At a news conference on March 10, the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia announced plans for an exhibit called Speaking Out For Equality: The Constitution, Gay Rights, and the Supreme Court to run June 5 through September 7 of this year. The display, presented by the William Way LGBT Community Center, will coincide with Gay Pride Month (June) and marks the 50th anniversary of the first protests for gay equality in the nation, which happened in front of Independence Hall every 4th of July from 1965 to 1969.
Speakers at the press conference included Chris Bartlett, Executive Director of the William Way LGBT Community Center; Vince Stango, Chief Operating Officer at the National Constitution Center; Honorable Michael Nutter, Mayor of Philadelphia (who performed the first Philadelphia gay wedding on May 20, 2014); Greg DeShields, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Multicultural Affairs Congress; and Meryl Levitz, President and CEO of Visit Philadelphia.
Speaking Out for Equality, which took over three years to create, will be the focal point of Reminder 2015: Celebrating 50 Years of LGBT History, Art and Culture, a series of anniversary events planned under the leadership of the William Way LGBT Community Center and its Wilcox Archives Library. Forty partner organizations will participate in Reminder 2015 events, including the African American Museum in Philadelphia, Eastern State Penitentiary, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Gay News, WHYY, Visit Philadelphia, Action AIDS, Rutgers University–Camden Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and many more.
The exhibit at the National Constitution Center will be presented in six sections starting with “Being Gay in Mid-20th Century America: A Climate of Fear and Intimidation,” and continuing with “Frank Kameny, 1957: A Fired Government Employee Challenges the Status Quo,” “1960s Protest: Testing the Promise of the 1st Amendment,” “Coming Out for Liberty: Amendments V, XIV, and the Response to Bowers v. Hardwick,” “A Debate Over Dignity: Amendment XIV,” and “The End, The Beginning: What Does Equality Mean?” Some exhibit items displayed at the news conference included buttons the protesters wore, pictures from the picket demonstrations, and documents signed by Congress for equal rights.
One of the original participants from the 1965 demonstration, John James, attended the news conference, truly encompassing the powerful movement. James held a picket sign saying, “Homosexual Citizens Wants Their Right to Make Their Maximum Contribution to Society,” and an image of him served as the backdrop behind the speakers. James continued his crusade, becoming an activist for HIV and LGBT rights. Today, he is an advocate for senior citizen rights in the United States.
“As the Museum of We the People,” said Stango of the Constitution Center, “we continue to serve as a center of exhibits and materials on the history and contemporary significance of the Constitution. The exhibition will inform about pivotal Supreme Court cases in the fight for gay rights and create a platform for discussion about the 1st Amendment, 5th Amendment, and 14th Amendment.”
Mayor Nutter, while discussing all of the events occurring during the 4th of July holiday in Philadelphia, jokingly said, “New York puts on a nice, little display for New Year’s Eve, but we own the 4th of July. We give them New Year’s.”
This is sure to be an especially historic summer in Philadelphia with the opening of this exhibit. Quite a sense of pride and accomplishment filled the room during the news conference. And, with John James in attendance, it truly felt like a historic moment. Perhaps Meryl Levitz said it best: “Our job at Visit Philadelphia is to tell Philly’s stories. They never end.”