LGBT Civil Rights Movement Draws Thousands to Philadelphia

Equality Forum, an international gay and lesbian civil rights organization, presented one of the nation’s largest annual LGBT civil rights forum last week. Founded in 1993 as PrideFest Philadelphia, the annual event and parent organization was renamed Equality Forum in 2003. Over the years, the one day weekend event with a handful or organizations and speakers has grown into a week long series of events attending by thousands of people from all over the globe.

“Equality Forum 2006’s line-up of substantive programming, parties, special events and live performances further enhances the annual festival’s standing as the premier global LGBT event,” said Malcolm Lazin, Executive Director. “Each year we add to our programming, and this year has been no different.”

Symposiums and panels on marriage, adoption, partner rights, finances, retirement issues, and education were all held throughout the week with large and diverse crowds attending. “I’m attending 4 to 5 panels,” noted Greg Oehme of Bella Vista. “I think there international platform is excellent, considering it’s in my back yard. It’s nice to get information and education from people who devote there lives to this type work.”

“The media often doesn’t give us the entire story,” noted Bryan Miller of Lancaster. “Thankfully we have these panels and experts to fill in the blanks.”

Equality Forum annually examines LGBT issues in a “Featured Nation”. In 2006, China was the Featured Nation with programs about its emerging gay and lesbian civil rights movement. Dan Zhou, a Chinese gay pioneer, spoke in several panel discussions and received the 11th Annual International Role Model. Zhou, a 31-year-old Shanghai attorney, is a leader in gay and lesbian civil rights and HIV/AIDS activism in China. “The struggle for gay and lesbian equality in China is no different then in the United States,” explained Zhou, “Politics and governments may change, but the quest for human diginity does not.”

Local media giant Comcast received the International Business Leadership Award.

A major change in this year’s event was the alliance between Sapphire Fund, an fundraising organization for Philadelphia LGBT service organizations, and Equality Forum. Sapphire Fund hosted its Blue Ball weekend of parties during Equality Forum 2006. Typically held over the last weekend of January, Sapphire Fund moved the well attended events to match Equality Forum’s educational and informational programming.

“As a national event, Equality Forum brings a wealth of educational and cultural opportunities to the LGBT community,” said Brad Richards, President of Sapphire Fund. “Blue Ball is the premier dance event in the mid-Atlantic region. This helps create a unique and exciting LGBT themed weekend in Philadelphia.”

Blue Ball has raised over 1.7 million dollars for local LGBT communities. This years event, a large dance party at the Electric Factory on Saturday, had an attendance of over 1000 people. With the addition of Blue Ball’s festivities to Equality Forum’s stacked weekend, Philadelphia has a destination point for gay and lesbian travellers. Historically, the event has drawn several thousands visitors to the city, and this year was no exception. Early forecasts indicated of a total attendance at all events of beyond 15 thousand people.

Equality Forum 2006 closed with SundayOUT! in Old City The large street festival stretched down Market Street from Independence Park to Penn’s Landing. Along with several thousand festival attendees, a handful of protesters from various religious groups turned out. Accompanied by plain clothed Philadelphia police officers, the protesters and crowd kept a civil and mannered distance. In contrast, Equality Forum held several inter-faith religious services that were open to people of all faiths and sexualities.

Finishing the weekend off was a concert at Penn’s Landing featured pop diva Taylor Dayne.

“This is one of the great things about living in Philadelphia,” exclaimed Mary Murphy of University City. “It’s a great opportunity for people from all different backgrounds and identities to have fun together.”

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