July 4, 1965 – 1969: Philadelphia’s Independence Hall Annual Reminder Protest

Annual Reminder 2On July 4, 1964, gay rights activists gathered outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia for the next five years in a row, carrying picket signs and demanding legislation that would codify the rights of homosexuals as a minority group. Referencing the Constitution’s inalienable right to the “Pursuit of Happiness” and its foundational belief that “all men are created equal,” the activists called for legislative changes that would improve the lives of American homosexuals.  (Which at that time included the lesbian, trans and bi community.  Compartmentalization and isolation was not part of the movement yet and all groups were together as one and fought as such) 

Activist Craig Rodwell conceived of the event following the April 17, 1965 picket at the White House led by Frank Kameny.  Rodwell along with  members of the New York City and Washington, D.C. chapters of the Mattachine Society, Philadelphia’s Janus Society and the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitis would get together and picket in front of Liberty Hall on July 4th.  

The protest would be called “Reminder Day”

The name of the event was selected to remind the American people that a substantial number of American citizens were denied the rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” enumerated in the United States Declaration of Independence.

 Thirty-nine people attended the first picket, including veteran activists Frank Kameny, Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin.  As with the Washington, D.C. picket Kameny insisted on a strict dress code for participants, including jackets and ties for the men and dresses for the women. Kameny’s goal was to represent homosexuals as “presentable and ’employable'”.  Picketers carried signs with such slogans as “HOMOSEXUAL BILL OF RIGHTS” and “15 MILLION HOMOSEXUAL AMERICANS ASK FOR EQUALITY, OPPORTUNITY, DIGNITY”.

The picket ran from 3:30-5:00 PM. and press coverage was sparse, although Confidential magazine ran a large feature about the Reminder and other homophile pickets in its October 1965 issue under the headline “Homos On The March”.

The annual Reminder continued through July 4, 1969.  The final Annual Reminder took place less than a week after the June 28 Stonewall riots,

At the last Annual Reminder Rodwell received several telephone calls threatening him and the other New York participants, but he was able to arrange for police protection for the chartered bus all the way to Philadelphia. About 45 people participated, including the deputy mayor of Philadelphia and his wife.The dress code and behavior code was still in effect at the Reminder, but two women from the New York contingent broke from the single-file picket line and held hands. When Frank Kameny tried to break them apart, Rodwell furiously denounced him to onlooking members of the press.

The annual Reminders were commemorated in 2005 by the placement of a Pennsylvania state historical marker by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission at 6th and Chestnut Streets where it is viewed by thousands of visitors daily.

 

Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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1 Response

  1. Tom Janus says:

    Great piece of history, and so fitting to be reminded of it today…

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