Philadelphia’s role in LGBTQ + history predates Stonewall uprising
“I was impressed with the role Philadelphia played in the national LGBTQ rights movement,” said Bob Skiba, curator of collections at the John J. Wilcox Archives at the William Way Center in Center City.
Many stories predate the well-known Stonewall uprisings in New York in 1969. One such story occurred in 1881 along Chestnut Street when a man and his friends were arrested for dressing with women’s clothing. The newspaper called the act an “unnatural crime”.
âHe was known as Lady Washington,â Skiba said of the man whose first name was Isaac Hall. âHe and his friends were dressed in women’s clothing. He spent eight years at the Eastern State Penitentiary.
Skiba said Philadelphia had so many stories of history makers who took action before the Stonewall Uprising, including those who staged a sit-in at one of Philadelphia’s most popular cafes: Dewey’s. One of the locations refused to serve gay customers.
âThey had a sit-in for a few days the following weekend,â Skiba said, noting the protesters were inspired by the lunch counter sit-ins organized by African Americans across the country. Dewey’s sit-in made history.
âIt was peaceful, it was successful and it was the first such LGBT sit-in in the country,â Skiba said.
Other stories of activism are highlighted in the art as a mural dedicated to the LBGTQ + rights struggle was painted on the side of the building that houses the William Way Center. Skiba says it’s the first LGBTQ + mural in Philadelphia. Part details the picket lines which were an annual event in Philadelphia.
“The first regularly organized protest for gay rights took place here in Philadelphia,” Skiba said of the picket lines that took place every July 4 in front of Independence Hall from 1965 to 1969.
Ken Broshous is one of the few tourists who realizes the importance of the place to the LGBTQ + community. He stood up to read the stakes on a blue history marker that had a tourist bus and an ice cream truck on either side.
âIt’s so weird that he’s here, and nobody stops to read it,â said Broshous, who was visiting Philadelphia from San Francisco with her husband. He doesn’t take for granted that they could be married, as two men sought to appear in a series of old black-and-white photos given to the archives.
“They are from 1957,” Skiba says of photos taken at a wedding ceremony for two men. The photos show them saying their vows, cutting a wedding cake, and posing with other guests. But it looks like neither of the bride and groom got to see the photos of their special day.
âIt’s possible that the owner of the pharmacy, and that’s where they were developed into a pharmacy, won’t make them because of the subject,â Skiba said. “Anyone developing a movie could arbitrarily decide that it’s not appropriate.”
Skiba hopes to find people who know the couple and one day share their whole story. This is one of the many stories that have shaped LGBTQ history in Philadelphia and beyond.
âTelling the stories of the past ensures that people’s stories in the future will also have a voice,â Skiba said.
Reference material coordinated in collaboration with local LGBTQ + archives and the ONE Archives Foundation.
The ONE Archives Foundation is the independent community partner that supports ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives in the Libraries of the University of Southern California (USC), the largest repository of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) material. in the world. Founded in 1952 as ONE Inc., the publisher of ONE Magazine, ONE Archives Foundation is the oldest active LGBTQ organization in the United States. In 2010, ONE Archives Foundation deposited its extensive collection of historical LGBTQ documents with USC Libraries. Today, the organization is dedicated to promoting this important resource through various activities, including educational initiatives, fundraisers and a range of public programs.
ONE Archives Foundation’s flagship K-12 education programs provide educators with the resources they need to teach accurate and authentic LGBTQ + history, including professional development webinars and free LGBTQ + lesson plans available for download from our website. In addition, ONE Archives Foundation supports young people to become ambassadors of LGBTQ + history through the Youth Ambassadors for Queer History program. Find out more here.
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