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The Philly School District is hosting its first-ever youth pride event this week at School District HQ, meant to give LGBTQ+ students a physical space to celebrate their identity.

Some queer and trans students feel like efforts to spread the word about the event fell flat, and that it could’ve been much better publicized. Whether or not people show up, they appreciate the initiative.

“Ultimately I do think it’s for the better, especially normalizing and exposing young kids to different possibilities,” said Vi Nguyen, a 16-year-old Academy at Palumbo student who is nonbinary. “But personally, I don’t know if it’s an event worth it for me to attend.”

Set for Thursday after school, the party will be hosted in the atrium of district headquarters on Broad near Spring Garden. Students were invited multiple times via their official school email addresses, per an email from a school district staffer. In the invitation, Montrell Duckett, the district’s program coordinator of student leadership, described the event’s goal as creating “a space and platform that cherishes self expression, inclusion, and safety.”

Students are encouraged to register online (do that here). But less than a week before the party, only about 90 had signed up, according to an email obtained by Billy Penn. That’s out of a district that includes more than 200,000 students.

Why haven’t more people committed to going? It’s complicated, they told Billy Penn. For one, not all students have parents that would allow it.

Andrea Rogers, a queer student at Hill Freedman World Academy in Northwest Philly, said she would like to go — but she’d have to ask her mom for a ride, and Rogers doesn’t think she would approve of the event.

Nguyen isn’t going either. They blame the school district’s outreach technique for the low guest count; they said not many students regularly check their official email inbox.

“It’s not really well publicized,” Nguyen said. “There isn’t any Facebook posting about it, and it’s not really posted about on social media or anything. It was very much like, if you got the email or you heard of it from word of mouth.”

Some groups did share the event on social media. Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence, which is a partner in hosting the event, shared it on Instagram. So did the City-Wide Student Government page, per district spokesperson Christina Clark.

The event will include a DJ and dancing, light refreshments, a photo booth selfie station, and tables with info about LGBTQ+ resource centers, Clark added. As it’s an indoor event, masks will be required for all attendees.

Credit: Eventbrite / School District of Philadelphia

It comes during a rocky year for Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community. This summer, the group that ran Philly’s two biggest annual Pride events abruptly disbanded following allegations of racism and transphobia. A new group called PHL Pride Collective took the reins, but there still won’t be any public LGBTQ festivals this year.

Philly public schools do have what are considered relatively progressive policies on the books to prohibit gender and sexuality discrimination.

District Policy 252, implemented in 2016, follows national guidelines on how best to protect trans students — defining common terms and laying ground rules for practices like choosing a uniform and communicating with parents.

Though one event isn’t crucial, 17-year-old Rogers said the overarching theme of inclusion is important.

“I can see how it may seem kind of corny,” said Rogers. “But I also feel like it’s important to show up for stuff like this so they know that there’s an audience for it and continue to have more in the future.”

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...