Gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people gathered on Independence Mall in Philadelphia on the 4th of July to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first gay rights demonstrations.
A few thousand came to celebrate an occasion that 50 years ago – had only attracted 40 people. During a light mid-afternoon rain, volunteers re-created the original 1965 picket calling for equal rights for homosexuals, in front of Independence Hall.
That original picket, with activists from New York, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia, was organized by Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings. Both now deceased, they had fought for equality their entire lives.
“In one of our nation’s most compelling civil rights stories, Barbara and Frank challenged the American Psychiatric Association’s classification of gay as a mental illness, and won,” said organizer Malcolm Lazin of the group Equality Forum.
Much of the 90-minute ceremony traced the political victories over the last half-century, including overturning the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy, the Defense of Marriage Act, andjust last week — the Supreme Court decision to allow same-sex marriage in all 50 states.
Speakers included James Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the most recent Supreme Court gay marriage case; Amanda Simpson, who, as executive director of the U.S. Army’s Office of Energy Initiatives, is the highest ranking transgendered person in the federal government; the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, Gene Robinson; and actress and comedian Wanda Sykes.
The roster was broken up by performances by a composite Gay Men’s Chorus made up of members from New York, Washington D.C., and Philadelphia, and an a cappella duet of “Over the Rainbow” by singers Jonathan Allen and GoGo Morrow
“Over the next 50 years, our community’s concern for justice will broaden beyond our own struggle for equality,” said Bishop Robinson. “Our struggle for LGBT equality must merge with other justice movements. Black lives matter. Immigrant dreamers’ lives matter. People living in wheelchairs and living in poverty, matter.”
Actress and comedian Wanda Sykes introduced the next generation of equality activists with a joke.
“I’m looking out and seeing so many young people. Give them a hand. That’s so nice,” said Sykes to the crowd, waving off aging interloper who was likely imagined. “Not you, sir. You’re probably 75. Put your hand down.”
The ceremony was wrapped up by younger gay activists Brad Sears and Tamika Butler, both from Los Angeles.
“On this day – Independence Day – I challenge each of us to really think about what it really means to be independent if you’re undocumented. What it means to be independent if you’re trans, and what it means to be independent if you’re a black person in this country,” said Butler. “Because I don’t feel free. I might be able to marry my white fiancé, but I am not truly free.”
Some of the speaker previous to Butler made the point that gays and lesbians can legally marry, but if they do so many of them are liable to lose their jobs since many states, including Pennsylvania, do not bar employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.