Bob Skiba of the William Way Community Center visited Tacony Neighborhood Library last week to deliver a presentation on the LGBTQ rights movement, with a specific focus on Philadelphia’s role.
Skiba works as the curator of collections at the John J. Wilcox Jr. LGBTQ Archives at the center. This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion in New York.
In his career, Skiba interviewed many members of the LGBTQ+ community about their lives in the 1950s and ’60s.
“Either you were something to be laughed at, something to be pitied, or something to be feared,” he said.
He spoke about Barbara Gittings and Frank Kameny, two local activists. Gittings was the editor of The Ladder, the first nationally distributed lesbian publication in the country, but didn’t hold the position for longer than a year and a half when she added the word “lesbian” to the cover of the magazine. Kameny organized protests in the city, issuing strict dress codes and other restrictions so the protests were tightly controlled.
On July 4, 1965, about 45 protesters wearing suits and dresses marched in front of Independence Hall for the first time. On the signup sheets, very few people used their real names, and most of the marchers were from New York or New Jersey so they would not be recognized.
In April 1973, after the Stonewall protests that largely spurred the gay rights movement, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses.
“[Gittings] said in April 1973 we all went to bed sick and woke up the next day cured,” Skiba said.
Gittings and Kameny passed away in 2007 and 2011, respectively, just a few years before the Supreme Court ruled all states must recognize same-sex marriages in 2015.
“They would have been amazed at this, and it’s a huge step, but it’s nowhere near the end,” Skiba said, saying today gay people can still get fired from their jobs in states like Pennsylvania.
“Kameny said in America, no one hands you your rights on a silver platter. You have to fight like hell to get them and you have to fight like hell to keep them,” Skiba said.