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Philadelphia LGBTQ History
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On Sunday, April 25th, 1965, protesters in Philadelphia staged a sit-in in at Dewey's Restaurant after management began refusing service to homosexual patrons. The protest began when employees of Dewey’s Restaurant perceived that homosexual youth were patronizing the restaurant in such numbers as to discourage other customers from patronizing the restaurant. After attempting to discourage homosexual youth from congregating at the restaurant, management ordered employees to deny service to individuals they believed were homosexual. In response to this discriminatory treatment, activists organized a campaign that included as many as 150 protesters.

  • Dewey's at the corner of 8th and Market Streets in 1941, courtesy of the Gayborhood Guru (reproduced under Fair Use).
  • Dewey's sign, courtesy of the Gayborhood Guru (reproduced under Fair Use).
  • Dewey's in 1941, courtesy of the Gayborhood Guru (reproduced under Fair Use).
  • Dewey's in 1972, courtesy of the Gayborhood Guru (reproduced under Fair Use).
  • Dewey's Fire, 1969, courtesy of The Gayborhood Guru (reproduced under Fair Use)
  • Although the police arrested the first protesters, the activities of the Janus Society led to a change in policy and the eventual repudiation of openly discriminatory practices. Image courtesy of The Gayborhood Guru (reproduced under Fair Use)

On April 25th, activists (gay men, women, and allies) entered Dewey's restaurant in groups and requested service. Employees refused service to the protesters and called the police when two young men and one young woman refused to leave the premises. After police arrested these individuals, gay rights leader Clark Polak rushed to the scene and was also arrested. Each of the four protesters were convicted of disorderly conduct. In response, members of the Janus Society, a gay-rights organization—held a week of protests outside the restaurant, handing out leaflets to passersby and filing a complaint with the owners of the restaurant chain. Members of the Janus Society also contacted the police and local officials. On May 2nd, Dewey’s employees at this location once again contacted the police after several gay-rights activists held a second sit-in. The police arrived on the scene and spoke with the protesters and management. Instead of arresting the protesters as had occurred the week before, the police simply left the restaurant after telling management that they had no authority to deny service based on appearance or sexual orientation. Although employees still refused to serve the protesters, the activists had won a significant victory.  

The 1965 Dewey’s Restaurant Sit-In is an important chapter in the larger Freedom Struggle of the 1960s. The activists were inspired by the actions of African American civil rights activists who waged sit-ins and other direct-action protests between World War II and the early 1960s.

Further demonstrating the connection of these movements, gay-rights activists held a demonstration in Washington on April 17th, 1965. Just as African American, Native American, and Latino activists were sometimes subjected to violence, gay rights-activists were often attacked by counter-protesters. For example, patrons of the Black Cat Tavern in San Francisco were attacked on December 31st, 1966. This event preceded the more famous Stonewall Riots of 1969.

Appleton, Kirsten. "What It Was Like at the First Gay Rights Demonstration Outside White House 50 Years Ago," ABC News. April 17, 2015. Accessed March 5, 2021.

Ehrenreich, Ben. "Before Stonewall: How a Brutal Police Raid in 1966 at Silver Lake’s Black Cat Tavern Ignited the Nation’s First Gay Rights Rally," Los Angeles Magazine. June 26, 2015. Accessed March 5, 2021.

Frye, Alex. "Philadelphian gay rights activists stage first sit-in at Dewey's restaurant, 1965," Global Nonviolent Action Database. January 30, 2011. Accessed March 5, 2021.

The Leadership Conference. "Stonewall Riots: The Beginning of the LGBT Movement [archived web page]," CivilRights.Org. June 22, 2009. Accessed March 5, 2021.

Skiba, Bob. Dewey's Famous, The Gayborhood Guru. October 7, 2014. Accessed March 5, 2021.

Stein, Marc. "The First Gay Sit-in happened 40 Years ago," History News Network. May 9, 2005. Accessed March 5, 2021.

Wheeler, Jackie et. al. "The Black Cat Bar." Clio: Your Guide to History. November 1, 2020. Accessed March 5, 2021.

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