It will be 50 years come this summer since the country’s first public demonstrations for LGBT rights took place here in Philadelphia, and locals are gearing up to mark the anniversary.
The commemoration of the Annual Reminders will take place July 2-5 and include panels, LGBT history exhibits, parties, a festival and special events, with the 50th Anniversary Celebration taking place on a stage in front of Independence Hall on July 4, where the first pickets were held in 1965.
Malcolm Lazin, executive director of organizing partner Equality Forum, confirmed that the event will be held in lieu of his organization’s annual spring festival, which each year brought international guests to discuss LGBT-rights issues and concluded with the SundayOUT! at the Piazza.
“They are close in time, and given that this is a national LGBT celebration and likely a historic event for the community, we wanted to utilize all of our resources for this event,” Lazin said.
He was joined by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Independence National Historical Park Superintendent Cynthia MacLeod, Visit Philly President Meryl Levitz and subsets of the Los Angeles and Philadelphia Gay Men’s choruses for a press conference to announce plans for the celebration last week.
Mayor Nutter called it “fitting” that the anniversary coincides with Independence Day.
“The Fourth of July is typically a day of celebration, barbecues and fireworks, but it should also be a day of contemplation of our great nation’s democratic values like freedom, justice and equality for all —which will provide the perfect backdrop to reflect upon the gains made by the LGBT community since the very beginning,” Nutter said.
Said Levitz: “Since the country’s inception, Philadelphia has been at the forefront fighting for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all Americans. On July 4, 1965, the gay community chose Philadelphia as the site, in front of Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, to call attention to the injustices against them. Fifty years later, we are proud to celebrate their bravery, determination and the role that Philadelphia had in that pursuit.”
The Annual Reminders began when gay pioneers Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings, and other activists from D.C., New York and Philly, came together on Independence Mall and protested for equality every Fourth of July from 1965-69. The demonstrations were called “annual reminders.”
These reminders are credited with providing the impetus for actions like the Stonewall Inn riot in 1969 and are widely regarded as the birth of the LGBT civil-rights movement.
Lazin, who is chair of the anniversary celebration, said he had the privilege of spending a lot of time recently with Kameny before his passing, as well as with Gittings.
“While they would not have thought of themselves in this way,” Lazin said, “there is no question in my mind they are the father and mother of the LGBT civil-rights movement. Their accomplishments not only include organizing the movement, but also both separately and collectively making monumental contributions, particularly at the beginning, when they were facing a wall of homophobia. It was the first time that people were out and visible and asking for equality. That had a huge impact on the psyche of the gay community.
According to Lazin, Philadelphia seemed to be the most likely choice for the Annual Reminders.
“I think that they chose Philly, which would have been the likely choice because of July Fourth, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall. The Liberty Bell linked the gay civil-rights movement to the abolitionists and the suffragettes. There was so much symbolism.”
Lazin said he hopes the celebration will not just serve as a reminder for how far the LGBT community has come since the first Reminder, but to teach the LGBT community its history — something that isn’t done often enough, he added.
“I think the most basic thing is that the LGBT community is the only minority worldwide that does not have its history taught in the mainstream. Just like the March on Washington, it enables people to go back in time and appreciate their historical roots,” he said. “Knowing our history is very empowering. We have a remarkable number of heroes and powerful narratives.”
For more information, visit www.lgbt50.org.