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Every year around this time, people, businesses and organizations in Philadelphia put work into creating spaces for LGBTQ people to celebrate.
These chosen family gatherings create an environment of acceptance — and can be a life-saver. For many queer and trans people, Thanksgiving is the first annual reminder they won’t be spending the holidays with the people who raised them.
When Claudia Haddad came out to her parents as trans more than 50 years ago, she was outcast. Her father threatened violence, and her mother didn’t come to her defense. So Haddad, now 72, fled their Camden home and ran away to New York City.
“It hurt being away from them,” said Haddad, who now lives in South Philly. “Because I did want for them to be more understanding.”
This kind of isolation from your family of origin is common enough among LGBTQ people that it can make this time of year hard to bear.
“The holiday season can be especially difficult for LGBTQ people, who may feel misunderstood or unwelcome at family-oriented holidays,” said Celena Morrison, director of the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs. “Having these holiday dinners can sometimes be so much more relaxing with chosen family or community.”
For years, civil rights activist Kendall Stephens spent the holidays alone. When Stephens came out as trans, she too was isolated from her family, and then became homeless.
“It happens to so many of us throughout the entire LGBTQ community,” Stephens said. “Often this is the family that we gravitate to and lean on and seek support from, when our blood-related family is not there.”
Now, she hosts her own potluck for members of William Way’s TransWay support group. This year, she’s expecting around 15 attendees — including Haddad.
“Kendall is my girl. I love her,” said Haddad, who is Indigenous and doesn’t normally celebrate Thanksgiving. “When you understand your family doesn’t care for you, you can make yourself a new family.”
There are several private celebrations like this around Philly. The John C. Anderson Apartments, an LGBTQ-friendly senior housing complex in Center City, is hosting a virtual Thanksgiving gathering. And for the past 25 years, the Attic Youth Center has put together its annual Harvest Dinner for up to 50 LGBTQ children.
There are also public options! If you haven’t yet made plans, check out these Thanksgiving events designed for LGBTQ people and open to anyone.
Celebrate Thanksgiving the way our ancestors intended: hungover, because you got blasted in the Gayborhood the night before.
At Center City bar Level Up, owner Ken Lowe, Jr. has planned a Thanksgiving Eve party with two DJs. Tickets are $10 if you get ’em in advance.
For the actual holiday, Lowe is planning another event: a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with turkey, chicken, mixed greens, mac ‘n’ cheese and more. All totally free.
“I know the resources for our community are already pretty low,” Lowe said. “To be at home by yourself on Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, it’s depressing and it’s not good for anyone. The main thing is making sure we take care of each other as a community, especially during the holiday times when people have no one else.”
The Level Up buffet starts at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving, and will go until 9 p.m. — or until all the food runs out. Lowe said he’s planning to have enough to feed 70 people, and so far about 20 people have registered.
If you’d rather grab a free meal and bring it home, hit up the William Way LGBT Center on Thanksgiving. The Gayborhood nonprofit will have 200 to-go food boxes available on the holiday, according to Darius McLean, William Way’s director of empowerment programs at the Arcila-Adams Trans Resource Center.
The giveaway will be first-come, first-served from noon to 2 p.m. — so stop by as early as you can to grab a box. If there are any leftovers, they’ll be dropped off at Philly’s community fridges.
“The pandemic has pushed an isolated group into more isolation,” McLean said. “To have any moment to gather is an opportunity for us to break up some of that isolation. It’s a great need in our community right now.”