Tommi Avicolli Mecca collection
Held at: John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives, William Way LGBT Community Center [Contact Us]1315 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives, William Way LGBT Community Center. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Tommi Avicolli Mecca (b. 1951) is a writer, singer/songwriter, performance artist, and activist. Avicolli Mecca was born to Anthony Avicolli and Rosa Maria Mecca and grew up in a working-class Italian family in South Philadelphia. Attending a Catholic high school, he wrote for the school's underground newspaper and in the neighborhood newspaper, the South Philly Review Chronicle, and he became involved in the anti-war and civil-rights movements. He began study at Temple University in 1969, in part to avoid the draft (he registered as a conscientious objector). He studied creative writing and won the prestigious Temple University "Young Poets" award in 1971, the same year he came out of the closet. He also continued his involvement in activism, joining Students for a Democratic Society (SDS, an anti-war organization) and Temple's Gay Liberation Front (GLF), for which he served as secretary and later chair. With Temple GLF he was involved in organizing the Temple Gay Coffee Hours and participated in a "Kiss a Queer" booth on campus on Valentine's Day 1973. He graduated from Temple University in 1974 with a Bachelor's degree in creative writing.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Avicolli Mecca was involved in many Philadelphia-area Gay rights organizations. In addition to his work with Temple University's GLF, Tommi was also involved with the Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), for which he served as president in 1975, the Gay Media Project (GMP), and was a founding member of Radicalqueens and GALA: The Gay and Lesbian Arts Festival. He was an organizer of the first Philadelphia gay pride march in 1972, was a founder and organizer of the Gay Coffeehouse of Philadelphia (1974-1983), and served in several capacities for the Gay Community Center of Philadelphia (GCCP), including as member of the Building Maintenance Committee, the Policy Council, and the Board of Directors. He established the Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Archives, which grew into today's John J. Wilcox, Jr. Archives. In the 1980s he presented a narrated slide show called "Rocking the Cradle: A History of the Gay/Lesbian Movement in Philadelphia, 1960-1980."
Avicolli Mecca has produced a substantial collection of writings in several genres, including poetry, prose, drama, and journalism. His poems are published in two chapbooks (Magic Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1976), and Boy Dreams (1983)) and appear in such journals as Northwest Magazine, Philadelphia Poets, Fag Rag, Gay Sunshine, Lazy Fair, Mouth of the Dragon, Caesura, and Orgasms of Light, as well as in the newspapers The Drummer, The Weekly Philadelphia Gayzette, GPU News, and in the anthology Gay and Lesbian Poetry in our Time (1988). Many of his early poems have been reprinted in the iBook, Defying You Still (2015).
Prose works are published in as many journals and anthologies including Men Freeing Men (1985), Lavender Culture (1994), Queer View Mirror (1995), Eyetalian magazine (1996), Quickies (1998), The Whole World's Watching (2001), Out in the Castro (2002), I Do I Don't (2004), Sweet Lemons (2004), That's Revolting (2008), and Reconstructing Gender (2009). He is the author of Between Little Rock and a Hard Place (1993) and co-editor of Hey Paesan!: Writing by Lesbians and Gay Men of Italian Descent (1999) and Avanti Popolo: Italian Writers Sail Beyond Columbus (2008). For the 40th anniversary of the formation of the Gay Liberation Front in New York, he edited Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation (2009).
As a playwright and performance artist, Avicolli Mecca has produced and presented numerous original works including Judgement of the Roaches (1978), The Life Expectancy of Snow Creatures (1980), Giving Voice (1985), images of a war unfought (1986), All in All I'd Rather be Having Sex (1997), Italian.Queer.Dangerous (2005) and This Boy Is Just So Strange (2014). In the 1970s he performed in drag reviews (often as Bette Midler or Barbra Streisand) with the activist group Radicalqueens, on guitar and vocals with Paul Tighe as "The Queer Boys," and with Michael Barnett as "Finocchio" (a southern Italian slang word for "faggot"). He founded the multiracial queer theatre troupe Avalanche which performed in Philadelphia (and one summer toured colleges throughout the Northeast coast courtesy of a grant from Philadelphia Foundation) from 1986-1991. In the early 1990s in San Francisco, he performed on guitar with Ted Tallase (vocals and flute) as "Tallase and Mecca." In the late 1990s he spent two years as a playwright in residence at San Francisco's Jon Sims Center, producing three one-act plays: La Madonna Nera (the Black Madonna), the aching in god's heart, and Esther's Boys. His work, He Defies You Still: The Memoirs of a Sissy (originally published in Radical Teacher, 1983), was adapted for stage by Jessa Carlstrom at Bailiwick Repertory in Chicago in 2003. With Doug James he wrote the words for an AIDS-related dance piece called "a man pours" (2012). And with Alison C. Wright, he produced a musical about San Francisco's housing crisis called A Roof over My Head (2016).
