50 years ago today, gay rights activists took to the streets

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Today marks 50 years since one of the largest early gay rights protests in the US.

On July 4, 1965, activists from the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis held their first Annual Reminder – a demonstration calling for equal rights for gay people.

Protesters carried signs insisting that “Homosexuals should be judged as individuals”, calling for “an end to government hostility” and “equality before the law”.

50 years ago today, gay rights activists took to the streets

The protest in front of Independence Hall took place at a time when the US government was still actively discriminating against LGBT people in employment and the law – meaning the protesters were taking a great risk.

A small protest was held outside the White House earlier in the same year, but the Independence Hall protest was the largest ever seen at the time.

Gay rights pioneer Frank Kamney, who was discharged from the Army Map Service in 1957 because he was gay, was key in organising both the protests. Barbara Gittings also pioneered the protests.

In contrast to the later Stonewall Riots, the Annual Reminders were calm and orderly – with protesters dressed traditionally.

A special ceremony is being held to commemorate the anniversary – with Jim Obergefell, the plaintiff in the case that brought same-sex marriage to all 50 states, laying a wreath at the site in a special ceremony.

A number of other gay rights heroes are at the event, including Judy and Dennis Shepard – the parents of murdered gay man Matthew Shepard – Bishop Gene Robinson, the first gay Episcopal bishop, and Edie Windsor, whose case struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.

Wanda Sykes and America’s Got Talent star Jonathan Allen are both set to appear.

Memorial site LGBT50 notes: “On July 4, 1965, a group of courageous gay and lesbian activists from New York, Washington, DC, and Philadelphia laid the foundation for the organized LGBT civil rights movement with demonstrations in front of Independence Hall.

“In 2015 we proudly commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Annual Reminders, the Gay Pioneers who staged them, and a half century of LGBT civil right progress.”