Gay rights ac­tivists in Philadelphia pay trib­ute to land­mark 1965 march

Cel­e­bra­tions of progress are mixed with warn­ings that the fight is not over

The Washington Post Sunday - - FROM PAGE ONE - BY NATALIE POM­PILIO

PHILADELPHIA — Gay rights ac­tivists gath­ered in front of In­de­pen­dence Hall in Philadelphia on the Fourth of July to mark the progress of their move­ment and pay trib­ute to those who launched it a half-cen­tury ago — but also made it clear that the fight for equal­ity was far from over.

“In too many com­mu­ni­ties, you can still get mar­ried on Sun­day and then fired on Mon­day. Mar­riage equal­ity was a crit­i­cal mile­stone but not the fi­nal des­ti­na­tion,” said ac­tivist Aisha Moodie-Mills, re­fer­ring to the re­cent U.S. Supreme Court de­ci­sion le­gal­iz­ing same-sex mar­riages na­tion­wide.

“If history has taught us any­thing, it’s that no com­mu­nity’s rights are one and done with a sim­ple piece of leg­is­la­tion,” Moodie-Mills said. “Equal­ity is not set in stone.”

The event was part of a week­end-long cel­e­bra­tion of some of the ear­li­est gay rights marches, in­clud­ing a gath­er­ing of about 40 protesters call­ing for equal­ity at the same lo­ca­tion on July 5, 1965.

Or­ga­niz­ers called that demon­stra­tion a bold and coura­geous move by the stan­dards of the day, when gay peo­ple were legally barred from gov­ern­ment jobs and could be ar­rested for en­gag­ing in con­sen­sual in­ti­mate acts, even in their own homes. The Amer­i­can Psy­chi­atric As­so­ci­a­tion clas­si­fied be­ing gay as a dis­ease that could be treated with chem­i­cal cas­tra­tion or a lo­bot­omy.

“Fifty years ago, Amer­ica per­ceived us as de­gen­er­ates,” said Mal­colm Lazin, who or­ga­nized the an­niver­sary events. “One of the many goals of the gay pioneers was to demon­strate that we are first-class Amer­i­can cit­i­zens.”

One way they did that in 1965 was with a dress code for the pick­eters: suits for men; dresses and panty­hose for women. The marchers were silent, hold­ing hand-let­tered signs call­ing for fair treat­ment. Dur­ing Satur­day’s cer­e­mony, a group of 40 peo­ple re-cre­ated that march, walk­ing in a cir­cle on the cob­ble­stone street in front of the build­ing where both the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence and the Con­sti­tu­tion were signed.

The event also paid spe­cial trib­ute to the “mother and fa­ther of the gay rights move­ment,” as Lazin de­scribed them: ac­tivists Bar­bara Git­tings and Frank Ka­meny.

Other no­ta­bles in­cluded Edie Wind­sor, the plain­tiff in the 2013 Supreme Court case that struck down parts of the De­fense of Mar­riage Act; Judy and Dennis Shep­ard, whose son Matthew was killed in 1998 be­cause of his sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion; the Rev. Gene Robin­son, the first openly gay priest in the Epis­co­pal Church; and Wal­ter Nae­gle, long-time part­ner of civil rights ac­tivist Ba­yard Rustin, a con­fi­dant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

En­ter­tainer Wanda Sykes, who hosted the event, joked that she was now “a hap­pily mar­ried woman in all 50 states, but I’m not sure I’m go­ing to go test the wa­ter in all 50 states. I’ll let them get a lit­tle bit used to it first.”

Jim Oberge­fell, who was listed as the lead plain­tiff in the suc­cess­ful law­suit that led the Supreme Court to le­gal­ize same-sex mar­riage, was stopped af­ter his re­marks by South Jersey res­i­dent Jim Mancinelli, 64, and his part­ner of 15 years, Dave Helge­son, 52.

“Thank you so much. I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate what you did for all of us, the strength you showed for all of us, the courage you showed for all of us,” Mancinelli said, ges­tur­ing be­tween him­self and Helge­son as his eyes filled with tears.

Oberge­fell, too, was emo­tional as he replied, “I loved my hus­band,” who died in 2013.

“It was the eas­i­est thing in the world to do.”

“Amer­ica per­ceived us as de­gen­er­ates. One of the many goals of the gay pioneers was to demon­strate that we are first-class Amer­i­can cit­i­zens.”

Mal­colm Lazin, who or­ga­nized the an­niver­sary events

MATT ROURKE/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Suzanne Podzemny, left, and DassyMaisel, both of At­lanta, em­brace dur­ing theNa­tional LGBT 50th An­niver­sary Cer­e­mony in front of In­de­pen­denceHall in Philadelphia, the site of the 1965 silent protest.

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