As a journalist, Avicolli Mecca served as reporter, local news editor, and managing editor of the Philadelphia Gay News (1981-1991), associate editor of New Gay Life magazine (1977-1978), and has written for the Weekly Philadelphia Gayzette, Boston Gay Community News, Philadelphia Magazine, San Francisco Bay Times, Philadelphia Daily News, San Francisco Bay Guardian, Bay Area Reporter, and for beyondchron.org, sfsentinel.com, 48Hills.org, and other web news blogs.
In 1991, Avicolli Mecca left Philadelphia and moved to San Francisco. For nearly a decade he worked at A Different Light bookstore (1991-2000). Today, he is active in the housing rights movement, having organized (with Jim Mitulski) three shelters, a weekly food program, and a shower project for homeless queer youth, 18-24, in the Castro. In 2015, he helped open Jazzie's Place, the city's first shelter for LGBT people over 18, and Marty's Place, a community land trust co-op for low-income and homeless people with AIDS. He works for the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and dedicates much of his energies to tenant and affordable housing advocacy.
The Tommi Avicolli Mecca collection is comprised of six series: 1) Subject files; 2) Gay Activists Alliance (Philadelphia) records; 3) Gay Media Project (Philadelphia) records; 4) Gay Community Center of Philadelphia records; 5) Photographic slides; 6) Audiovisual material.
The subject files are arranged alphabetically and are comprised of files on organizations, individuals, and topics active in the 1970s and 1980s. Organizations of note include Dignity, the Eromin Center, Gay Liberation Front (GLF), Giovanni's Room bookstore, Homophiles of Penn State (HOPS), Metropolitan Community Church, National Gay Task Force, Pennsylvania Council for Sexual Minorities, Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Coffeehouses, and the Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force. Noted individuals represented include Councilman John C. Anderson, Allan Berube, Victoria A. Brownworth, David Fair, Mayor Wilson Goode, Susan Saxe, William J. Way, and Tom Wilson Weinberg. Topics of note include Gay pride marches, Health, the Men's movement, Police, Politics, Teachers, Theatre, Women, and Youth concerns. Additionally, several folders of photographs and negatives are included in this series.
The next three series include business records of three local organizations that Avicolli Mecca was involved in. Because of the extent of these materials and because they had previously been separated from the collection they have been given their own individual series within the collection. They include records from the Gay Activists Alliance (1971-1976), the Gay Media Project (1971-1977), and the Gay Community Center of Philadelphia (1975-1987).
The Gay Activists Alliance (GAA), founded in 1971, is considered by Avicolli Mecca to be the most influential Philadelphia gay and lesbian group from the 1970s. Modeled after the New York group of the same name, the GAA had over 500 members by 1974. GAA held weekly meetings at Horizon House in Center City Philadelphia and sponsored political forums, zaps, and social events. GAA was influential in bringing a gay rights bill before Philadelphia City Council in 1974, which, while not passing, laid the groundwork for a successful bill in 1982. A large number of Philadelphia gay and lesbian organizations trace their roots to GAA including the Gay Switchboard, the Lesbian Hotline, the Gay Coffeehouse, the Gay Community Center of Philadelphia (GCCP), the Masterbatters softball team, Radicalqueens, the Eromin Center, the Gay Youth Group, and the Gay Media Project (GMP). The GAA folded in 1976.
The Gay Media Project (GMP) was organized following the publication of a sensationalistic article in the Philadelphia Inquirer called "The Gay Revolution in the Cradle of Liberty" in May 1974. In addition to countering the narrative put forth in this article, the group aimed to monitor and respond to media coverage of gay people and to promote responsible and balanced treatment in the media in general. Other notable actions documented in this series include a successful protest in 1975 of a Marcus Welby, M.D. episode scheduled to air on local television station WPVI-TV, and the subsequent co-sponsorship with WPVI of a half-hour television series called "Up Front" which focused on society's fears of gays and lesbians.
