If we believe Philadelphia Gay Rights advocates, the Gay Rights Movement began on July 4, 1965 when 40 gay men and lesbians protested for equal rights by marching on Independence Hall, all the men wearing suites and ties and all the women wearing dresses and heels. Despite warnings that they would be "beaten up", the protest was peaceful except for some shouts from onlookers.
These men and women were leader of the Mattachne Society, lead by lengendary gay activist, Frank Kameny. He recalls the rally, saying, "Without this demonstration, Stonewall would not have taken place." "We created the mind-set for the expression of dissent."
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Committee supports the significance of the event. It recently approved the placement of a state historical marker near Independence Hll, naming the area as the launching pad for gay rights.
But our old friend Martin Duberman, the author of "Stonewall" says that neither of the two 60's events owns the bragging rights. He claims that the movement dates back to a group formed in the 1920's. He further states, "There's enough credit to go around on this. Ther's no need to claim that 'we were the firs, or the best of the greatest'". Or the gayest.
If we're looking for the gayest, I'm betting that Stonewall with its angry drag queens would win hands and heels down.
Duberman also said, "No matter where you were, it took a lot of courage to start a demonstration or to speak out." In these prehistoric times of gay rights, these demonstrators were risking punishment and feared losing their jobs.
No matter where the movement started, these heroic men and women have paved the way for what rights and freedoms we enjoy today. But while they laid the foundation, there is so much more work to do.
They didn't have the internet or the blog as a platform like we do today. We as gay men, can make a difference in our own way by establishing dialog and getting our issues heard. By writing to our elected officials, getting involved in local and state movements, we can make a difference.
Just in our daily lives, we can make a difference by example. These brave men and women may have fought the early battles, but we're here as replacements to win the war for equality.