Gay rights picketer recalls 1965: ‘Somebody had to get out and show their face in public’

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    Photographer Kay Lahusen is a longtime gay rights activist who was one of the original picketers at the first gay rights demonstration in Philadelphia. She remembers that Fourth of July in 1965: “Somebody had to get out and show their face in public. And proclaim things and be aggressive.”

    Photographer Kay Lahusen is a longtime gay rights activist who was one of the original picketers at the first gay rights demonstration in Philadelphia.

    From 1965 to 1969, activists Barbara Gittings, from Philadelphia, and Frank Kameny, from Washington, D.C., organized Annual Reminders, demonstrations calling for equal rights for homosexuals staged in front of historic Independence Hall in Philadelphia.

    Gittings and Lahusen were life partners for 46 years, until Gittings died in 2007. Lahusen now lives in a retirement community in Kennett Square.

    kay-lahusen 1200x675Kay Lahusen today (Emma Lee/WHYY)

    There was the usual 4th of July parade, then all the tourists that had assembled to watch the big parade sort of went home. Not many people were left to see us.

    We didn’t come on the scene until 4 o’clock or something. Other people — they had been standing in the hot sun, they had to go to the bathroom, had to get something to eat. They were fed up with their Fourth of July. We got up there very bravely, but hardly anybody was watching.

    There are gay people who can’t fathom really what these pickets were all about. We were picketing for fair employment, the right to hold security clearances, the right to serve in the military, and work in civil service. One of the signs said, “Honorable discharge for honorable service. We are not dishonorable.” I like that sign.

    I was the chronicler. How the hell do we have all these photos if I hadn’t taken them? Very few other people brought a camera or were shooting — except the FBI.

    The movement wasn’t taken seriously by most gay people. It was very hard to get them to picket. Not only were they afraid they might lose their job or security clearance or whatever, but they just didn’t see themselves as going out in the street and demonstrating.

    Somebody had to get out and show their face in public. And proclaim things and be aggressive.

    We knew we were doing something important. We didn’t know how important it might be. You never know when you’re in the midst of making history you can’t get a good fix on how important it may be, ultimately.

    I always felt that we were right and they were wrong. That’s what you have to believe, when you go against the current mores.

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