October 12, 2012 by Jolie.Higazi
OutFest 2012 welcomed thousands of Philadelphians who brought their own rainbow “out” to celebrate the city’s diversity Oct. 7 in Center City’s Gayborhood. Participants enjoyed free giveaways, music, drag shows and artistic entertainment.
OutFest is the Philadelphia region’s nod to National Coming Out Day, which is officially celebrated Oct. 11. NCOD is a worldwide celebration of individuals proudly proclaiming their sexual or gender identity. The event, one of two annual celebrations organized by Philly Pride, aims to “[advance lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] rights through the visibility and awareness that our parades and festivals create,” according to the organization’s website.
Emet Tauber, a member of Drexel’s LGBTQ group the Foundation of Undergraduates for Sexual Equality, was just one of thousands who attended the event.
“I got a lot of information about LGBTQ groups in the area. … There were also protestors there, which made it interesting, but most people drowned them out and just tried to have fun,” Tauber wrote in an email.
A vendor at the event praised the rain, saying that there were significantly fewer protestors because of it. The event, which was the “largest coming out day event of the year” in 2011, hosted flea markets, information and entertainment.
One of the vendors at the event was a live spray paint artist who calls himself “Production 13.” With his mp3 player blasting music, crowds gathered around his tent to see him create his spray paint art. He changed to a new song for each piece he did, and he would take a deep breath, strap on his facemask and hook the audience with his performance. Those gathered were stunned when, at several points during his creation, he would literally set fire to his piece and watch until the flames were extinguished and the effect was visible in the painting. For the five minutes or so that each piece took to create, they were detailed, and most included the LGBT rainbow or another trademark of Philadelphia.
Drexel University, along with 152 other organizations, was a sponsor of the event. Drexel was the only major university to sponsor OutFest 2012.
“I think this shows that Drexel really cares about its students no matter who they are and wants to show its support. I also think it’s just part of Drexel’s spirit of giving back to the community,” Tauber wrote.
Associate Dean of Students Rebecca L. Weidensaul wasn’t surprised by the fact that Drexel was the sole university sponsor of the event.
“From my perspective I’m not at all surprised because I think that the work of the Office of Equality and Diversity in terms of providing leadership for creating a welcoming, inclusive, respectful and engaging campus community is part of the reason why … we are involved with the event,” Weidensaul said.
The Student Center for Inclusion and Culture at Drexel is working hard to show support for all students.
“I think we have a lot of [support] on campus to make Drexel an LGBTQ-friendly institution. From my perspective, in working with students, I think it certainly is a priority for us … to be welcoming students who are looking for LGBTQ-friendly campuses,” Weidensaul said.
Taking on a sponsorship role for OutFest was just one way of “championing this initiative” to make Drexel more LGBTQ-friendly. There is also work being done to create a designated center on campus for LGBTQ individuals. The LGBT center is scheduled to open in the basement of the Creese Student Center during the upcoming winter term.
“We don’t want to open up prematurely and not be ready,” Weidensaul said, “We want to be sure that we understand … who [the center] serves and what its purposes are. The more unified the vision, the better.”
The center would also work to offer students gender-neutral bathrooms and housing environments that are equally comfortable for all students, regardless of gender orientation.
“The reality is that there’s no one that thinks that this is a bad idea. … Our heads are not in the sand,” Weidensaul said.
The Student Center for Inclusion and Culture is also taking initiative by planning events as part of November’s Transgender Awareness Month. The center is hosting a vigil for a Kyra Cordova, a 27-year-old transgender woman killed in Pennsylvania in early September. A Drexel alumnus who now works for Johnson & Johnson and self-identifies as transgender will speak at the event.