Before there was Stonewall, there was Philadelphia.
This Fourth of July is the 50th anniversary of the true start of the LGBT Civil Rights Movement -- and a four-day observance and celebration will get underway Thursday in the birthplace of American freedom.
A full four years before LGBT New Yorkers made history by fighting back against NYPD harassment in Greenwich Village in 1969, activists staged a historic act of defiance at Independence Hall.
A group calling itself the Eastern Conference of Homophile Organizations (ECHO) picked the then-home of the Liberty Bell to begin what would be yearly marches -- called “Annual Reminders” to demand equal rights and an end to discrimination.
At the first Annual Reminder on July 4, 1965, 40 demonstrators with men in suits and ties and women in dresses carried picketing signs for equality. Those 40 picketers were the largest gay demonstration in world history.
“Forty demonstrators with men in suits and ties and women in dresses carried picketing signs for equality,” according to Malcolm Lazin, executive director of the Equality Forum.
“Those 40 picketers were the largest gay demonstration in world history ... By the 1969 Annual Reminder, the numbers swelled to 150 equality picketers.”
They were instrumental in organizing the first NYC Gay Pride March in 1970 to commemorate the Stonewall Riots. Two to 5,000 demonstrators participated,
HONORING THE PIONEERS
Here are just some of the highlights in Philly:
- Wreath Laying at Gay Pioneers Historical Marker, 6th and Chestnut. Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court gay marriage case will be there. Thursday, 2:15 p.m.
- LGBT History Exhibits. Multiple locations: National Constitution Center, National Museum of American Jewish History, the African American Museum, Liberty Bell Center, Free Library of Philadelphia. All four days, July 2 to 5.
- Live Nation 50th Anniversary Concert . River Stage at Great Plaza - Penn's Landing. Friday, July 3, 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm.
- 50th Anniversary VIP Lunch , Independence Visitor Center. 1 North Independence Mall. Tickets: $250. Saturday, July 4, 11:30 am to 2:00 pm. Judy Shepard and Edie Windsor will receive the 20th Annual International Role Model Awards. Shepard runs the Matthew Shepard Foundation, named for her slain son in what was one of the most high-profile cases of anti-LGBT violence. Windsor was the he plaintiff in the landmark Supreme Court case that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, an important precursor to last Friday’s case legalizing gay marriage.
- National LGBT 50th Anniversary Ceremony. Wanda Sykes is master of ceremonies. Independence Hall, 520 Chestnut St. Saturday, July 4, 2:15 pm to 3:15 pm.
Lazin tells Metro there are still challenges and fights ahead, including passage of a proposed Employment Non-Discrimnination Act.
"You can be married today in Pennsylvania or Mississippi on Sunday and fired on Monday," he said. "There’s lots to be done, including trans rights. The good news is that other than in deep red states, conservatives are willing to address civil rights issues.
"We see that reflected in the anticipated removal of the Confederate flag in government facilities. The roadblock has been broken.
"There is discussion taking place in many state capitals about protecting LGBT citizens from hate crimes and in the workplace and public accommodations."
John A. Oswald is editor-at-large at Metro and can be found on twitter @nyc_oz.