50th anniversary of LGBT protest at the White House

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On 17 April 1965, The Mattachine Society of Washington held the first LGBT protest at the White House.

A group led by Dr. Franklin Kameny arrived conservatively dressed to protest anti-LGBT laws, equal treatment for gay federal employees and the declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder. President Lyndon Johnson was ‘very upset’ by the protests, according to Paul Kuntzler, one of the few protesters still alive.

The late LGBT rights activist Jack Nichols recalled, ‘Kameny had insisted that we seven men must wear suits and ties, and the women, dresses and heels.

‘We paraded in a small circle. Behind lampposts stood some unknown persons photographing us.

‘We walked for an hour that passed, as I’d predicted, without incident.’

The Mattachine Society, one of the first gay rights organizations in the United States, is probably better remembered now for their much more restrained approach to LGBT activism.

A famous photograph of the Stonewall Inn in New York (location of the Stonewall Riots) shows a message written there by The Mattachine Society after the riots: ‘We homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quite conduct on the streets of the village.’

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Another famous action involving the Mattachine Society was the ‘Annual Reminder’: a a day of silent protest which took place from 1965 to 1969 outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia (the building where the Declaration of Independence was signed). The Annual Reminder was replaced in 1970 with the Christopher Street Liberation Day – arguably the first modern gay pride event.

The Mattachine Society ceased functioning in the 1970s. The founder, Harry Hay, a labour advocate and civil rights campaigner, went on to found the Radical Faeries in 1979. Hay passed away from lung cancer in 2002.