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'Trans Heaven' on the Delaware River

Plus, Penn State's Taylor Swift crash course.

Welcome to PA Local, a free weekly newsletter about the great people, amazing places, and delicious food of Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

February 9, 2024
Inside this edition: The fade, Phil foes, love notes, FIFA-delphia, hockey takeover, and Trans Heaven, Pennsylvania. Thanks for checking in.
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A Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

Berks County native Taylor Swift made history this week by becoming the only artist to win four Grammys in this category: 

A. Record of the Year
B. Best Pop Album
C. Album of the Year
D. Best Pop Performance

(Keep scrolling for the answer, but don't miss all the good stuff in between. Like what you read? Forward this email to a friend.)
Our five favorite Pennsylvania stories of the week.

» One haircut worth litigating: The “Travis Kelce Fade” has become highly requested as the Kelce brother's popularity grows, but The Root points out he did not invent the iconic cut — and Travis agrees.

» One prediction worth vetting: Punxsutawney Phil has a 39% accuracy rate and told us to expect an early spring. Other local groundhogs also weighed in, and not everyone agreed. Here's how their shadows fell

» One story worth sharing: Love can be found at a garden in Scranton, where WNEP reports a local man created a community space that has grown to hold 1,000 heartfelt (and -shaped) messages

» One tournament worth attending: The 2026 Men’s World Cup match locations in the United States are set. PennLive reports on which rounds Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field is hosting

» One takeover worth watching: Pittsburgh will host a professional women’s ice hockey match in March as part of a Professional Women's Hockey League takeover. Pittsburgh is a fitting location.

🤔 PA NEWS QUIZ: Think you know what's happening in Pennsylvania? Prove it with the latest Great PA News Quiz: Shapiro's big budget, cannabis cash, state House control, and a bogus voter fraud claim.
The top stories published by Spotlight PA this week.
» Ex-senator's lobbying firm hired by state agency

» 'Sin' taxes feed Shapiro's $48B budget plan

» PA drug law hinders opioid recovery efforts

» Racism, harassment pervade public PA universities

» Rural police force disbanded after chief's exit
A group of people gathered by a pool
(Courtesy of Sotomayor Productions | Photo by Ireashia M. Bennett)

The small Pennsylvania town of New Hope boasts a unique place in LGBTQ+ history, having cemented itself as a destination for celebration and self-discovery decades ago. 

New documentaries explore key chapters of that story, and the weekend-long parties that drew celebrants from as far away as Brazil to the banks of the Delaware River. 

Outfest and indie production studio TRAVERSE32 launched the “Creative Hope Initiative,” a new incubator program for filmmakers, to highlight New Hope’s little-known queer history. The initiative created a fund for emerging queer and trans filmmakers to send them to the town to tell five different stories.

Two Pennsylvania natives were inaugural fellows.

Butler County native Kristal Sotomayor and Allegheny County native Hansen Bursic were among the five people chosen. Last November, all five films were showcased at a film festival called Queer Cuts: New Hope. 

Bursic, who now lives in Los Angeles, made Trans Heaven, Pennsylvania about a bar called The Raven. He found out about the place from a previous documentary he did on a transgender woman in rural Towanda, Pennsylvania. She told him about the parties she attended there, and Bursic was instantly intrigued.

“When I saw the grants and incubator, I immediately started digging into the history and asking around,” he told PA Local. “I thought maybe there were 20 trans women or folks who identify as crossdressers showing up to the party, but I didn't realize how massive it was.”

In the 1970s and 80s, New Hope was a place for gay men to explore their sexuality. The Raven was founded in 1979, and later became a refuge for trans people looking for a space to be unapologetically themselves.

A cameraperson films near a pool with a director pointing alongside them.
Sotomayor directing. (Courtesy of Sotomayor Productions | Photo by Ireashia M. Bennett)
Bursic’s documentary stars Jennifer Bryant, who started the trans-centric parties at The Raven in the 2010s. She said it grew from 12 people attending to up to 200 most nights. The space had a piano bar, a large dance floor that extended to an outside patio, and a swimming pool.

Bryant was openly trans at the weekend parties but not in other aspects of her life. She eventually came out, and says it wouldn’t have happened without The Raven.

“I was finding myself, and I wanted to help other people find themselves,” she says in the film. 

Bursic said the venue held a one-day event that grew into a weekend-long party, drawing people from as far away as Canada, Brazil, and Baltimore to experience the euphoric atmosphere. 

“It was pretty revolutionary,” he added.

The film also features journalist and party-goer Kaleigh Webb, who compares the experience to a gay resort. It blew her mind that a small town was holding memorable parties for the queer community.

“That was the thing that got me was this little place in the middle of nowhere,” she says.

Bursic said his work on the documentary showed him how much The Raven had evolved and diversified before it was purchased in 2019, demolished, and replaced with a parking lot.

“They all felt comfortable and safe. To have that happen in a small town speaks to the power of New Hope as a place and safe space, unlike a lot of other places in our country and major cities,” he explained.

Philadelphia native drag queen Mother Cavallucci, who was a patron at The Raven, is the focus of another historical documentary in the Queer Cuts: New Hope collection. Joseph “Josie” Cavallucci captured the attention of many partiers who were enchanted by her fluffy white hair, statement earrings, and over-the-top outfits. 

Cavallucci hosted weddings that served as fundraisers and community parties in the 70s and 80s. She made sure to wear attention-grabbing dresses for the occasion. People traveled from New York, Philly, and California to see them.

Her presence caught Sotomayor’s attention too when she looked through New Hope’s archives for documentary ideas.

“The more I learned about mother, the more I started to personally relate with her story. She lived her life primarily in drag in the 50s and 60s in a time when that really wasn’t quote-unquote normal … She stood out in a way that made space for other people,” Sotomayor said.

Sotomayor’s documentary, Don’t Cry For Me All You Drag Queens, pieces together present and archival images to tell Cavallucci’s story. The film features New Hope drag queens Phoebe Manntrappe and Miss Pumpkin, who retold stories about their experiences knowing Cavallucci, who died in 2000.

“She cared dearly for any of her children. She would defend them to the hilts,” Manntrappe says in the film.

Sotomayor, who lives in Philadelphia now, said she was not familiar with New Hope before the project, but working on it made her appreciate the town’s history. 

“I think my film brings to the forefront this is someone’s lived reality in a time where it really wasn’t accepted or federally legal. An entire town is better because of them and what they brought. Queer storytelling is fundamental to changing people’s minds about LGBTQ rights and trans justice and liberation,” Sotomayor said.

Editor's note: The films are on the festival circuit now and have yet to be released online or on streaming sites. We'll let you know when that changes.

Tanisha Thomas, newsletter writer / reporter
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A quote from a Pennsylvanian that we found interesting this week.

“She set the path. There would probably not be that many women tattooers today, if not for her. For her to be a woman, and to be Black, back then, that’s for real.”

Trap Wright, of Black Ink Orlando, on tattoo pioneer Jacci Gresham, who visited the Philadelphia Tattoo Arts Festival recently

Our favorite reader-submitted photo of the week.
A northern brown snake at the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware County, via Don N. Have a photo to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
a brown snake on gray gravel raises its head toward the camera
The answer to this week's Pennsylvania-centric trivia question.

C. Album of the Year.

Swift’s Midnights album earned her the Grammy this time, making her the first singer to win four times in that category, NBC News reports.

Meanwhile, Penn State Berks' new “Taylor Swift, Gender, and Communication” class is the envy of the Penn State system

Thanks for reading. We'll see you back here next week.

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