The Daily Agenda for Monday, July 4

Jim Burroway

July 4th, 2011

TODAY IN HISTORY:
“Annual Reminder” Pickets at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall: 1965-1969. The Fourth of July commemorates the day in which a group of second class citizens decided that it was finally time to declare not only their independence, but also their dignity for having been created equal and endowed with the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, not all Americans gained their freedom on that date in 1776. Nearly two centuries later, that struggle to form a more perfect until was still, for many, just beginning. In 1965, gay people were prohibited from holding jobs with the federal government by an Executive Order, homosexuality was illegal in every state in the country except Illinois, and gay people were regarded as mentally ill by the American Psychiatric Association.

To protest those conditions, LGBT activists under the collective name of the East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO) met at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall on July 4, 1965 for a demonstration to remind their fellow Americans that LGBT people did not enjoy some of the most fundamental of civil rights. Thirty-nine activists, including Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings, and Kay Tobin, picketed in front of Philadelphia’s potent symbol of freedom, carrying signs reading “15 million homosexual Americans as for equality, opportunity, dignity,” and “homosexuals should be judged as individuals.

Barbara Gittings picketing at Independence Hall on July 4, 1966.

Dubbed the “Annual Reminder,” the picketers returned to Independence hall every year from 1965 to 1969,  using the occasion of the American Independence Day to remind Americans that freedom was still an elusive dream for many of their fellow citizens. But with 1969’s Stonewall rebellion, the gay community gained an independence day all of their own. The “Annual Reminder” for 1969, occurring just a few days after that declaration of freedom on Christopher Street in New York, would be the last. In 1970, organizers decided to end the July 4 pickets in favor of the Christopher Street Liberation Day celebration on June 28 to commemorate the first anniversary of the riot. We’ve been celebrating Pride as a commemoration of our declaration of independence ever since. But the Annual Reminder hasn’t been forgotten. In 2005, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission erected what is reported to be the first historical marker to recognize and celebrate LGBT history to commemorate those early protests in front if Independence Hall.

Happy Independence Day.

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