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Archive for the ‘activists’ Category

philly

Philadelphia, Pa.

Annual Reminder marker
6th and Chestnut Streets

This state historical marker, erected in 2005 by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, was the first in the country to recognize and celebrate LGBT history. It commemorates the “Annual Reminder,” the first public demonstration for LGBT rights, which began on July 4, 1965 – four years before the rebellion at the Stonewall Inn in New York. The peaceful, orderly protest – in which the lesbians wore dresses and gay men wore suits and ties – circled in front of Independence Hall, the placards bearing slogans such as “Homosexuals Should Be Judged as Individuals.” The “Annual Reminder” continued at this location through 1969, but after the Stonewall riots moved to New York City.

Behind the protest was Barbara Gittings (1932-2007), who had moved to Philadelphia in the 1950s and became one of the country’s most important LGBT activists. (That’s her in front in the photo above.) She also helped organize picket lines at the White House and the U.S. State Department. Among her many accomplishments, she was instrumental in getting the American Psychiatric Association to drop homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses in 1972.

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stonewallinn

New York, N.Y.

Stonewall Inn
51-53 Christopher Street

This weekend marks a historic event in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender history: the 40th anniversary of the riots at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, a popular gay bar and hangout in the late 1960s, a place to meet friends and lovers. But at a time when homosexuality was criminalized, police raids of gay bars were de rigueur. On June 28, 1969, when cops raided the Stonewall in the early morning hours and forced the patrons outside, drag queens, young queer people of color, gay men, and a crowd of supporters on the street began pelting the police with beer cans and rocks. The crowd then set the bar on fire, but the police extinguished the flames and “secured” the area within a few hours. A weekend of rioting ensued, during which gay people stood off city cops and claimed their right to live openly – “Homo Nest Raided, Queen Bees Are Stinging Mad,” ran the headline in the New York Post.

The rebellion sparked a new movement that grew by leaps and bounds into the LGBT rights movement of today. The term “Stonewall” is now the international symbol of LGBT resistance and liberation, and the anniversary of the rebellion is celebrated around the world with marches, rallies, and parades. In 1999, the Stonewall Inn was added to the National Register of Historic Places, the only LGBT site on the list. Although the original bar has gone through many transformations since 1969 – in the early 1980s, for example, it was a bagel shop – it is once again a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn.

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gerber1a

Chicago, Ill.

Henry Gerber home
1710 North Crilly Court

In December 1924, at a cost of $10, the Society for Human Rights incorporated as a not-for-profit organization, listing its business offices in this rowhouse, the home of its leading force, Henry Gerber (1892-1972). With this move, the Society went into history as the first homosexual rights organization in the country.

Gerber had been to Germany as part of the Army of Occupation after World War I, and had seen firsthand the early German homosexual rights movement there. Back home, he founded the Society to “protect the interests of people… abused and hindered in the legal pursuit of happiness” – coded language for protecting gay people from discrimination, harassment, abuse, and arrest.

The Society published two issues of Friendship and Freedom, written by Gerber, before running out of money for printing and distribution. The group disbanded after just one year, when the police caught wind of its activities and arrested Gerber, confiscating his typewriter, diaries, and all the Society’s literature. Although a judge threw the case out because the police had not obtained search warrants, Gerber lost his job when the newspapers reported his arrest. But he continued to write about gay rights throughout his life. Chicago’s LGBT library and archives, founded in 1981, is named in Gerber’s honor, and in 2001, the city of Chicago bestowed landmark status on Gerber’s rowhouse.

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Ladder

San Francisco, Calif.

Daughters of Bilitis / The Ladder
693 Mission Street

Started in 1955 as a social group providing an alternative to the bars, the Daughters of Bilitis (DOB), the first U.S. lesbian organization, expanded rapidly into a lesbian rights organization. The name “Bilitis” was taken from a poem by Pierre Louys about a lesbian of the ancient Greek poet Sappho’s time.

Launched in 1956, DOB’s magazine, The Ladder, started with a post office box number but by its fourth issue was listed at this Mission Street address. Its masthead listed Phyllis Lyon as editor and Del Martin as assistant editor. Lyon and Martin were a couple, and remained so until Martin’s death in 2008. They were the first couple to be legally married in San Francisco after the state Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.

Early issues of The Ladder contained articles such as “A Citizen’s Rights in Case of Arrest” and the regular column “Lesbiana,” which briefly reviewed books of interest. The magazine’s subscription coupon specified that is cost “$2.50 a year, mailed in a plain, sealed envelope.” The Ladder also included a monthly calendar of DOB events.

The Ladder remained at this location until 1958, when DOB membership and magazine subscribers had grown so much that the group found new, roomier quarters on O’Farrell Street. (Did they know that Alice B. Toklas, lover of Gertrude Stein, had once lived on O’Farrell Street?) The magazine remained in publication until 1972.

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Nichols & Kameny 1965

Washington, D.C.

Frank Kameny house (private)
5020 Cathedral Avenue, N.W.

The house that gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny (b. 1925) has called home since 1962 won’t win any architectural prizes; it’s just a modest, two-story brick house built in 1955. But in February 2009, it was designated a Washington, D.C. historic landmark, in recognition of its significance, as the Washington Post put it, as “the epicenter of the gay rights movement in the nation’s capital” for 13 years.

Kameny served in World War II, earned a doctorate at Harvard, and came to D.C. to work as an astronomer for the Army Map Service. But in 1957, he was fired for being gay. He didn’t give up, and took his case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1961. The discrimination he experienced turned him into a lifelong activist for gay rights. One of his many accomplishments was helping head up the struggle to have homosexuality removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental illnesses.

Kameny’s papers are now at the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Institution houses artifacts related to his gay activism, such as placards used in protests (like that shown above, in 1965). Many of those placards, Kameny has said, were made in the living room of this house. His home has now been nominated for recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.

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