OutFest 2021 is canceled, but Philly Pride celebration is ON for Labor Day weekend

A “lite” version of an in-person festival is better than another virtual event, organizers say.

VinChelle performed at the Penn's Landing festival in 2019

VinChelle performed at the Penn's Landing festival in 2019

Kriston Jae Bethel / for Billy Penn and WHYY

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Update June 22: The organization behind Philadelphia’s annual Pride Parade and Festival has disbanded, and the September event has been canceled. Activists in the LGBTQ community are working to create a new pride event that’s more inclusive of Black and brown communities.

Philly’s annual Pride celebration will be held Labor Day Weekend this year, three months later than usual. The summertime LGBTQ event was skipped entirely in 2020 because of COVID.

This year’s Philadelphia OutFest, however, is canceled.

Philly Pride, which normally welcomes around 25,000 attendees, is known as the largest of its kind in the region. It’s going to look different this year, with organizers calling it Pride Lite.

Instead of taking place in June, it’s scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 4 — a date that gives the city more time to ease COVID restrictions, Philly Pride Presents senior advisor Chuck Volz told Billy Penn.

“We’re doing the best we can with a limited range of information that we expect to change daily,” Volz said. “It’s like we’re reinventing the wheel all over again.”

There will be no public parade, just the ticketed festival at Penn’s Landing. There could be a cap on attendees, which means people might have to buy the $15 tickets in advance. There probably won’t be a headliner, Volz said, and organizers still aren’t sure whether they’ll be able to sell food or drinks.

With most of the Pride details still up in the air, it’s been difficult to secure the usual slate of sponsorships.

“You don’t know how to ask somebody for money when you really don’t know what to tell them they’re going to get,” Volz said. “It’s all going to be a scurry at the last minute to try to figure everything out.”

That’s why OutFest is off the table. Usually held in October, the giant free block party is considered the oldest National Coming Out Day celebration in the country.

Those unsecured Pride sponsorships usually pay for the free Center City extravaganza. It’s even more complicated now, Volz said, because restaurants have outdoor dining structures standing in the streets where the event usually hosts 120+ vendors.

Philly just started accepting applications for permits to host outdoor events again on April 15. But each one is subject to review, per Mayor’s Office spokesperson Kevin Lessard. The Health Department announced on Tuesday afternoon that starting May 7, outdoor events can operate at 50% capacity — an increase from the previous 20% cap.

Volz said the Philly Pride Presents team is not considering a virtual version of any celebration. “I think we’re all collectively tired of virtual events,” he said, “so we’re going to try this.”

In 1990, when Philadelphia held its inaugural OutFest, it was the first city to host a National Coming Out Day event — and Philly Pride is ultimately what led to the area being called the Gayborhood.

Though the central Pride event was canceled last year, some local queer and trans performers held celebrations. A group of 26 Black drag queens produced a virtual show to benefit Black Lives Matter, for example.

For this year’s Pride Lite, as more details become available, Volz said he’ll post them to the Philly Pride Presents Facebook page.

“There’s nothing easy about this. It’s going to require a lot of finesse,” Volz said. “But we just couldn’t take off another year.”

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