Tommi Avicolli Mecca was born and grew up in an Italian Catholic family in South Philadelphia. He later attended Temple University, where, at 19, he became aware of the blossoming gay liberation movement and joined the radical Gay Liberation Front. Along with Cei Bell, he founded the Radicalqueens organization to smash gender roles and helped organize Philadelphia’s first Gay Pride March in 1972.
Tommi went on to serve as president of the Gay Activists Alliance, edited New Gay Life magazine from 1976 to 1979 and wrote for The Philadelphia Gayzette, the city’s first gay newspaper as well as for PGN. Throughout the 70s, he served on the board of the early Gay Community Center and helped organize its weekly coffeehouse.
A poet, writer and performer, he founded Avalanche, the city’s first multi-racial LGBT theatre group and also founded GALA, the Gay and Lesbian Arts Festival.
Tommi’s extensive collections formed the basis of the LGBT Archives at the William Way Center. His personal photographs as well as his narrative slideshow, “Rocking the Cradle,” document the story of early LGBT activism in Philadelphia.
Tommi Avicolli Mecca moved to San Francisco in 1989, where he continues his activism on behalf of LGBT homeless people. A continent away now, Tommi’s contributions to Philadelphia LGBT community will always be profound and enduring.
To learn more about Tommi Avicolli Mecca, visit the John J. Wilcox Jr. LGBT Archives at the William Way Center.
- Bob Skiba, Curator