Two Ceremonies Honor Pre-Stonewall LGBT Activists
Most historical accounts start the clock for LGBT liberation in June 1969 with the Stonewall riots in New York City. Although these demonstrations were the most conspicuous protests of their kind up until that date, they certainly weren’t the first.
Two ceremonies taking place this summer honor work from that pre-Stonewall era: On June 23, the U.S. Department of Labor inducted Frank Kameny into its Hall of Honor, and the 50th anniversary of a recurring protest called “The Annual Reminder” is being commemorated in a Philadelphia exhibit, as well as a reenactment set for July 4.
Franklin Kameny, known as Frank, served in World War II and later earned a doctorate in astronomy from Harvard University. In 1957, his bosses at the U.S. Army Map Service discovered that he was gay and they fired him. The following year, he was barred from future federal government employment. Kameny appealed the Civil Service Commission’s firing through the judicial system and lost; the Supreme Court refused to hear his case. After that, he devoted his life to activism.
With Jack Nichols, he co-founded the Washington, D.C., branch of the Mattachine Society, a 1950s homophile organization (gay rights group). This work led to the first demonstration for gay and lesbian rights at the White House in 1965. Pickets in other cities followed, including Philadelphia. On Aug. 14, 1968, the North American Conference of Homophile Organizations adopted Kameny’s “gay is good” motto as its slogan.
Kameny and others campaigned to overturn anti-gay laws in D.C. and elsewhere. He cooperated in agitations against the American Psychiatric Association for its classification of homosexuality as a mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
In 2010, a street was named in his honor in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, and in 2011, his Washington home was designated a historic landmark. In December 2010, Kameny was seated in the front row at the White House ceremony where President Obama signed the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Kameny died Oct. 11, 2011 at age 86. He was described as a pioneer, and his personal papers were donated to the Library of Congress in 2006. Selected items are available for viewing at kamenypapers.org.
The U.S. Department of Labor posthumously inducted Kameny into its Hall of Honor (Hall of Honor) on June 23. Previous inductees include Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Frances Perkins, Bayard Rustin and Dolores Huerta.
“Frank Kameny was a groundbreaking leader in the LGBT civil rights movement. He fought tirelessly to live out his truth and to end workplace discrimination,” said Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez.
‘The Annual Reminder’
At the same time that Kameny was pushing back against government discrimination, a small group of conservatively clad pro-gay marchers were quietly protesting for several consecutive years (1965-1969) at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, the birthplace of our nation. On July 4, 1965, the first small group of activists carried pickets that demanded equality for lesbians and gay men. These yearly protests became known as “The Annual Reminder” (The Annual Reminder).
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Reminder picket, the William Way LGBT Community Center presents an exhibit at the National Constitution Center, 525 Arch St., in Philadelphia. “Speaking Out for Equality” opened in June and continues until Jan. 3, 2016.
On July 4, 2015, a reenactment of “The Annual Reminder” will be staged in front of Independence Hall (National LGBT 50th Anniversary Ceremony), with Wanda Sykes as master of ceremonies. Coincidentally, the ceremony will include a tribute to Frank Kameny. In all, the 50th anniversary celebration will last four days.
Many other spontaneous incidents and planned actions supporting LGBT rights took place in the 1960s. Issues of concern included public accommodation, military policy, psychiatric guidelines, and employment discrimination.
On June 28, 1969, riots broke out at the Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, New York City, beginning the modern era of LGBT liberation.
The U.S. Labor Department has posted a video about Frank Kameny at Thank Frank and has started a social media campaign called #ThankFrank to commemorate his work. A Labor representative wrote: “We’re asking other LGBT federal employees across the country and around the world, as well as our allies, friends, supporters and customers (the American people) to post the reasons Frank matters.”