This Day In History: July 4

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On July 4, 1965, more than two dozen LGBTQ activists demonstrate in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia in one of the earliest gay rights demonstrations in the United States. The “Reminder” demonstration, held annually through 1969, drew scant mainstream media coverage at the time but is now seen as an important precursor to the wider gay liberation movement.

“Across the street from the national shrine, a group of some 30 neatly dressed men and women picketed in a circle,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. “Their signs asked for equal rights for homosexuals."

Protest organizer Frank Kameny set the rules for the 1965 protest. "We had to show respectability because of the public sentiment towards gay people at that time," he told the Associated Press in 2015.

In the four years following the first protest, a growing number of people took part in the Annual Reminders outside Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were debated and signed.

In 1965, gays and lesbians were prohibited from working in the federal government under an executive order signed in 1953 by President Dwight Eisenhower.

John S. James, who participated in the 1965 protest, told the AP in 2015 he was relieved no counterprotest took place at the Philadelphia event. He feared losing his government job if he were photographed. But an image of him was taken holding a sign that read: “Homosexual citizens want their right to make their maximum contribution to society.”

In 1969, the Stonewall Riots—also called the Stonewall Uprising—served as a catalyst for the gay rights movement in the United States and around the world. Gay rights expanded throughout the 1990s and 2000s, with Massachusetts becoming the first state to legalize gay marriage in 2004.