Top LGBT Events in Philadelphia for 2018
Since holding the nation’s first major LGBT rights protest some 50 years ago, Philadelphia has continued to prove that it’s still one of the best destinations for LGBT travelers to get their history straight and their nightlife gay.
The city offers a full calendar of events in 2018, including an expanded fifth-annual qFLIX Philadelphia film festival, a Fringe Festival rounded out by a special Bearded Ladies Cabaretperformance, as well as concert featuring both Rufus Wainwright and the Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus. These are the icing atop the city and region’s annual pride celebrations, weekly bashes in bars across the Gayborhood and cutting-edge performing arts with LGBT twists. Here’s a look at the best events of 2017, including a rundown by night, week and month, in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.
- Mazzoni Center’s Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference, previously the Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference, is packed with four days of activities and informational booths aimed at educating transgender individuals and their allies on issues of health and wellbeing. The event brings in 7,000 attendees and includes high-profile speakers and more than 250 workshops around the city. August 2-4.
- qFLIX Philadelphia welcomes independent LGBT filmmakers from around the globe to screen more than 70 films and attend celebrity-studded events. New in 2018: Plays & Players Theatre as headquarters and seven days of screenings. March 19-25.
- Diners nosh for a great cause during Dining Out for Life. Close to 200 restaurants around the city donate 33% of every breakfast, lunch and dinner bill to Action Wellness, a nonprofit organization that helps people living with chronic illnesses, including HIV/AIDS in Greater Philadelphia. The day also includes a food truck pop-up on April 14 in the heart of the Gayborhood at lunchtime and, new this year, a beer garden in partnership with Yards Brewing Company. April 19.
- Philadelphia Black Pride is five day’s worth of activities aimed at spotlighting and empowering the LGBT African-American community. Taking place across the city, timed to coincide with the Penn Relays, events run the gamut from discussion panels and happy hour mixers to concerts, art shows and community picnics. April 24-29.
- Now in its 15th year, the three-day New Hope Celebrates’ Pride Festival is known for a Pride Parade that brings the world’s largest rainbow flag from the New Jersey side of the Delaware River in Lambertville to the New Hope & Lambertville Bridge to New Hope, Bucks County, for a fair featuring international entertainers and family fun. Festival: May 18-20, parade: May 19.
- The Philadelphia Dyke March draws hundreds for a proud march through Center City that spotlights Philly’s lesbian community and their allies. The rally traditionally starts the day before Pride in Kahn Park, where a stage is set for speeches and a variety of performances and where the procession steps off. June 10.
- The 30th annual PrideDay LGBT Parade and Festival begins with a colourful procession from the Gayborhood to Penn’s Landing, where a celebration ensues. Revelers can look forward to live music, DJs, food, drink and other ways to fete International Gay and Lesbian Pride Month along the Delaware River Waterfront. June 11.
- Some of the hottest guys in the region descend upon Philadelphia for The Boys of Summer, Philly Gay Calendar’s weekend-long bash that leads up to a steamy swimsuit party at Voyeur nightclub. Other weekend highlights include a pool party, a Sunday barbecue and scantily clad lifeguards galore. July, date TBA.
- The Phillies invite all members of the LGBT community, as well as family, friends and groups to celebrate the region’s LGBT culture at the MLB club’s annual Pride Night at Citizens Bank Park. Summer, date TBA.
- Philadelphia celebrates National Coming Out Day with OutFest, a block party in the heart of the Gayborhood that’s made up of drag shows, games, bar crawls and shopping. Philadelphia’s celebration is the largest Coming Out Day street festival in the world. October 14.
- Every second Thursday of the month, Philly’s self-proclaimed tallest, hairiest drag queen puts on a rowdy cabaret above Crêperie Beau Monde in the lovely French-inspired watering hole, L’Etage. The Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret finds the golden-voiced diva belting covers of everyone from Whitney to Bowie; local LGBT artists often open the show.
- Openly gay performance artist John Jarboe hosts the monthly Get Pegged Cabaret at La Peg. The late-night, uncensored affair always features a new lineup of mostly LGBT performers, including Bearded Ladies Cabaret founder Jarboe, and takes a nod from original French and German cabarets from the turn of the century. Performances take place monthly.
