Early LGBTQ rights protests happened every Fourth of July from 1965 to 1969 in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Among the protesters was Robert W. Wood, the first member of the clergy to picket for LGBTQ rights.

The events were called Annual Reminders because they aimed to remind the public that “homosexual Americans” were denied the rights to “”life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as guaranteed in the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

American patriotism mixed with LGBTQ rights at the Annual Reminders, which preceded and paved the way for the Stonewall Uprising. The date and location were strategically planned to connect LGBTQ rights with other American freedoms.

The demonstrations happened on Independence Day at Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written. It was also the home of the Liberty Bell, the iconic symbol of American independence inscribed with the message, “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” Abolitionists and suffragettes also used the Liberty Bell as a logo.

The Annual Reminders were a collaboration of the East Coast Homophile Organizations (ECHO). The primary organizers were LGBTQ rights pioneers Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings. Her partner Kay Tobin Lahusen narrates a video with footage of the actual 1968 Reminder demonstration.

Forty gay men and lesbians from Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York picketed at the first Annual Reminder in 1965. At the time it was the largest demonstration for LGBTQ rights in world history. From then on, the demonstrations grew bigger. The rest is history.

Minister Robert Wood picketed in his clergy collar

Robert W. Wood, an ordained Congregational minister, wore his clergy collar while picketing for LGBTQ equality. This gay-right pioneer also wrote America’s first book on homosexuality and Christianity.

Christ and the Homosexual” was published in 1960 under Wood’s own name with his photo on the dust jacket, even though friends and colleagues warned him that this would damage his reputation. The book calls for the church to welcome homosexuals, recognize same-sex marriage and ordain homosexual clergy.

Robert W. Wood

In 1962 Wood met his life partner Hugh M. Coulter, an abstract artist, cowboy and a fellow World War II veteran. They lived together as a couple while Wood served as pastor of three different parishes over the next 27 years until Coulter’s death. Now age 93, Wood is retired and living in New Hampshire.

Wood’s LGBTQ Christian message is still powerful today. As he wrote in “The Church and the Homosexual” in 1960:

The Church has done much to keep the homosexual from Christ. Society, often under the influence of the Church, has also thrown roadblocks in the pathway of the homosexual who seeks a higher purpose in life beyond the sexual plane of pleasurable existence.

But the struggle is difficult, the motives misunderstood, the behavior pattern considered perverted. Yet Jesus Christ, whose struggle was also difficult, whose motives were also misunderstood, whose behavior pattern was revolutionary, awaits all men — even the overt homosexual.

Related links:

Rev. Robert W. Wood: Gay Pioneer (lgbt50.org)

Annual Reminder (Wikipedia)

To read this article in Italian, go to:
Padre Robert Wood, un pastore gay in lotta per i diritti delle persone LGBT (Gionata.org)


Books on LGBTQ American history

A Queer History of the United States” by Michael Bronski

Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation” by Jim Downs

Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A.” by Jonathan Katz

Top image: Barbara Gittings at the Annual Reminder in 1966

This post is part of the LGBT Calendar series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of faith and allies.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
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Kittredge Cherry

Kittredge Cherry

Founder at Q Spirit
Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian Christian author who writes regularly about LGBTQ spirituality.She holds degrees in religion, journalism and art history.She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served as its national ecumenical officer, advocating for LGBTQ rights at the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches.
Kittredge Cherry