From 1965 to 1969, gay rights activists from Washington, DC, New York, and Philadelphia met each July 4th to picket in front of Independence Hall to demand legislation that would protect the rights of LGBT citizens. The event came to be known as the “Annual Reminder” that many American citizens were denied the basic rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. The events were commemorated in 2005 with the dedication of this historical marker across the street from Independence Hall.
In the early years of the gay rights movement, committed LGBT activists from the Washington, DC and New York City chapters of the Mattachine Society, Philadelphia’s Janus Society and the New York chapter of the Daughters of Bilitus coordinated their efforts and held protests. The activists gathered at the White House in April 1965 to demand equal rights for LGBT citizens. Together, the groups operated as the East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO). The organizer of the White House picket was Frank Kameny, who would come to be regarded as one of the most significant figures in the early years of the LGBT movement.
Inspired by the Washington, DC pickets, activist Craig Rodwell conceived an idea for a similar event in Philadelphia. Led by Kameny and local activist Barbara Gittings, the Philadelphia event was planned for just three months later, in July of 1965. Kameny insisted that picketers follow a strict dress code of jackets and ties for men and dresses for women. The move angered some LGBT supporters but Kameny wanted to project an image of homosexuals as “presentable and employable” in hopes of winning more supporters.
The choice of Independence Hall for the event was a calculated one. It was important to Kameny and other activists to highlight the fact that they were simply demanding the basic individual freedoms enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. Thirty-nine people picketed, carrying placards demanding equal treatment under the law. At the time, it was the largest known demonstration for homosexual rights in the United States.
The event, which came to be known as the Annual Reminder, took place every July 4th in Philadelphia until 1969. The final reminder event took place on July 4 of that year, just days after the Stonewall Riots in New York City, an event that led organizers to conclude that the course of homosexual activism was permanently changed. After 1969, Reminders were gradually replaced with pride parades, most of which are held in June, on or near the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.