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Philadelphia's 1965 protests remembered
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by Tracy Baim, Windy City Times

This article shared 5 times since Thu Jul 9, 2015
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Several major events, including an historic reenactment, marked the 50th anniversary of the first Reminder Days in Philadelphia July 4th weekend. The Reminder Days were held annually 1965-1969, and were among the most critical precursors to the 1969 Stonewall rebellion sparking the modern LGBT-rights movement.

The centerpiece of the National LGBT 50th Anniversary Celebration was July 4, in front of Independence Hall, where 40 people recreated that first Reminder Day in 1965. Most wore traditional male and female clothing, to honor the original protestors' call for conservative outfits in their fight for homosexual equality. The signage was also a recreation of the professional-looking slogans used 50 years ago.

Near the end of the program, a few younger protesters wore more radical outfits and carried signs asking for transgender equality and a wide range of other LGBT rights issues.

Lesbian comic Wanda Sykes was MC for the July 4 event, which featured more than a dozen speakers and special guests. U.S. Supreme Court marriage victors Edie Windsor and Jim Obergefell were at many weekend events, including the reenactment, where Obergefell addressed the crowd.

Obergefell also attended the kickoff for the weekend, a July 2 wreath-laying at the Gay Pioneers Historical Marker honoring those early pioneers. Attending that event were three of the 1960s marchers: Ada Bello, Paul Kuntzler and John James. Each of those pioneers, along with pioneer Randy Wicker, also attended various weekend panels and events. The Gay Pioneers historic marker is across the street from Independence Hall and Liberty Bell Center.

Among the diversity of speakers at the July 4 Independence Hall event were Amanda Simpson, President Obama's highest-ranking transgender appointee; Kate Kendell, head of the National Center for Lesbian Rights; Tamika Butler, co-chair of the NCLR board; Sergeant Eric Alva, the first soldier injured in the Iraq war; John Holmes III, a descendent of President George Washington; singers Jonathan Allen and GoGo Morrow; Walter Naegle, the widower of Bayard Rustin; Selisse Berry, head of Out & Equal; Brad Sears, head of the Williams Institute; Jorge Valencia, head of the point Foundation; and Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson.

Judy and Dennis Shepard, parents of slain gay activist Matthew Shepard, were also at the reenactment, and Judy received a special honor earlier that day, along with Windsor, from Equality Forum, which organized most of the weekend's events. Malcolm Lazin, Equality Forum executive director and chair, National LGBT 50th Anniversary Celebration, spoke at each of his group's events, emphasizing the role Philadelphia played in the national homosexual rights movement.

There were multiple panel discussions during the weekend. On July 2, the National Legal Panel was held at the National Museum of American Jewish History. Panelists scheduled were: Douglas Hallward-Driemeier, Obergefell attorney in the U.S. Supreme Court marriage equality decision; James Esseks, director, ACLU LGBT Project; Brad Sears, executive director, Williams Institute; Jennifer Goldstein, associate general counsel, U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC); and Kenji Yoshino, Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law, NYU School of Law.

That panel was followed by the National Politics Panel at historic Congress Hall, with Kirk Fordham, executive director, Gill Action Fund; Kate Kendell; Stacey Long Simmons, director of public policy and government affairs, LGBTQ Task Force; and moderator Kevin Naff of the Washington Blade.

On the morning of July 3, a Ceremonial American Flag was placed at the Tomb of Unknown Revolutionary Soldier, at Washington Square. Speakers at the solemn affair were Alva, Holmes, Obergefell and Lazin.

Also July 3, the William Way LGBT Community Center and the Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld Fund hosted an LGBT History Panel Discussion at the National Constitution Center. Pioneers Wicker, Bello, James and Kunstler were on the panel, along with Philadelphia Gay News Publisher Mark Segal, Freedom to Marry President Evan Wolfson, and historians David Carter and Lillian Faderman. Chris Bartlett, executive director of the William Way Center, moderated the discussion.

