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Annual Reminders: Pre-Stonewall LGBT Community
While Stonewall is often credited as the beginning of the gay rights movements in America, the process of ensuring equal rights for members of the LGBT community had already begun by the time the 1969 uprising occurred. The Annual Reminders protests are not as widely known as the Stonewall uprising, but these early protests were vital to supporting gay rights in a time period when the gay community was ostracized, denied equality, and largely rendered invisible in American society.
Starting on July 4th, 1965 and recurring on Independence Day for the next four years, the “Annual Reminder” protests took place outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia in order to draw attention to the plight of the LGBT community and its lack of access to basic rights afforded to American citizens.
The Annual Reminder protests in Philadelphia set the stage for the Stonewall uprising. #LGBTpride Click To Tweet
LGBT Community Groups and ECHO
The Annual Reminders were spearheaded by a collection of individual LGBT community groups that banded together to form a larger group called the East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO). This group was responsible for several large protests, drawing members from three of the leading gay rights groups:
- The Mattachine Society: Formed in 1950, the Mattachine Society emerged as one of the earliest groups concerned with the rights of gay men. The Mattachine Society was initially closely aligned with the Communist Party of the United States, but by the 1960s, the group had splintered into regional chapters, with the New York chapter taking a lead in the formation of ECHO and planning the Annual Reminders.
- Janus Society: A Philadelphia-based group that published DRUM magazine, one of the first LGBT publications in the country, the Janus Society was responsible for some of the earliest gay rights protests in America, including a sit-in against a Philadelphia restaurant manager’s discriminatory practices.
- Daughters of Bilitis: Sometimes considered the lesbian counterpart to the Mattachine Society, the Daughters of Bilitis were the first lesbian civil and political rights organization in the United States. The group published The Ladder and focused much of its efforts on helping lesbians who were afraid to come out, providing educational resources and encouraging members and advocating for legal changes.
Making the LGBT Community “Mainstream”
The purpose of the Annual Reminders was markedly different than the goals of the Stonewall uprising, primarily due to ECHO’s focus on assimilation and bringing the LGBT community into mainstream society. Some tenets of this effort were:
- A strict dress code for protest participants: Frank Kameny, one of the organizers, wanted to represent gay men and lesbians as “presentable and employable.”
- Polite, orderly, and lawful demonstration: the Annual Reminders sought to demonstrate to members of mainstream society that gay men and lesbians were “just like them,” and should be afforded equal rights.
- Drawing from the Declaration of Independence: By quoting the statement that “all men are created equal,” the Annual Reminders highlighted the LGBT community’s minority status to campaign for inclusion within American society.
The assimilationist policies of ECHO and its membership organizations created significant controversy within the LGBT community: while supporters believed that gay rights could be advanced by highlighting commonalities between the gay and straight communities, many others felt that assimilating would only further the erasure of the community and destroy what made it unique and worth fighting for.
The Legacy of the Annual Reminders in the LGBT Community
The final Annual Reminder protest was held on July 4th, 1969, just a few weeks after the Stonewall uprising. By this time, the division in the LGBT community was becoming clearer, with many members who felt that assimilation would further marginalize segments of the community like trans women and people of color. By the following summer, ECHO had been replaced with ERCHO, the Eastern Regional Conference of Homophile Organizations, and the protests were changed to commemorate the Stonewall Riots.
The Annual Reminders served as a significant step in the American #GayRights movement. Click To Tweet
While the ECHO protests are not as well-remembered as the Stonewall uprising, the Annual Reminders represent an important step in the formation of the gay rights movement in America, and the division they highlighted in the LGBT community remains an important debate to this day. In July 2015, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Annual Reminder, the Philadelphia Pride festival held a reenactment of the protest and an “Annual Reminders block party” in the city’s gayborhood, bringing wider awareness of this milestone in LGBT history to the community.