This article is part of Made in Philly, a series about young residents shaping local communities.
Neha Ghosh, chief events organizer of the Philly LGBTQ+ group Qunify, runs through a checklist each time they enter a prospective venue.
People of color-friendly? Check. Queer-friendly? Check. Gender-neutral bathrooms? Check.
Founded by Ghosh and four others in 2017, Qunify organizes meetups in an effort to provide safe, inclusive spaces for all LGBTQ+ community members. In two years, it has hosted 40 events all over Philadelphia, attracting as many as 150 attendees.
Former meeting places include popular performance spaces like Johnny Brenda’s, La Peg, and L’Etage, as well as hip hangouts like North Philly’s Love City Brewing Co. and East Germantown’s Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee & Books. But though it may seem like those spots were selected for their reputation or cool factor, in reality, Ghosh and the Qunify team carefully explore and even debate each location.
They usually hold events near public transportation routes, and they change venues regularly to reach people in different neighborhoods. To ensure that a lack of finances doesn’t prevent anyone from attending, the group looks for free or low-cost venues, like the Gayborhood’s William Way LGBT Community Center and the historic LGBTQ bookstore Giovanni’s Room. (They catalog all former meeting spaces on their website in a Queer Philly Map.)
And to make sure the events appeal to everyone in the LGBTQ+ community — not just, say, the happy hour set — Qunify diversifies the activities, too. Some events bring people together to have casual conversations over coffee. Others involve more structured discussion, as with the group’s themed “Our Stories” series, which have covered topics like activism and consent culture. Some of the most popular meetups have been ticketed dance parties, with reduced admission for those planning to stay sober.
Ghosh identifies Qunify’s ability to bring all kinds of people together in one space as the organization’s defining feature.
“When you come to our parties, you see South Asians, East Asians, black folks, Latinx folks, femme folks, masc folks, trans folks — everyone just celebrating the community. That is not something that happens often,“ Ghosh says. “People in New York, when I tell them about Qunify, they’re like, ‘Oh, we don’t even have that.’ When I talk to people in L.A., they don’t have that there.”
Qunify cofounder and chief operating officer Eric Schroeckenthaler cites the group’s mission — to “make additional spaces and experiences open for all LGBTQ+ people” — as their biggest consideration.
“That three-letter word all in front of LGBTQ+ people has become very pivotal in how we think about fulfilling that mission,” Schroeckenthaler said. “We have to put the folks that are furthest to the margins toward the center.”
As Qunify and Ghosh have planned more events, the checklist has grown. Now, Ghosh looks for spaces large enough to hold as many people as they plan to invite. They plan to use microphones at future gatherings to accommodate any hard-of-hearing attendees.
But Ghosh kept coming across a box they could not check — as Sofia Oleas, Qunify’s chief information officer, pointed out, safe spaces are not always physically accessible to all bodies.
“We come from different backgrounds," Ghosh says of their cofounders, who variously identify as black, Latinx, and gender non-conforming. “If it was only me, I would miss things. I’ve learned from my team what other things to look for.”