- Always provocative dance troupe Brian Sanders’ JUNK throws their annual Snowball soiree. The fundraising extravaganza features performances by the troupe, dancing and decadent beverages and desserts. February 18. Venue TBD.
- Popular gay sex columnist Dan Savage brings the 13th annual Hump! Film Festival to FringeArts, celebrating sex-positivity with 20 adult indie-film shorts. The two-day event is part of a 35-city tour. May 18-19.
- Winter and spring find Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus especially busy. They first join Rufus Wainwright for a special finale performance at Verizon Hall at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts (January 19). Next, they head to Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion for a musical performance of the novel Two Boys Kissing (March 24). A Pride Tour has the chorus hitting the road to Jenkintown, Devon and University City. To cap the season, the chorus takes part in the Choirs ROCK! Concert at the Wells Fargo Center (May 23)—in what aims to be the largest choral concert ever held.
- Soft and sultry songbird—truly, a modern diva for LGBT fans—Lana Del Rey takes her Lust For Life tour to South Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, accompanied by Kali Uchis. The tour’s namesake album earned the songstress her second Grammy nomination, for Best Pop Vocal Album. January 21.
- Darrell Grand Moultrie, a choreographer for Beyoncé, world-premieres a new work as part of the contemporary dance troupe BalletX’s Spring Series 2018, now back at the newly renovated Wilma Theater. BalletX’s Summer Series 2018 promises another world premiere by celebrated out choreographer Matthew Neenan. Spring: March 7-18; Summer: July 11-22.
- Old City’s Arden Theatre mounts the stunningly scored Broadway smash Fun Home, a musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s 2006 graphic memoir of the same name—and the first Broadway musical with a lesbian protagonist. A coming-out story in reverse, the story looks back at its main character’s life in Central Pennsylvania and perspective on her father, through adult eyes.
May 17-June 17.
- After more than 15 years, country-gay icon Shania Twain released her brand-new studio album, Shania Now, in 2017—and now takes the album on tour, her first since 2015. Expect a performance of new singles “Life’s About to Get Good” and “We Got Something They Don’t,” but also obvious crowd-pleasing anthems “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” and “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” July 12.
- Philadelphia experiences two weeks of artistic pleasure during the annual Fringe Festival. Avant-garde performance meets street theater at venues throughout the city. The schedule is always jam-packed with LGBT-centric events, including a popular festival-closing performance by Martha Graham Cracker and provocative works from out choreographers Brian Sanders JUNK and Gunnar Montana. This year will feature The Poison Cookie Jar, a full-scale history of cabaret performed by the Bearded Ladies. September 6-23.
- Last year, Opera Philadelphia kicked off its season by debuting Festival O, also known as O17, with 12 days of more than 25 star-studded performances. Among the packed houses for world premieres and site-specific works were hundreds of LGBT opera fans. The success of O17 promises even more drama by design for O18. September TBD.
Monthly LGBT Gatherings:
- Every month at Tabu, local lesbian-focused party producer Stimulus presents Back 2 Basics. The popular party packs the bar with ladies of all persuasions for drink specials, live DJs spinning and an excellent night of dancing. The event spawns special one-off parties throughout the year during events and holidays like Pride, New Year’s Eve and OutFest.
- Each month, grizzly and nimble-footed men load a suitcase with pasties and props for an over-the-top burlesque performance as part of Tabu’s Bearlesque series, held upstairs every first Friday. Though it’s become a multicity phenomenon, Philly lays claim to the original.
- Northern Liberties’ whiskey-centric, Southern-infused Bourbon & Branch dedicates one Sunday a month to Drag Your A** To Brunch, an upstairs event featuring Brittany Lynn and the Philly Drag Mafia, plus twerk-off competitions, mad-libs and lip-sync battles. Talk about Sunday funday.
- Gamers grab their daubers and head straight to Gay Bingo, a 20-years-running monthly fundraiser hosted by hilarious drag queens known as the BVDs (Bingo Verifying Divas) at The Gershman Y. Themes on the agenda for 2018: Mardi Gras and Studio 54. All proceeds benefit the AIDS Fund.
