For some, coming out is like finding home

Abington teacher April Tvarok (right) was one of thousands attending OutFest 2009 yesterday.
Abington teacher April Tvarok (right) was one of thousands attending OutFest 2009 yesterday.
Posted: October 12, 2009

The high-school senior felt like she was home yesterday, walking the streets in the Gayborhood during OutFest 2009, the Philly Pride event held each year on National Coming Out Day.

But she's not "at home" in her house.

Her "very Christian" parents are unaware that she's a lesbian, the 17-year-old said.

"In my area, it's very conservative - going to these places [gay events] is very freeing because you can be yourself here," said Carolyn, who declined to give her last name because she does not want anyone in her town or in her home to know that she's gay. It was the first time she'd been to OutFest, attending with her pal John, 19, who also declined to give his last name.

"It feels like you're not alone," said Carolyn, standing at 12th and Locust streets, near the heart of the Gayborhood.

Carolyn was not alone. Philly's OutFest "is the largest National Coming Out event in the world," said event spokesman and senior adviser Chuck Volz.

Obviously, in Carolyn's case, coming out has yet to happen, but for those who do "it's the first stage in realizing who you are," Volz said.

About 120 vendors took part in the daylong gathering, and organizers expected this year's attendance to reach 25,000 to 30,000 - much like last year's festival. Coming Out Day commemorates a 1987 Washington, D.C., rally when 500,000 marched for gay rights, Volz said.

The weather yesterday was perfect to be out and about. Hundreds of gay, straight, bisexual and transgender people - old, young, from different races and ethnicities - milled about the sectioned-off streets to see people and to be seen.

"I love the sense of community," said April Tvarok, 30, a theater teacher at Abington Friends School. "It's really nice to see people who are kind of sheltered out and being proud of who they are."

Many attendees expressed their pride through fashion. They wore necklaces with rainbow-colored peace signs, buttons that read "I'm So Gay" and flag pins. They could hear "It's a Beautiful Day in the Gayborhood" on the Main Stage, or ride a mechanical bull.

OutFest visitors also learned plenty from the variety of vendors who set up shop along the streets. They found out about the upcoming 2010 Gay Games, in Cologne, Germany, and the Oct. 30 fundraiser for the Philadelphia Firebirds, a women's tackle football team (www.gaygames.org and www.philadelphiafirebirds.com)

A section of OutFest was dedicated to health and provided screenings for AIDS and breast cancer.

Tvarok, like others interviewed, had something to say about President Obama's speech Saturday night in which he vowed to end the controversial military policy on homosexuals known as "don't ask, don't tell."

"I love the fact that that's happening," said Tvarok, about the possibility of the policy ending. "I feel it's going to take a long time for people to really grasp that idea, even if it's passed."

Volz, who identifies as a Republican, said "I don't want the gay community to be told by a politician what the politician thinks the gay community wants to hear.

"I want the politician to tell me the truth," Volz said, adding that he'll "wait and see what will happen" in the U.S. military's policy.

Ed Hermance, 69, the owner of Giovanni's Room, a GLBT bookstore at the corner of Pine and 12th streets, said that the president has his work cut out for him.

"We have a lot of needs - and whether he could line those ducks up and march them through Congress, that would be spectacular."

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