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April 17 marks the 50th anniversary of what many LGBT rights advocates believe was the first-ever gay rights demonstration held outside the White House. That 1965 event, which is believed to have included just 10 people, including famed gay rights pioneers Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings, was said to be the forerunner to a larger gay rights event held July 4, 1965 in Philadelphia that drew about 40 participants.

“The organized LGBT civil rights movement was launched when activists from New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia staged demonstrations for equality each Fourth of July from 1965 to 1969” in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia, according to gay rights advocate Malcolm Lazin, chair of the LGBT 50th Anniversary Celebration.

That event is set to take place July 2-5 in Philadelphia, with at least one ceremony to be held in the historic Congress Hall, where the U.S. House of Representatives first met from 1790 to 1800.

Veteran D.C. gay activist Paul Kuntzler, who participated in the April 17, 1965 demonstration on the sidewalk in front of the White House, describes his recollections of that historic event in a column in the Blade this week.

“After walking to the White House, I was astonished to see a large cluster of news photographers standing at the corner of Lafayette Square waiting for the red light to change,” Kustzler writes. “After crossing, they began photographing us. I was so unnerved that I kept hiding my face behind my sign.”

The 10 participants, seven men who wore business suits; and three women who wore dresses, according to Kuntzler, believe they made history by drawing attention to the discrimination and oppression that gay people encountered at that time through official federal government policies.

The events over July 4th Weekend this year in Philadelphia will include a National Politics Panel with LGBT movement leaders discussing the progress made since those first “homosexual rights” demonstrations in 1965 – four years before the Stonewall Riots in New York, which have been credited with sparking a more aggressive phase of the gay rights movement. Washington Blade editor Kevin Naff will be the moderator of the July 2 panel in Philadelphia; other events are planned through the weekend and are being announced shortly.

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