There is a national spotlight on the 50th anniversary of the first LGBT demonstrations in front of Independence Hall that took place every July 4 from 1965-69. While it was a pivotal change in the struggle for equality, some are revising our history out of context by stating it is the 50th anniversary of the LGBT movement. That simply is not true.
As the coordinator of the National LGBT History Project along with many of the nation's local LGBT media, we need to ensure that our community's history struggle be preserved, not revised. Likewise, many LGBT historians are beginning to speak up.
In a chat with William Kelly, who was one of those marchers outside Independence Hall, he reminds people of the earlier struggle. He says: "Frank Kameny and associates formed the Mattachine Society of Washington, an independent organization, in 1961. Harry Hay and others formed the original Mattachine group even earlier, in 1950. ONE, Inc., got its start in the 1950s and successfully took a case to the Supreme Court while producing a pioneer newsstand-distributed periodical, "ONE." Daughters of Bilitis was formed in 1955. San Francisco's SIR was quite active already in 1965 when I first got involved in the movement. Lisa Ben was putting out "Vice Versa" in carbon-copy form in the late 1940s. And, of course, granddaddy of them all though extremely short-lived, Chicago's Society for Human Rights was around in 1924.
Also, there were street protests in Los Angeles and San Francisco prior to 1965, and in 1964, Randy Wicker organized a picket of the Whitehall Street military induction. These institutions and events had different flavors, but they all qualify as parts of a movement, even though an evolving one. A movement doesn't consist of street demonstrations only."
Another way to judge our struggle is from court cases and what the public knew or saw about our community before Stonewall, when our community was transferred from a mild-mannered, polite one to an OUT and PROUD in-your-face struggle. That is the basis of the historic exhibit that will open at the National Constitution Center on June 5 for a summer run. The exhibit will show how, in many ways, court cases were the first line of defense in breaking that wall of invisibility that the LGBT community had. And making the law the issue comes at a perfect time, as the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on marriage equality in late June. This exhibit is one of the few ways you'll get a chance to understand their ruling, and it's all based on history and those laws used in the past against our community.
Mark Segal is publisher of Philadelphia Gay News.