By now I’m sure many of you have heard of The Welcoming Committee (TWC). If you haven’t, allow me to be your virtual tour guide – they are a group making a splish splash around Philly hosting a slew of events all around the city. The group, which originally started in Boston, has made their way down to Philly and have been adding some variety to they gay scene ever since. Last week I decided to attend one of their recurring events, the Guerrilla Queer Bar (GQB). The idea is to go to a typically straight bar and make it gay for the night. If you’re anything like me, your first reaction may have included some degree of skepticism. ‘Why?’ I asked myself. We have a Gayborhood, do we really need to go throwing our gayness elsewhere? Why cause such a ruckus by ‘taking over’? I quickly realized I was being ridiculous. Why should any gay-related or gay-friendly event have to happen with the 8 blocks that our city is trying to rebrand as Midtown Village anyway? Maybe this new event would be something cool. Maybe I had become so comfortable in my own routine that an event like this is exactly the type of thing I needed. So, I ‘liked’ the group on Facebook and signed up for their e-mail list. Immediately I started feeling good about my decision. The group is cool and active, run by two funny and passionate coordinators. The decision was official, I was going, so I started recruiting friends to come along with me.
After waiting in a short line to get in – which I just took as affirmation that I made a good decision coming to an event that was obviously popular – we entered a pretty packed Tavern On Broad. From what I could tell, the crowd was similar to what it had been during past visits to Tavern. I saw some familiar faces, but for the most part, it was just a full bar hosting both gay and straight patrons all having a good time. Crazy right? I know, I thought so too. I doubt that Tavern regulars even knew all us mo-mos were there. Well, that is of course until the DJ decided to play "Drunk in Love" and "I Want It That Way" back-to-back. Girllll, my heart damn near stopped. If I had the room, I would have death dropped out of happiness. You should have seen my Mariah hand going during "Drunk in Love". Anyway, you get the picture. We may have gotten a few side glances from bros who wondered what the hell came over everyone when Beyonce came on, but it was about time they learned she was perfect. So, they’re welcome. Needless to say, I left the event happy. I had a great time, met a few new people, and ran into a few good friends I didn’t even know were going.
I felt silly about my initial skepticism and wanted to learn more about what was coming up for TWC. So, I took to good ole Facebook to track down the coordinators (remember the funny, passionate, cool people I referenced earlier? It’s ok, you can scroll up if you have to) to find out what was coming up next, and to ask a few questions about TWC and GQB. Then, because I am a genius, I thought to share the wealth with you all. You’re welcome. So, without further ado, take a second to meet the TWC coordinators for Philadelphia, Kevin Haines and Mary Pitek, and read about all the fun things they have coming up!
How did you get involved with TWC?
Kevin: I found out about it the day of the first takeover back in September at Grace Tavern in Graduate Hospital. Mary, who had just moved to Philly from Boston, was beginning the TWC Philly and I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting her the minute I walked in the door (lucky me!). We started talking about the mission and how it would be something different for Philly, and I was amazed by it all. Thankfully, she, along with Daniel Heller, who started TWC about 6 years ago in Boston, asked me to be a Philly Community Manager and I excitedly and happily accepted. Since then it’s been an amazing experience spreading the group throughout the city and getting people involved in the takeovers and destination trips (we went to Vermont in January).
Mary: As Kevin mentioned, I moved from Boston in August 2013. I’ve been a TWC member and an avid GQB-goer for the 4 years I lived in Boston and really re-engaged with the TWC mission about a year before I left. Daniel asked me in July if I would be interested in spreading TWC to Philly and I jumped at the opportunity. For me, The Welcoming Committee is a community that the LGBTQ scene has always lacked. I’ve always felt as if there were silohs up, separating the L-G-B-T-and-Qs, and at TWC events I felt like those silohs didn’t exist. With TWC I’ve gone places with a community of people I may have not met if I just went out to a “typical” gay bar and it really helped me expand my community in Boston. I selfishly jumped at the opportunity to try to build that community in Philly!
What is the mission of TWC?
The Welcoming Committee’s mission is to bring a community of LGBTQs together and bring them…everywhere. What that means and looks like is bringing total inclusion to our events, in spaces that for one reason or another we wouldn’t typically go to. That may look like a “straight” bar or it may look like Atlantic City, or a Flyers game. When you bring LGBTQs together en masse you get the comfort of a gay bar wherever you go. It’s an incredible feeling.
Did you have any favorite moments or cool stories from last week’s Guerrilla Queer Bar?
In Philly that was our 6th and biggest GQB yet and it was such an incredible turn out! We have a few favorite moments from the evening: the fact that 410 people whispered “pineapples” into the bouncers ear (Tavern waved the $5 cover for our members if they said the password “pineapples”); a line wrapped around the block (not that we like making people wait, but it signified a huge demand); and the fact that the entire bar felt like an amazing house party (it’s a night out where you actually get to talk, engage and meet new people at our events.) During the event we were able to mingle with some people and hear what they had to say about TWC. Their responses were incredible! Some said they plan their month around the event, which is great to know. And others appreciate the event for being in new spaces and actually being able to talk to and meet new people. The managers at Tavern on Broad were more than welcoming and were sure to ask if we needed anything throughout the night and have offered to work with us for many future events.
What can people expect from TWC in the future?
A ton! In January we brought about 25 Philly members to meet up with 150 Boston TWC members for a ski trip in Vermont. Last Friday prior to GQB, a group of 70 of us did a takeover at the opera to see Ainadamar, which was a fun thing for us to do together – something different and culture-based. We have many more cultural events planned — think museums, sports events, iconic festivals, and more. On March 8th we are taking over the 76ers and our early sign up for tickets is already open! We also will incorporate travel (like the ski trip) throughout the year to region wide destinations. To view upcoming and past events, go here.
We have a LOT in store for Philly in the upcoming months, so be sure to follow us on Twitter (@TheWCommittee) and Facebook (facebook.com/TheWelcomingCommittee) and let your friends know to sign up on our website to receive our e-mails.
In a time where people are predicting that gay bars will soon be a thing of the past (an issue I can go on and on about, but for now I’ll just say, let’s hope not), I think organizations like TWC will play an important role in the future of gay events and creating safe, fun, and accepting places to socialize. Hope to see some of you at future events!