTQ Philadelphians dating back to the 1930s. The square served as the starting point of the city’s first Pride parade in 1972. One block from the square, the nation’s first LGBTQ sit-in took place in 1965 at a 24/7 diner (now demolished) when employees denied service to customers they presupposed to be LGBTQ. Today, Rittenhouse Square’s benches and lawns are filled with all manner of Philadelphians, and the neighborhood around the park has grown into the city’s busiest center of business, shopping, dining and nightlife.
More than an architectural marvel and the seat of city government, City Hall is where, in 1982, Philadelphia became one of the first U.S. cities to pass an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. It’s also where countless LGBTQ couples have come to marry and get their marriage licenses since 2014, when Pennsylvania enacted marriage equality.
This colorful boulevard owes its vibrancy to the artists, hippies and queer folk who turned it into a welcoming enclave in the late 1960s and early ’70s. It’s where radical gay collective Gazoo founded Philadelphia’s Gay Liberation Front and where bisexual blues singer Bessie Smith performed at the Royal Theatre, an early 20th-century African American-owned cultural center. Today, the street’s known for its Magic Gardens , cheesesteak shops and hangouts, including, on its western end, dive bar extraordinaire Bob & Barbara’s Lounge , home of one of Philly’s best-loved drag shows; and the eclectic, gay-owned boutique shop Workshop Underground .
Standing outside of Philadelphia’s City Hall, Pennsylvania’s first historical marker honoring a Latino or Latina person is dedicated to Gloria Casarez, an influential civil rights activist who advocated for the LGBTQ community, people of color and those experiencing homelessness. Casarez served as Philadelphia’s first LGBT Affairs director.
Beyond Center City
South of Center City , 1987’s We the Youth is an original work by out Pennsylvania native and artist Keith Haring. It’s one of the many Mural Arts Philadelphia program’s murals created by LGBTQ artists or about the LGBTQ movement. Mural Arts has repaired and maintained the mural over the years to preserve Haring’s work and legacy.
Where: 22nd & Ellsworth streets
More than 200 years before “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” was signed, challenged and repealed, Prussian military genius Friedrich von Steuben transformed General Washington’s ragtag army at Valley Forge into a professional force. Benjamin Franklin, who had written of von Steuben’s “affections for the same sex,” recruited the Prussian as the Continental Army’s inspector general and major general. A bronze monument at bucolic Valley Forge near the Varnum’s picnic area honors his contributions. Of note: von Steuben’s lasting impression on the country also earned him a statue behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art .
In the 1940s, the Bucks County riverside hamlet of New Hope became a popular destination for Broadway-bound performers and musicians. Since then, the artsy village has developed into a beloved destination for the LGBTQ visitors (and residents), offering both a respite from city life and stellar restaurants, bars and shops, the Bucks County Playhouse and antique and vintage stores. Each May, New Hope Celebrates Pridefest kicks off with an unfurling of the eight-color equality flag, followed by a week of educational events, a cocktail contest and more.