The Gay Community Center of Philadelphia (GCCP) was founded in 1975 and opened its doors in 1976 at 326 Kater Street in the Queen Village neighborhood of Philadelphia. It moved to 222 South Camac Street in 1982. The records collected by Avicolli Mecca highlight the organization's establishment and maintenance of programming, search for and renovation of properties, and financial and organizational challenges. The Center sponsored the popular Gay and Lesbian Coffeehouses, established a Gay and Lesbian Library and Archives, and served as the physical home of the Gay Switchboard. It also provided space for numerous gay and lesbian organizations and events. The Center closed its doors temporarily at the end of 1983, re-opening without a physical location as The Community Center Without Walls, and later Penguin Place at 201 South Camac Street.
The series of Photographic slides is comprised of those used in Avicolli Mecca's slideshow "Rocking the Cradle: A History of the Gay/Lesbian Movement in Philadelphia, 1960-1980" (and include a version of the accompanying script), performances of the multiracial queer theatre troupe Avalanche, as well as a large assortment of additional uncategorized slides with historical LGBT content.
Finally, there is a series of audiovisual material that includes cassette and video tape recordings of contemporary events (1967-1988) including public meetings, interviews, and radio programs, as well as musical performances and poetry readings at the Gay Coffeehouse of Philadelphia (1977-1982). Some of the interviews have been transcribed by scholar Marc Stein and his students, and these are included in this series.
Tommi Avicolli Mecca collected these materials throughout the 1970s and 1980s in Philadelphia. For the most part materials come from one of three sources: 1) from Avicolli Mecca's own participation as a member of an organization or as an attendee at an event; 2) from individuals and organizations solicited by him for inclusion in the collection; 3) as part of his work as a journalist for the Philadelphia Gay News and other media outlets. For years Avicolli Mecca kept the collection in a growing number of filing cabinets at his apartment in Center City (first at 1329 Pine St. and later on 23rd St. between Spruce and Locust). Avicolli Mecca donated the majority of the collection to the Archives in the summer of 1991 before moving to San Francisco. Additional materials including slides and photographs were sent to the Archives in subsequent years.
Gift, Tommi Avicolli Mecca, 1991, and subsequent years.
Parts of the original Avicolli Mecca donation were distributed into the general files of the Archives soon after being donated.* Many periodicals were incorporated into the Archives' general periodicals collection (for instance, "runs of Hera, New Gay Life, The Gay Alternative, The Weekly Gayzette, GCCP News, Kater Street, BWMT Newsletter" are listed in the initial inventory and can be found today in the periodicals collection), some clippings files have become part of the general clippings collection (for instance, clippings collected by James R. "Jay" Guthrie), and some organizational records were transferred to the general ephemera collection or were processed as discrete organizational collections (for instance, the "Joan Fleischmann collection on East Coast Homophile Organizations, 1963-1988 [bulk 1963-1965]" and the "Jeffrey Escoffier records of The Gay Alternative, 1972-1976"). Inventories of the collection by folder title were completed in 1993 and 2006 and exist today in the file "Collection documentation, 1991-2011, undated" (Box 1, Folder 1). In 2011, a volunteer in the Archives reorganized the collection, combining some files and distributing additional files to the Archives' periodicals, clippings, and ephemera collections. Some attempt has been made to reunite files which were mistakenly removed from the Avicolli Mecca collection (see the series: Gay Activists Alliance (Philadelphia) records, Gay Media Project (Philadelphia) records, and Gay Community Center of Philadelphia records) when it was finally fully processed in 2015-2016.
*Steven Capsuto, "GLBT Library/Archives of Philadelphia," 11 January 2002, retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20020111191201/http://stevecap.com/libdraft/archives.htm
- Gay Activists Alliance (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Gay Community Center of Philadelphia (Pa.)
- Gay Media Project (Philadelphia, Pa.)
- Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Task Force (Pa.)
- William Way Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center (Philadelphia, Pa.).
- Gay activists
- Gay liberation movement
- Gay rights
- Lesbian feminism
- Radio programs for gays
- Sexual minorities
- John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives, William Way LGBT Community Center
- Finding Aid Author
- John Anderies
- Finding Aid Date
- January 1, 2017
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives of the William Way LGBT Community Center.
Please also see the William Way LGBT Community Center records, 1972-present, Ms. Coll. 21.