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The organization that ran Philadelphia’s annual Pride parade was thousands of dollars in debt to the city when it imploded this summer, Billy Penn has learned. It also appears to have stiffed several small businesses and at least one performer.
After running the city’s major public LGBTQ events for 28 years, Philly Pride Presents disbanded in June after long-standing allegations of racism and transphobia came to a head. Records show the nonprofit never paid the $11,435 balance it owed the city for providing services like trash pickup at the 2019 parade and festival.
Furthermore, vendors who paid for spots at the 2020 and 2021 events — all canceled — say they never got refunds, despite repeated inquiries to executive director Franny Price and senior adviser Chuck Volz. Reported losses range from $650 to $2,200 each.
The pattern didn’t begin with the pandemic. Drag performer André Henson said he was never paid for his services after headlining the 2018 Pride festival.
“It made me feel insignificant,” said Henson, who performs under the name Alzéi Barbei Mizrahi. “It was degrading.”
The payment snub stung deep for the LGBTQ vendors, who said they never thought they’d be abandoned by their own community.
“We wanted to be there and be present to show that a lesbian-run business can succeed,” said Kari Alvaro, who with her wife owns Sweet Girlz Bakery in Easton, Pa. “Now we feel like we got smacked in the face.”
Activist and writer Abdul-Aliy Muhammad, who’s helping organize the new PHL Pride Collective that hopes to revive citywide events, said the old nonprofit had a bad reputation when it came to money.
“There’s been a lot of questions surrounding their finances. It just doesn’t add up,” Muhammad said. “The question is, do they have any assets? Did they fundraise, did they have any other money in preparation for PrideLite? And what happened to that money, if so?”
Tax documents for the last five years of the Philly Pride Presents’ operations aren’t available. Records from 2015 show the organization brought in close to $250,000 that year. Of that, about $60,000 went to executive compensation. It’s unclear what happened to the other funds.
Bylaws published on the 2019 version of Philly Pride Presents’ website stated that if the organization ever disbanded, it would redistribute any remaining assets to the government for a public purpose.
No one in the community had heard of any such funds distribution. Currently, former executive director Price is running for mayor of Folcroft, a town in Delaware County. For that campaign, she’s going by the name Franny DiCicco.
Neither Price nor senior advisor Volz responded to requests for comment for this story.
Price to vendors: ‘There is no money’
Kari Alvaro and her wife Vicki always wanted to sell their sweets at Philly Pride.
They attended the festival in 2019 to scope it out, and the Easton business owners had such a great time that they decided to finally get involved. They reached out and were told to submit a form. Vicki said they were a little off-put by Price’s communication style, which she said ranged from “not very friendly” to “silent.”
Still, they booked a booth for the 2020 Pride and OutFest events, at the cost of $950. Vendors were regularly charged for space at the two festivals, in return for selling their goods.
When the coronavirus forced the cancelation of the 2020 festivals, it was radio silence from Price. Vicki and Kari hounded her for more information, and Price finally said she was keeping their $950, but they could use it as a credit for the 2021 events.
“Then we came home from vacation last week, and I said, ‘Hey, I haven’t heard anything about Pride. Maybe we should call,'” Vicki said. “We had no idea it was canceled [again]. So it’s like, now what?”
The couple said they pestered Price for answers. “We asked for our money back, and she said, ‘There is no money.'”
Their bakery is among seven businesses that confirmed to Billy Penn they were never refunded 2020 or 2021 deposits. (14 total vendors were listed on the Pride website in May; the others did not respond to inquiries.)
All the business owners reported difficulty communicating with Philly Pride Presents. The original bookings were vague, and there were no official contracts to sign. Then the group disbanded.
“As an LGBTQ-run business we were very taken back by this,” wrote Laura Borucki and Jessica Reynolds, partners and co-owners of the Waffle Mamas food truck, in an email. “Also as a small business, $1,000 can make or break us, especially with the difficulties we experienced during COVID.”
Jeremiah Bodner, owner of Jeremiah’s Custom Cuisine, has been bringing his food truck to the Penn’s Landing Pride Festival since 2015. He was billed $850 to vend there and at OutFest in 2020 — both were canceled. He was then inexplicably charged another $300 for the 2021 events, despite Price telling him his first payment would count as a credit.
Bodner said he originally swallowed the extra charge because Pride was one of his biggest and most profitable events of the year. Now that the organization disbanded, he’s opened a case with MasterCard to get his money back.
“The problem is, the only proof I have is that this is my business and [that] company closed. But I did pay them,” Bodner said.
City unsure what to do about debt
Price’s nonprofit is in debt more than $11k to the City of Philadelphia for services at the 2019 summer festival — including almost $4,000 for the Streets Department and more than $2,000 owed to the Fire Department.
Spokesperson Kevin Lessard said the city is still considering its next move.
“The city invoiced them. They did not respond,” Lessard said. “The administration is still determining its legal rights and remedies.”
A long-time OutFest volunteer, Henson reached out to Price via email to request a paid performance at Pride. He invoiced the organization just $200 for a 5-minute original Rihanna mix, for which he also designed and created a brand new costume featuring a vintage Eagles jersey.
In Henson’s emails with Price, shared with Billy Penn, she discussed other logistics but never responded to his request for payment.
But then-senior adviser Volz, with whom Henson said he shared a romantic relationship, sent him a picture of the headliner list with his name on it. Henson assumed the org had agreed to his terms, and he’d be paid.
But he never was.
“When you’re talking to them it’s like a blank wall,” Henson said. “It’s like you’re negotiating something with somebody, and they’re like, ‘Mmhmm, yeah,’ and they completely avoid what your conditions are, and they do everything based off what they’re comfortable doing as if you didn’t say anything at all.”
Margaret Cho’s publicist, Ken Phillips, said she didn’t have any issues with payment that year. To this day, Henson wonders whether his romantic relationship with Volz played a part in the organization’s failure to pay him.
Though it won’t be able to erase the damage done to past vendors and performers, organizer Muhammad hopes the new PHL Pride Collective can build a stronger future — one where paying people is a priority.
“We’re at such an early phase, but our commitment is that this won’t happen,” Muhammad said. “It’s a value, a personal commitment, and also a collective commitment. We have to ensure folks get paid for their labor.”