BY PAUL SCHINDLER | Though the modern LGBT rights movement is typically dated back to the Stonewall Rebellion of June 1969, in fact there were a small number of occasions prior to that throughout the ‘60s when LGBT people affirmatively made their presence known. Both in organized protest and in spontaneous reaction to police action, demonstrators risked visibility — something little known in that era — in cities including New York, Washington, and San Francisco.
In only one city, however, was there an annual event focused on raising gay rights claims. That city was Philadelphia. There, for five years beginning on Fourth of July in 1965, activists came together in front of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in what they called Annual Reminders. Planning for the first such Reminder brought together some of the earliest gay and lesbian organizers — not only from Philadelphia, but from New York and Washington as well.
Barbara Gittings and her partner, the photojournalist Kay Tobin Lahusen (the couple were together 46 years until Gittings’ death in 2007), had worked for more than half a dozen years with the Daughters of Bilitis, a pioneering lesbian group, and for a time produced its magazine, the Ladder. Frank Kameny, whose case against the US Army for his firing from a job as an astronomer went to the Supreme Court in 1961, and Jack Nichols were co-founders of the DC chapter of the Mattachine Society, an early “homophile” organization. New Yorkers in the mix included Randy Wicker, who was engaged in the early protests here and, in 1964, became the first undisguised, openly gay person to appear on broadcast television, and Craig Rodwell, who would go on to found the West Village’s Oscar Wilde Memorial Bookshop.
Philadelphia going all out to commemorate Annual Reminders launched Fourth of July 1965
The first Annual Reminder drew roughly 40 people, one of whom, John James, in a recent interview with Jen Colletta of the Philadelphia Gay News, recalled that his apprehensions about being publicly gay in such a fashion proved unfounded.
“People took it in stride,” he recalled. “I didn’t notice any expressions of either hostility or support. It turned out peaceful. We weren’t attacked by people in the streets or anything.”
The lack of a blowback may have had something to do with the fact that Annual Reminders had nothing of the countercultural flavor that Stonewall and the earliest Gay Pride marches that followed would exhibit. At Kameny’s insistence, men wore ties, and some, jackets as well, while the women were required to wear dresses. The image projected was that of clean-cut, carefully groomed, law-abiding citizens exercising their free speech rights — even if their signs were perhaps startling for the day: “Homosexuals should be judged as individuals” and “Homosexual civil rights.”
The final Annual Reminder took place just a week after Stonewall, which is fitting since the tenor of the times had already changed dramatically since 1965. By June 1970, when New York held its first annual commemoration of Stonewall, gay rights was already becoming a mass movement, where sexual liberation and individual expression took precedence over a disciplined display of earnest civil rights appeals.
For four days in July, the legacy of those early Annual Reminders will be celebrated in a four-day 50th anniversary celebration produced by the Equality Forum, a Philadelphia group that in other years has hosted weeklong Pride events every May. The main event is a ceremony at Independence Hall on July 4, but beginning on July 2, there are also panels, exhibits, religious gatherings, parties, a concert, a street festival, and fireworks planned throughout the four days.
A rundown of activities follows:
National LGBT 50th Anniversary Ceremony
July 4, 2:30 p.m.
Actress and comedian Wanda Sykes hosts.
“America the Beautiful” will be sung by the combined Gay Men’s Choruses of New York, Washington, and Philadelphia.
Special guests include James Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the Ohio marriage equality case now before the US Supreme Court; New Yorker Edie Windsor, the successful plaintiff in the 2013 challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act; Judy and Denis Shepard, who have worked for more than 15 years to combat anti-LGBT violence in memory of their slain son Matthew; and Walter Naegle, the surviving partner of the late civil rights activist Bayard Rustin.
Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, pays tribute to the late Barbara Gitting.
Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Equality Forum, pays tribute to the late Frank Kameny.
Amanda Simpson, a top Pentagon official who was the first transgender American to receive a presidential appointment, will give an overview on 50 years of progress.
Selisse Berry, founder and CEO of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, will discuss jobs issues.
Aisha Moodie-Mills, president of the Victory Fund, will discuss out LGBT elected officials.
Jorge Valencia, executive director of the Point Foundation, will discuss legislative issues.
Bishop Gene Robinson, the retired Episcopal leader of the New Hampshire Diocese, will discuss religion.
Brad Sears, executive director of UCLA’s Williams Institute, which investigates public policy issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity, will discuss the legal terrain.
Tamika Butler, co-chair of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, will look at future challenges.
LGBT History Exhibits:
July 2- July 5
National Constitution Center
National Museum of American Jewish History
The African American Museum in Philadelphia
Liberty Bell Center
Free Library of Philadelphia, Central Library
Christ Church Religious Freedom Tour
July 2, 5:15 – 6 p.m.
A discussion of the Founding Fathers’ views on church-state separation at the institution where more signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution worshipped than any other church.
National Legal Panel
July 2, 6:30 - 7:45 p.m.
National Museum of American Jewish History
Held just days after the Supreme Court is expected to render its marriage equality decision, this panel includes Brad Sears, executive director of UCLA’s Williams Institute; James D. Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & AIDS Project; Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, a partner at Ropes & Gray and the lead counsel in the marriage case; Daniel Vail, the acting assistant general counsel at the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and Kenji Yoshino, a professor at the NYU School of Law.
National Politics Panel
July 2, 8:15 - 9:30 p.m.
Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff moderates a panel that includes Kirk Fordham, executive director of the Gill Action Fund; Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights; Stacey Long Simmons, director of public policy and government affairs at the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force; and Winnie Stachelberg, executive vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress.
National Interfaith Service
July 3, 4 – 5 p.m.
The service will be led by Bishop Gene Robinson; Rabbi Linda Holtzman, a professor of practical rabbinics at Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the rabbi of Philadelphia’s Mishkan Shalom; the Reverend Susan Richardson, assistant minister of Christ Church; the Reverend Timothy Safford, rector of Christ Church; and Rabbi Margot Stein, an instructor in music and liturgy at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and the High Holy Days cantor at Mishkan Shalom.
Parties, Street Festival & Fireworks
Parties will be held on July 3, 4 & 5
Welcome America Fireworks are scheduled for 11 p.m. on July 4 on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
A street festival will be held in Philadelphia’s Gayborhood beginning at noon on July 5.