Rainbow History Project Reenacts DC's First Gay Picket

Activism

May 16, 2024

Rainbow History Project Reenacts DC’s First Gay Picket

by Elinor Aspegren

 

“I am here today because I think it’s important to remind people just how long we have been fighting for LGBTQ rights in this country, and I think LGBTQ history is important because it gives us all in the community a long standing sense of belonging.”

 

“This picket means a lot to me because I think it’s a great way to really help connect with the past.”

 

“LGBTQ+ history will always be important as long as history will be important. For that reason I drove all the way to picket just like the originals did in 1965.”

These reasons are only a handful explaining why the Rainbow History Project reenacted DC’s first picket for gay rights on the White House sidewalk and Lafayette Square Wed., April 17. The original White House picket occurred on April 17, 1965, 59 years before the reenactment by RHP, the Mayor’s Office for LGBTQ Affairs and others.

 

In 1957, activist Frank Kameny was fired by the U.S. Army Map Service for being gay, kicking off his life-long battle for LGBTQ rights. He founded the Washington chapter of the Mattachine Society, an early national gay rights organization. Lilli Vincenz, Ph.D., became the first lesbian to join the Mattachine Society of Washington, shortly after she was expelled from the U.S. Army for being gay.

 

The Mattachine Society’s efforts in the early 1960s led to the 1965 White House picket and countless other pickets and media outreach during the late 1960s.

 

“The White House picket is the origin story for public demonstrations for gay rights in the U.S., and the origin story for Pride Marches and the annual LGBTQ Pride celebrations which occur across the globe,” RHP said in a statement outlining the event.

 

Paul Kuntzler, the last surviving 1965 picketer, attended the event. Japer Bowles, Director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, presented a proclamation of Mattachine Society Day to Kuntzler and RHP Director of Archiving Vincent Slatt.

 

“Whereas, on April 17, 1965, the Mattachine Society of Washington courageously held the nation’s inaugural picket for gay rights, a seminal moment in the ongoing struggle for LGBTQIA+ equality in the United States, marking the genesis of public demonstrations advocating for those rights and paving the way for Pride Marches and Pride celebrations worldwide,” the proclamation states, according to the Washington Blade.

Right – Commissioner Ra Amin was one of the volunteers who attended the picket. (Photograph by Leigh Mosley for Rainbow History Project)

Above – Paul Kuntlzer signs a picket sign from Amy, who also participated in the 2008 picket reenactment. It was previously signed by Lilli Vincenz and Frank Kameny. (Courtesy of Emma O’Neill Dietel)

 

Notable media coverage:

 

  • The Washington Blade – “Reenactment of first gay rights picket at White House draws interest of tourists”
  • DC News Now – “Rainbow History Project reenacted first gay rights picket in DC”
  • District Fray – “Celebrating Progress: The Rainbow History Project”