The next morning, I was treated to a breakfast at Bank & Bourbon, the restaurant inside the Loews. Bruce Yelk of Visit Philadelphia organized the breakfast for all the journalists who were covering the weekend’s events. It was nice to meet him in person, as well as Cathy Renna. Cathy Renna used to be the PR coordinator at GLAAD and now she runs her own PR company. I’ve been connected with her since I owned my own magazine in Arkansas so it was great to finally meet her in person after all these years. As the PR contact for the 50th anniversary celebrations, it was her job to ensure that all journalists had everything they needed to cover the event well for their publications, and she did so much across the entire weekend, all of it with a smile.
Seated at the table with me were journalists from all over the country. It was then that I realized that I was the only gay media representative to have been invited from Florida. I was very honored to fly the flag for the Sunshine State in the City of Brotherly Love on such a historic weekend. I made fast friends with Dawn Ennis, who works for The Advocate magazine in Los Angeles. We were side by side at most of the events and I was very glad to have met her. Now I have a friend who can show me around Los Angeles!
We had enough time for breakfast, and then it was on to the next event. It was held at Washington Square, at the Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldiers. Staff Sergeant Eric Alva, the first Marine to be seriously injured in the Iraq War, and Jack Holmes, a direct descendant of George Washington, placed the American flag at the tomb. I thanked SSgt. Alva for his service and bravery. Not only did he lose a leg in battle for his country, he also served as an openly gay man throughout Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, which showcased bravery in a completely different manner. Mr. Holmes, also openly gay, recently married his husband at their home in St. Louis. George Washington, the Father of Our Country, would have approved of equality and fairness, so it was natural that his descendant participated in the ceremony.
While I was at Washington Square, I met Patrick Smith, the 2015 International Mr. Leather. It was a pleasant surprise, and at first I was kind of thrown considering the nature of the event, but he wanted to be there to pay his respects as a patriotic American, and it was so heartwarming to witness.
I had a couple of hours before the next event, so I used that time to see the sights that all tourists must see when they visit Philadelphia for the first time. I had my photo taken in front of the Liberty Bell, I visited Philadelphia’s City Hall, and I went to Love Park, where I had my photo taken in front of the “LOVE” letters and the large fountain. Afterwards, I headed to the Betsy Ross House, to check out another important piece of American colonial history. Just two blocks away was Christ Church, which dates from the 18th century. That was my next stop.
At Christ Church, there was a National Interfaith Service held in honor of the 50th anniversary celebrations. Bishop Gene Robinson gave the uplifting sermon, emphasizing how far we’ve come as a group. He also emphasized the messages of harmony and friendship, which is important considering we are living in a tumultuous time in our nation’s history. Bishop Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, also welcomed his church’s very recent decision to allow same-sex marriages. To be in his presence was humbling and I was very reverent.
Afterwards, I walked to the WHYY studios. WHYY is the PBS and NPR station for Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley. They were screening a documentary called “Gay Pioneers.” Produced by the Equality Forum and WHYY, it chronicled life for gay activists in 1960s Philadelphia and their decision to protest on our nation’s birthday in 1965. So many of them had a lot to lose, and they kept their identities secret, but two: Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings, were out the entire time. They lost their jobs in the process and feared for their lives, but without their bravery, the gay rights movement wouldn’t have played out the way it did in future decades. They have passed on, but their legacy remains.
In the evening, I met my friend Lynne, who is from Melbourne and attended USF with me. She brought her girlfriend along, and the three of us walked around Chinatown. I got my picture taken at the Chinatown gate, and we enjoyed some great Chinese food at Sakura Mandarin Restaurant. I recommend it to anyone who visits Philadelphia. I’m just sad I couldn’t sample more food from the many Asian restaurants in Chinatown. As we walked back, I noticed American flag bunting had been hung with care from one end of the street to the other. This Fourth of July was going to be very momentous, and it hit me that I was celebrating it in the city where our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence. I made sure to enter the final day of my trip treasuring every moment I had left.
Read about day 3 tomorrow, Sunday July 12.