A Monumental Challenge to GLBTQ Philadelphia

#MonumentLab #EqualityForum

Dear GLBTQ Philadelphia and Our Straight Allies:

I’m issuing you a challenge. Recently I learned about Monument Lab, a project in Philadelphia this spring seeking new ideas for public monuments throughout the city. Several information events are planned throughout May and June to take the pulse of what the city wants. I wrote to the organizers the other day and suggested a monument be made to recognize Philadelphia as the site of the first gay and lesbian civil right marches in the country, which began on July 4, 1965. Monument Lab responded, inviting me to attend their opening and to continue to talk with them about this possibility. 20150503-031346-11626763.jpgThis is where you come in. If we want Monument Lab to make this proposal a reality, we need to let them know in a strong way and use allies such as Equality Forum to press the issue. A monument to this important moment in history also helps build a case for Philadelphia being designated a UNESCO World Heritage City (another wonderful cause!) Below is the text of the letter I wrote to them making the case of why this memorial is important to all Philadelphians. I encourage you to come to one of the meetings listed on their website and to post your thoughts on Monument Lab’s Facebook page . Maybe you will join me at the opening reception, which is free and open to the public. Information is below. Let’s build a coalition. Let’s do this! –Kelly McQuain


Dear Monument Lab:

Your project sounds like a good one. If I were in a position to advocate for a monument to be added to Philadelphia, I’d vie for one commemorating the gay and lesbian civil rights marches outside Independence Hall that began on July 4, 1965. Here in Philadelphia, at the very spot where our country was forged, began a movement that this summer may finally bring nationwide marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples. 2015 is the 50th anniversary of the event.

This piece of history is not taught to tourists by the guides at Independence Park (I’ve asked), but it’s important because this rights struggle cuts across race, ethnicity, gender, age, and class. I find it sad people can no longer march in front of Independence Hall, even sadder that young people in their teens and twenties are growing up ignorant about things like the AIDS pandemic. I imagine the anniversary of the birth of the gay rights movement will be largely overlooked outside the gay community, but it shouldn’t be. That many straight people probably don’t think this fight is their fight too is exactly why we should have such a monument.

Kelly McQuain
Assoc. Professor of English
Community College of Philadelphia


Friday, May 8 5:30 – 7:00PM
Preview Talk and Party — Philadelphia Center for Architecture, 1218 Arch Street. A Conversation with Monument Lab Co-Curators Ken Lum, Paul Farber, and A. Will Brown, moderated by UPenn Professor Karen Beckman. Reception with Happy Hour refreshments to follow. Pre-registration encouraged: see Facebook https://www.facebook.com/events/552448511559825/


For more on Philadelphia’s historic  LGBTQ anniversary, click here.

Barbara Gittings at an Annual Reminder in 1966.

Activist Barbara Gittings across from Independence Hall on July 4, 1965.


Philadelphia as a World Heritage City?

#GlobalPhiladelphia #PhiladelphiaLiterature #poetry #PhillyPoetryDay

Good news for Philadelphia. The Global Philadelphia Association (GPA) is helping to sponsor Philadelphia as a World Heritage City, a UNESCO distinction.

I had the privilege of meeting Zabeth Teelucksingh, the GPA’s executive director, at Community College of Philadelphia last week when she was a guest speaker for International Festival, an annual spring event. I was there to accept an award for a poem for a contest among faculty, and even better was seeing that two of my students had been selected by the contest judges for the essays they wrote about their international journeys to come to this country. Teelucksingh gave the keynote address, and I was delighted to gain insight into the application process GPA is undertaking to make this designation a reality.

Philadelphia already has seen Independence Hall gain designation as a World Heritage Site. The city now wants that designation broadened. The World Heritage City designation is one of six designations overseen by UNESCO.

For a long time, I have told anyone who will listen that I’d like to find collaborators to help make Philadelphia a UNESCO City of World Literature, which is an additional distinction and part of its Creative Cities Network program. Currently, only Iowa City has this feather in its cap. Philadelphia should not only be a World Heritage Site, in my opinion, but it should also be honored for its ongoing contribution to the literary (and other arts) as a Creative City or City of World Literarure. The Global Philadelphia Association is taking the first step in making the former happen, and it just might some day lead to the latter opportunities at some point in the future.

Philadelphia not only holds special significance as the birthplace of America, it’s also a city that has been the stomping grounds for writers as diverse as Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe –and, more recently– the likes of poets Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and Edward Hirsch, each of whom studied here, as did novelist John Edgar Wideman. Pearl Buck lived for decades in Bucks County, and Sonja Sanchez, Eleanor Wilner, and Elaine Terranova have all been literary prize-winners who have made the city their permanent home. (And I haven’t even scratched the surface of Philly’s Language Poets.) It’s the way language arts thrive in Philadelphia academically and on the grass roots level that make me happy to live here, and we shouldn’t forget the city’s history as a major publishing hub, either.

Efforts by folks like the people at the Global Philadelphia Association are welcome, and this idea of becoming a World Heritage City is long overdue. I’m confident it will happen, and that it will lead to even greater things to come.