- South Philly’s Dolphin Tavern hosts Philly’s first and only all Beyoncé, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj dance party. Holy Trinity DJs Dame Luz and Wassup Gina spin tunes from the divas’ catalogues once a month on the dive bar’s neon-lit dance floor.
- One of Philly’s sexiest LGBT-themed ragers, NSFW Dance Party continues in 2018, starting with the return of the popular Thermal Party in February. Dates and venues TBD.
- Our Night Out gives LGBT professionals the chance to network with colleagues and friends at monthly happy hours all over the city.
- Similar to QOTA, Out in Fishtown is a monthly LGBT-centric happy hour taking place in bars around the trendy northern neighbourhood. The group also teams up with event organizers around the city to spotlight their neighbourhood’s understated LGBT community or fundraise for local nonprofits like The Attic Youth Center. Dates and venues TBD.
- Organized by neighbourhood resident and Boys of Summer planner Steve McCann, OUT in Point Breeze unites the southwest Philadelphia neighbourhood’s queer community for casual monthly meetups at venues such as American Sardine Bar and South Philadelphia Taproom. Dates and venues TBD.
- QOTA (Queers on the Avenue) lures LGBT social butterflies to South Philly for a popular monthly mixer along East Passyunk Avenue. The event takes place at a different venue each month, but always features light bites and alcohol. Summertime gatherings are especially vibrant, when crowds spill onto the street, and the holiday party is exceptionally festive. Dates and venues TBD.
LGBT Weekly Events:
- South Street dive bar Bob & Barbara’s draws a diverse crowd for its legendary Thursday Night Drag Show, the city’s longest-running drag show, starring the entertaining Miss Lisa. Adding to the fun: the famous “Citywide Special,” a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon and a shot of Jim Beam for just $3.50 USD. Show starts at 10 p.m.
- Boxers Philadelphia hosts events throughout the week, like an upstairs underwear party on Thursdays, free pool and $6 USD mimosas and bloody Marys on Sundays, a free-to-play Texas hold ’em night on Tuesdays and a nightly happy hour that runs from 6 to 8 p.m.
- Those looking for a low-key night of drinking outside the Gayborhood head to Stir Lounge in Rittenhouse Monday through Friday, with daily happy hour specials. On Thursday evenings, the vibe picks up for Stirsday, when attendees slurp down $1 USD drinks and dance to live DJs until 2 a.m.
- Philly’s original gay sports bar Tabu inspires friendly competition among patrons at popular Quizzo nights on Mondays and Wednesdays. Those events offer food and drink specials and catty banter by hosts drag queen Aurora Whorealis and comedian Connor Michalchuk. Upstairs offers a different vibe most any night of the week with a creative lineup of events—from singing and drag competitions to burlesque shows.
- Songbirds flock to piano bar Tavern On Camac for Showtune Sundays, which broadcasts clips from popular stage and movie musicals and gives patrons a chance to perform for the crowd. The piano bar stays buzzing all week, but with lighter crowds—an excellent option for those looking to try out a song in a more intimate setting. Although dancers tend to bop upstairs to a jam-packed floor on Friday and Saturday nights; early Friday evenings mean an altogether folksy atmosphere for country line dancing.
- Lesbian owned-and-loved Toasted Walnut hosts happy hour Tuesday through Sunday, a “Live on Walnut” music series showcases live performers three times per month and DJs every Friday and Saturday night. When there’s a big game on, guests stop by to check it out on the venue’s 70-inch TVs.
- Every day, Woody’s hosts a happy hour in its gorgeous Globar. On weekends, the bar’s upstairs dance floor packs in the boys for DJs and primo cruising. Those looking for a more intimate dancing experience can try Latin and salsa lessons every Thursday night at 10 p.m.
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About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist based in Toronto with a focus on tourism, lifestyle, entertainment and community issues. He has written several travel articles and has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He’s willing to take on any assignments of interest, attend parties with free booze, listen to rants, and travel the world in search of the great unknown. He’s eager to discover the new, remember the past, and look into the future.