In December of 2010, the two founders of Our Night Out Wilmington made the decision to create a community of LGBTQ+ people who could meet up wherever and whenever they wanted. At the time, there wasn’t a lot of cultural support for the community, and most people felt more comfortable hanging out at designated “gay bars.”
“It’s not an anti-gay bar thing,” says Joe Sielski, one of the founders. “It was just a way of saying ‘Hey, let’s try this,’ because a lot of us were still looking for a sense of community.”
Sielski points out that at the time, gay marriage wasn’t even a concept in local politics yet.
It all started online. Sielski ran a blog featuring local LGBTQ+ events, and the blog grew faster than expected. This led Sielski’s former co-host to suggest a social networking event for people within the LGBTQ+ community. The first event consisted of about 10 people.
Today the monthly meetups draw anywhere from 150-250 people. The Facebook group is at over 2,400 members.
“It got to a point where I was like, ‘Do you know that person?’ And he was like, ‘No, do you know that person?'”
The two of them found that word-of-mouth was their biggest tool. And, it was bringing more and more people each month.
“A big part of my social circle can be traced back to Our Night Out,” says Joe Johnson, the Facebook page administrator. After realizing a few years ago that he recognized every single person at a meetup, Johnson used his background in marketing to try to bring in some new faces. His involvement began right before COVID-19 shutdowns.
Once places around Wilmington began to re-open, he did all he could to promote the monthly meet-up events. And the work paid off.
“At our last event we had, I think, close to 260 people,” Johnson says, “and looking around, I didn’t know half of them…which is great.”
There are other groups with similar goals. Our Night Out Philadelphia was a big inspiration for the Wilmington-based group. However, Johnson and Sielski agree that part of the unique magic of Our Night Out Wilmington lies in its simplicity.
“I always tell people, we’re three guys and a Facebook page,” Johnson explains. “That’s the structure. We don’t have a bank account, we don’t have an address, we don’t have a legal structure. It’s the third Thursday of the month, and our group is responsible for reaching out to the restaurants and coordinating our attendance. It starts and ends with that.”
“Our simplicity is our strength,” Sielski agrees. “Like how these animals in nature that are the most prehistoric are also the most simplistic, and they’ve lived forever. We haven’t turned it into a cash cow, or other charity things, or anything else. It’s very simple.”
“The sense of community is really tangible here. For me, I can attribute some of my best friends to Our Night Out. We’ve gone to weddings and funerals together. You develop a really strong community in a place where there isn’t one.” Johnson says.
Sielski adds, “As individuals we all experience something very unique that the community provides a solution for. A lot of us haven’t really experienced a sense of belonging. Various elements of society, religion and other socio-political systems have made us feel less-than or like secondhand citizens; marginalized. That’s why we seek the element of community and that’s why it’s so special.”
“This happened at a very ‘lightning in a bottle’ moment where it just worked; and 12 years later, it continues to work.”
To stay up to date on LGBTQ+ news and happenings, and for reminders about the monthly meetups, join the Our Night Out Wilmington group on Facebook.
By Rachel Swick-Mavity
Our Night Out isn’t the only support the LGBTQ+ community has in Delaware. Plenty of healthcare providers have been recognized for excellence as well.
In its 2022 Healthcare Equality Index, the Human Rights Campaign recognized hospitals and health systems that provide affirming care for the LGBTQ+ communities. Christiana Hospital, Wilmington Hospital and Beebe Healthcare all received a perfect score of 100, earning the designation as a LGBTQ+ Healthcare Equality Leader. Bayhealth hospitals in Kent and Sussex counties each received a score of 95, earning the designation of Top Performer. The scores mean the health systems practice nondiscrimination in employee hiring, benefits and policies; provide staff training; excel in patient support and services; and engage in the LGBTQ+ communities they serve.