Before Stonewall

The invisibility of the real history of the civil rights movement for gays and lesbians continues at the Smithsonian:

A dozen picket signs on old wooden sticks carry the DNA of the gay civil equality movement in America. Forty-five years ago, this month, in 1965, these pickets were held high by men and women considered among the first generation of LGBT activists in front of Lyndon Johnson's White House.
With the men wearing jackets and ties and tailored skirts for the ladies, all arrived neatly dressed to disarm the looks of fellow citizens, while their hand-lettered signs proclaimed unimaginable things like "First Class Citizenship for Homosexuals". Despite their professional appearances, this handful of men and women on this history-making picket line, knew perfectly well that their conduct literally put themselves and their jobs on the line, in broad daylight.

Today, however, those brave pickets are stored in the dark of a Smithsonian vault, where they have been held for they past four years, ever since they first were presented to The National Museum of American History.

In 2006, the original protest pickets were donated to the Smithsonian by The Kameny Papers Project, funded in part by former Congressman Michael Huffington and other generous friends and allies. Frank Kameny is often considered the still living father of the gay civil equality movement in Washington, D.C. and led many such picket lines in his day. Fired by the federal government in 1957 because he was gay, Kameny responded in righteous fury that such an action could be taken against him, a World War II veteran who had seen combat in Germany, a Harvard-educated astronomer determined to work for America's nascent space program.

I was honored to carry one of those original posters at the Equality March last fall. And look at that photograph: the dignity and courage there puts us all to shame. On Gay Pride Day, here is something I am truly proud of - the gay men and women who made my life - and that of so many others - possible.