“I can honestly say that I did not expect to see such a public…

“I can honestly say that I did not expect to see such a public demonstration on behalf of homosexuals in my lifetime.” – Harry Hay, May 1966
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Picture: “STOP WASTING TAXPAYERS’ $$$ ON WITCH HUNTS FOR HOMOSEXUALS,” Armed Forces Day protest, San Francisco, California, May 21, 1966. Photo c/o GLBT Historical Society.
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In February 1966, representatives of homophile (i.e., gay rights) organizations from across the U.S. gathered in Kansas City for an annual planning conference out of which emerged the idea for the first nationwide gay rights demonstration. Specifically, activists from San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Kansas City, and Washington, D.C. formed the Committee to Fight Exclusion of Homosexuals from the Military and set Armed Forces Day (the third Saturday in May) as the target for a nationally-coordinated demonstration to “protest the moral dilemma with which homosexual men are confronted because of the draft and the risk of getting a less-than-fully-honorable discharge if discovered in the armed forces.”
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On May 21, 1966, fifty one years ago today, activists in Kansas City held a small informational gathering; the Mattachine Society of D.C. picketed the White House and marched to the Pentagon; the Janus Society of Philadelphia handed out 10,000 leaflets at the Navy Yards; in Los Angeles, old-guard radicals like Harry Hay and Don Slater led a thirteen-car motorcade through the city, with each car carrying a four-sided, four-foot tall sign with messages like “10% OF GIs ARE GAY”; and about fifty people picketed San Francisco’s Federal Building before representatives of various civil rights organizations addressed a supportive crowd of about 500 people.
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The success of the Armed Forces Day protest, as Josh Sides explains, “lay not in [the] measurable effect on Selective Service policy…but in significantly raising the profile of gay people in the nation…Nationally, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, as well as dozens of smaller media outlets covered some phase of the protest. What readers and television viewers learned was that homosexuals existed and believed themselves worthy of first-class citizenship.” #HavePrideInHistory (at San Francisco, California)