As with other events, the recent marriage victory in the Supreme Court provided a wonderful bookend to discussions of the fight 50 years ago to today.

Later on July 3, historic Christ Church was the site of a National Interfaith Service with a sermon by Bishop Robinson, the same week that the Episcopal Church approved same-sex marriages in their churches. Robinson, the first ordained openly gay Episcopal Bishop, was joined by Tynan Power, a transgender Muslim faith leader; Rabbi Linda Holtzman, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College; Rabbi Margot Stein, Reconstructionist Rabbinical College; Reverend Timothy Safford, Christ Church; Reverend Jeffrey Jordan, Pastor, Metropolitan Community Church; Reverend Susan Richardson, Christ Church; and "Ave Maria" was sung by Jonathan Allen, a semi-finalist on TV's America's Got Talent.

Robinson also addressed the thousands gathered at Independence Hall the next day for the reenactment.

The evening of July 3, WHYY studios screened the documentary Gay Pioneers. Because I just wrote a recent book about Barbara Gittings, I was honored to moderate a post-film discussion with historians Michael G. Long and Marc Stein, joined by Lazin.

Gittings and Frank Kameny, who have both passed away, were acknowledged at numerous points during the weekend for their leadership roles in the 1960s protests, and many other LGBT causes. After a screening of the documentary Gay Pioneers, the standing-room-only audience at WHYY was eager to discuss the contributions of Gittings and other pioneers, and the role Philadelphia played in the national movement.

Saturday was the big day, with a kick-off luncheon at the Independence Visitor Center—which also had a small LGBT exhibit on the first floor of the location. Given that this was such a busy tourist weekend, tens of thousands of people saw LGBT images throughout their visit to Philadelphia at several tourist attractions.

At the luncheon, Windsor and Judy Shepard gave compelling speeches about their paths to working on LGBT issues. Windsor spoke of her 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case that helped strike down a key portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, laying the groundwork for the victory in the Obergefell case this past June. It was amazing to see Windsor speaking as Obergefell himself was standing just a few feet away. Then Shepard spoke eloquently of her work against hate crimes and the tragic loss of her son Matthew.

After the reenactment, Obergefell was presented with the Frank Kameny Award by Equality Forum.

The most elaborate exhibit marking the 50th anniversary was at the National Constitution Center, mounted by the William Way LGBT Community Center. It features the dress worn by Gittings at some of her 1960s protests.The Speaking OUT for Equality exhibit exhibit, up through Jan. 3, 2016, has many other artifacts and photos from the era. Chicagoan William B. Kelley, who died May 17 of this year, had planned to be at the celebrations; his photo and short biography are among the items at the Constitution Center, because he was among the 1965 marchers at Independence Hall.

The Liberty Bell Center in Independence National Historical Park also had a nice visual display from the protests, accompanied by text explaining the fight for LGBT equality—just steps away from the actual Liberty Bell.

The African American Museum featured the photographs and stories of Gerald Gaskins in "Legendary: Inside the House Ball Scene."

The National Museum of American Jewish History had a small exhibit on Philadelphia's early gay movement, including Kameny, Clark Polak and the Janus Society, and Martha Shelley.

And the Free Library of Philadelphia, Central Library, had an exhibit on Gittings.

The weekend ended with a day-long party in the city's "Gayborhood."

For more information visit .

Related photos and coverage at the links: .

The video playlist below contains multiple videos. Choose Playlist in the top left hand corner to watch videos out of order, if preferred.

50th Anniversary of the Annual Reminders pickets celebrated at Independence Hall, July 4, 2015 Wreath laying honors gay pioneers in Philadelphia, July 2, 2015 Interfaith church service Jim Obergefell Award in Philadelphia Politics Panel at LGBT50th LGBT 50th Philly, Revolutionary War wreath Judy Shepard and Edie Windsor Award

This article shared 5 times since Thu Jul 9, 2015
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