In the summer of 1965, a group of 40 protesters marched in front of Philadelphia's Independence Hall and denounced public policies that labeled gays as mentally ill and a national security risk.
Forty years later, hundreds of gay rights supporters crowded into a nearby historic church for an interfaith service celebrating what some have called the nation's first gay rights demonstration. Sunday's service at Christ Church included a sermon by the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, who called for an end to discrimination against gays and lesbians. "We hear God's voice, and it says you are my beloved," said Robinson, who was consecrated as bishop of the New Hampshire diocese in 2003.
A Methodist minister who had been defrocked for being in a lesbian relationship--before being reinstated just last week--shared Robinson's message of acceptance. "Other faith traditions out there have tried to shut us down and tell us we're not worthy," the Reverend Irene Elizabeth Stroud told the crowd. "I pray for a day when no one will experience discrimination."
Outside, about 25 protesters, including members of the conservative Christian group Repent America, protested the daylong festivities. Earlier, police estimated between 2,000 and 3,000 gay rights supporters converged on Independence Hall to mark the rally.
The 1965 demonstration came four years before the Stonewall Riots in New York City, considered by many to have launched the equal rights movement for gays. "They were brave, they were defiant, and they launched our civil rights movement," said Michael Williams, who heads Philadelphia's Minority Business Enterprise Council.
Malcolm Lazin, executive director of Philadelphia-based Equality Forum, had hoped to unveil a state-approved historical marker Sunday naming Independence Hall as the birthplace of gay rights, a designation disputed by some historians. But the group's spokesman, Dan Wagner, said the marker will not be ready until June. (AP)