A pandemic Thanksgiving: How Pa.’s LGBTQ community is celebrating during lockdown
(Image via Philadelphia Gay News)
By Sebastian Fortino
For this Thanksgiving holiday, the CDC has advised Americans to stay at home and not travel. In Philadelphia, indoor gatherings of more than one household have been banned until at least January to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
The pandemic has taken its toll on people regardless of age, socioeconomic status, where we work, or where we live. Everybody must take care to protect themselves and those close to them, especially during a time that is usually known for large in-person gatherings.
“The most we’ll venture forth is to sit on the sofa and call or text our friends,” says Mary Groce who lives with her partner Suz Atlas at the John C. Anderson Senior Apartments in the heart of the Gayborhood. “We even plan to Zoom with family during dinner.”
Groce said that Senator Sharif Street donated free Thanksgiving turkeys to JCAA residents and that William Way Community Center will also deliver much-needed cheer by delivering hot dinners.
The William Way Center, who normally brings together groups of locals to celebrate with their chosen LGBTQ familes, promised that despite changes the last Thursday in November will not go unmarked. They are calling the revamped effort “Thanksgiving to-Go.”
“It may be awhile before we’re all able to celebrate holidays together,” they said in a recent newsletter. “So this Thanksgiving we’ll be giving out boxed dinners to-go at the Center from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm, or until the food runs out. As much as we all miss socializing, guests picking up a meal will not be allowed inside, and everyone will be reminded not to eat or congregate on the sidewalk or surrounding area.”
About two hours away in quaint Milford, Pike County, the current mayor of the tourist town is notable gay rights activist, HIV-activist and author Sean Strub.
Under his leadership he “closed down” the borough of Milford before any other municipality in the Commonwealth back in February. At first his constituency raised objections, but over time they have become pleased with his initiatives as the county has a very low count of COVID-19 infections.
In his other role, Strub is an owner of the Hotel Fauchere, an historic inn dating from the 19th century. The inn has had to make adjustments to its normal Thanksgiving plans.
“I will be well-masked and at the hotel part of the day. We are serving guests, at distant tables, etc., and we will have an especially big take-out business,” Strub said last week. “Most reservations are on our heated porch outdoors, or in our large dining room that has a wall of windows and is well-ventilated.”
After duty is done in the dining areas he will celebrate with what he affectionately calls his “breathing group,” which consists of his husband Javier Morales, his sister Megan, and her partner Doug Manion. It really has been a family effort before and during the shutdown, both at the hotel and in Strub’s work.
“Megan’s partner, Doug,” Strub shared, “is an infectious disease doctor, and he advises the hotel and Milford borough on Covid issues.”
Eagles-fan and comedian Aunt Mary Pat DiSabatino doesn’t just reside in Delaware County, which she affectionately calls by the local moniker of “DelCo,” she is its unofficial spokeswoman. We checked in with the performer, homemaker, boxed-wine enthusiast, and supermarket employee asking how she and her vibrant family will celebrate this year.
“I literally had to break up a fight over the toilet paper shortage the other day,” reminding us as a supermarket employee she’s a frontline employee at what she lovingly calls “the Ackamee.”
“And of course my boss Jim DiBlazio does nothin’ for me! Anyway, we’re doing the Zoomsies Thanksgivin!’ Virtual dinner with my mom Charlene, ‘cuzzin’ Cheyenne and my family.”
Like many families, the DiSabatino gang will miss what they love to do in person with loved ones. But, there is a brightside to this, she shared: “At least this year nobody’s gotta worry about aunt Marge forgettin’ the rolls!”
DiSabatino is perhaps most-upset about not being able to give back to the community in the form of entertaining locals.
“This year we had to scale back our shows and cancel a lot of planned events” she lamented with PGN over a glass of boxed wine via Zoom. “It made me so sad! However, I’m glad we were able to make the events happen that we could. We also have a digital event planned on December 11th, just in time for Christmas.”
In West Philadelphia, the Rev. Jeffrey Jordan of the Whosoever Metropolitan Community Church reminds us that despite the manifold challenges we have been dealt due to the pandemic, there is still much to be thankful for. Perhaps this year more than others.
“Typically our congregants spend time with their families, or small groups that they call their families, their chosen families,” Jordan said. “I have three different groups in the congregation I know of who normally celebrate with their found families. Traditionally with me and my partner, his family does Thanksgiving and normally mine does Christmas. None of that is happening this year. We are a boring traditional married couple that splits the holidays between the two families.”
But, as a pastor of a Christian denomination in an ethnically diverse church who embraces different walks of life, especially LGBTQ people and the elderly, he is most excited about Advent which starts on the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
“We have already sent out advent kits to all the congregation,” he shared. “Normally the first service after Thanksgiving everyone comes to the church and brings an ornament. This year, since we are worshipping virtually, we sent an ornament which represents the church so they can hang it on their trees at home.”
For Jordan, thankfulness and gratitude is especially poignant this year. That’s because Jordan is a self-described four-time heavyweight champion when it comes to battling, overcoming and surviving serious illnesses.
He is an HIV and HepC survivor, and about a month ago he underwent surgery for prostate cancer. But this holiday season he, and undoubtedly his flock, are especially thankful that he successfully pulled through a COVID-19 diagnosis.
“We’re all experiencing lockdown and many of us may be alone. However, true thankfulness is to value your life. You should not be foolish with your health, or the health of others. The message for this Thanksgiving is to value the life that you have and the lives of those you love.”
Sebastian Fortino is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared.
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