40 years? Or 55?

A national celebration May 1 in Philadelphia is being touted as the 40th anniversary of the gay rights movement in the United States. This leading gay historian suggests the movement was actually born 15 years earlier

BY Eric Marcus

March 31 2005 1:00 AM ET

Like my grandmother, I’ve always loved a good party, whether it’s a birthday, bar mitzvah, or anniversary. So it pains me to take issue with Equality Forum’s planned National Celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the GLBT Civil Rights Movement. Not because there’s nothing to celebrate this year—it is indeed the 40th anniversary of the first gay rights protest at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall—but because 2005 marks the 55th anniversary of the movement’s start, not the 40th.In 1950, eight men—including Rudy Gernreich, the designer of the topless bathing suit—gathered in a Los Angeles apartment, blinds drawn, and decided to found an organization dedicated to fighting for the rights of homosexuals. The organization that planned the 1965 demonstration at Independence Hall, the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., was a direct descendent of that original Mattachine group.So let’s go ahead and celebrate our proud history and the people who so bravely launched a national movement more than a half century ago. Perhaps Equality Forum can lead that celebration by setting the record straight and including the Mattachine Society’s founders—as well as the lesbians who started the Daughters of Bilitis in 1955—on its list of heroes to be honored on May 1. With an extra 15 years to celebrate, there’s plenty of room to include these courageous pioneers who set us on our way.

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