The morning of Samantha Giusti’s wedding, she awoke in Old City and took a short walk over to the historical marker at 6th and Chestnut. Symbolic because it commemorates July 4, 1965: the day Philadelphia LGBT activists marched near Independence Hall, demanding equal rights.
Four years before the Stonewall Riots in New York, it was the first major LGBT visibility march in United States history.
“I walked over to that marker and I thanked them, the heroes and pioneers who came before us and fought for our rights,” Giusti says. “On that day, it felt really special.”
Without the brave work of these activists, Giusti and her wife would not have been able to access the thousands of benefits that come with legal marriage.
It took just five months to plan her wedding, but she and her partner scrambled to make it official, worried that the federal protections for gay marriage – created by an executive order during the Obama administration – might be overturned in the age of Trump.
“I was anxious to get it done, hoping we might be grandfathered in if anything happened,” Guisti said, describing other same-sex couples like her who also raced to tie the knot by the end of 2016 – just in case.
But Giusti's familiarity with the ongoing struggle for equality stems not only from her personal experiences but also professionally. After volunteering for years at the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund (DVLF), a philanthropic LGBT community organization, she rose to the position of executive director, a role she has held since 2012.
For her, it was just a natural fit.
“It’s an organization I love [and] I never missed an event,” Guisti said, “so I took the next step.”
Once a year the organization hosts its HEROES luncheon. The annual celebration of leaders in the local LGBT community looks to “identify youth, adults, nonprofits, straight-allies and businesses who have bold ideas, act with selfless intention, are admired for their integrity, and are regarded as courageous in advancing the equality of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in the Delaware Valley and beyond,” according to its mission statement.
This year’s luncheon will be held Sunday, April 9 from 12:30-3:30 p.m. at the Hotel Monaco. and the general public is invited to buy tickets to join and groups are encouraged to sponsor, as the event supports the philanthropic work of the organization.
The award winners are a diverse lot. “They all do different work,” Giusti says, “and they’re all special.” She describes Sergio Morales-Garcia, the winner of this year’s Adult HERO Award. Morales-Garcia overcame discrimination and homelessness to become a renowned HIV/AIDS activist at the GALAEI organization. “He’s such an incredible leader in the Latinx community,” Giusti says, “and in light of the events last year at Pulse Nightclub, it feels even more important to lift up the folks doing work for this part of the community.”
On the day, long-time activist Hershie Zinman won the Lifetime Legacy Award. An honor when asked Guisti personally was extremely excited about. “If you know him, you know what he’s done for the community for decades,” Giusti says. Zinman’s accomplishments include being a driving force in Philadelphia’s response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic and a catalyst in the creation of such groups as ActionAIDS, the AIDS Fund, SafeGuards Gay Men’s Health Project and DVLF itself. Zinman also co-founded the AIDS Library of Philadelphia which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary.
Then there’s PHL Diversity, a business development division of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is receiving DVLF’s Business Hero Award this year, for bringing an increasing number of LGBT-centric conferences to the city. “They’ve made this the gayest year yet,” Giusti lauds, reciting a list of national conventions coming to Philly. “They show all these groups that this is a great place to live, work and do business.”
So why should you consider attending this year’s HEROES luncheon?
“Even if you’re not an activist, just a regular person, you might have a little money to spare to enjoy lunch and be inspired...in 2017, if you’re looking for a way to get involved and tap into your community, we would love you to be a volunteer,” Guisti said.
After all, it was just regular people who stood up for rights who made history on the corner of 6th and Chestnut over 50 years ago, and for that matter and over 200 years before that in 1776.
For more information on the HEROES luncheon and to get involved with DVLF, visit dvlf.org/heroes.