Today in Gay History: The First Gay Protest

9.19.2013

By Andrew Belonsky

And it's not Frank Kameny's White House demonstration.

Many people say the first gay rights protest in the United States was the April 17, 1965 demonstration against the government's firing of gay and lesbian civil servants, including iconic activist Frank Kameny. Though that showing outside the White House was the most groundbreaking or memorable picket of its time, it was actually preceded by a protest that happened seven months earlier, on September 19, 1964.

That was the day Randy Wicker, Jefferson Poland, and eight other members of the Sexual Freedom League, six of them straight, gathered outside the army's induction center at 39 Whitehall Street in New York City to protest the armed forces's anti-gay discrimination and complicity in witch hunts. Their voices were for the most part ignored that day, but we all know that in the end they won: the army's official discrimination against gay and lesbian members ended in 2011.

While we're on the subject of Whitehall Street induction center, here's some bonus history: the location became so notorious during the Vietnam draft that it found its way into Arlo Guthrie's classic "Alice's Restaurant:" "They got a building down New York City, it's called Whitehall Street/Where you walk in, you get injected, inspected, detected, infected/Neglected and selected." The center was such a symbol of military might that it became a target for an anti-war bombings in 1968 and 1969. The damage was minimal, but the center moved to Varick Street in 1972.

(Image via Gay Military Signal)

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