Fourth Annual Reminder Day Brochure, July 4, 1968
On July 4, 1968, gay rights activists gathered outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia for the fourth year in a row, carrying picket signs and demanding legislation that would codify the rights of homosexuals as a minority group. Referencing the Constitution's inalienable right to the “Pursuit of Happiness” and its foundational belief that "all men are created equal," the activists called for legislative changes that would improve the lives of American homosexuals. Considering the recent landslide of laws eliminating racial segregation and reinforcing voting accessibility, the gay rights community thought they had the perfect opportunity to make their case.
This pamphlet, given out during that July 4th gathering, marked the fourth annual "Reminder Day," a date dedicated to the disparity between the rights of homosexuals and heterosexuals. Mirroring the Declaration of Independence, it lists grievances held by the gay community in Philadelphia. The theme of the pamphlet highlights the obstacles to living freely and openly as a gay American: fear of arrest, of losing one's job, of being publicly ostracized, or warranting a less than honorable discharge from the military.
Despite these dangers, the movement consolidated during the second half of the 20th century. Organizations such as the Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis, with its monthly publication the Ladder, provided forums where gay Americans could gather. As the first public organization for lesbians, Daughters of Bilitis quickly expanded to major cities across the nation, from Los Angeles to New York City. Other publications, such as Philadelphia's Drum magazine, pushed the envelope for sexual expression with its unique combination of news reporting, commentary, and fiction. Leaders such as Barbara Gittings, who had been a vocal advocate for the gay agenda since the 1950s, suddenly found a national group of homosexuals communicating through networks of organizations and publications. In just a few years, gay Americans had developed a national identity that pushed back against the subversive and shadowy stereotypes previously associated with the homosexual community.
With major civil rights legislation finally protecting African Americans, the gay community took bold steps to win government support as well. In 1969, the New York City police department raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn. The event turned into a violent riot when patrons fought back, and the rioting spread throughout the rest of the neighborhood. What came to be called the Stonewall Riots, seen by many as the first major protest of the gay rights movement, had a lasting impact on a national scale due to the evolving homosexual communication networks and mainstream news networks' gradual acceptance of providing coverage of the movement.
The national movement for gay rights would come out of the 1960s unified and energized. "Reminder Day," with its emphasis on not simply creating new rights for gays, but for enforcing and upholding ones already guaranteed, would become the unified, national message of the movement.
Eric Marcus, Making Gay History: The Half-Century Fight for Lesbian and Gay Equal Rights (New York: Harper Perennial, 2002).