Philadelphia: The United States’ Landmark City of LGBTQ Rights

From the 1960s onwards, Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love (and sisterly affection), created several landmark LGBTQ rights.

Philadelphia is famously home to the Declaration of Independence and the Liberty Bell – but it’s also the birthplace of American LGBTQ rights.

The First March

In 1965 the city hosted the first major gay and lesbian rights demonstration in the United States, which was held at Independence Hall on 4 July  The location of the march in front of Independence Hall was no accident since the protestors were following the footsteps of the Quaker abolitionists fighting to end slavery.

Annual Reminder marches were held over the next three years on the 4 July. In 2005 a historical marker was placed at 6th and Chestnut Streets to commemorate the Annual Reminders.

The First LGBTQ Coffee House

Front door to the coffee house

In 1973, it was commonplace for landlords to discriminate against leasing property to gay and lesbian tenants. However, Quaker landlords were defiant against this practice and rented a storefront to the gay owner-operators of the city’s first LGBTQ coffeehouse.

The shop paved the way for the William Way Community Center, which opened two years later in 1975 as a safe space for the LGBT community to socialize. The building maintains an archive of local and regional LGBTQ information and culture, curates exhibitions, and offers community support.

The Philadelphia Conference

Harvey Milk

It would be in February 1979 that Philadelphia would propel gay and lesbian rights into a national movement. A conference was organised in response to the assassination of Harvey Milk (1930 -1978). Milk was an openly gay San Fransico politician who campaigned for equal rights and murdered in what is probably best described today as a hate crime.

The murder sparked outrage among the Untited States’ gay community and a conference in Philadelphia was held to find a response. 300 activists from around the nation met at Philadelphia’s Arch Street Meeting House to fulfill Milk’s dream of a march on the National Mall.

“If I’m killed, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”

Harvey Milk


Arch Street Meeting House

Eight months later, on October 14, about 100,000 protesters participated in the National March on Washington for lesbian and gay rights. The march established gay and lesbian rights as a national civil rights movement.

The Gayborhood

In present-day Philadelphia, the hub of LGBTQ life is the Gayborhood, which is located in the heart of the Center City district. This part of Philadelphia has been a safe space for the LGBTQ community since the 1930s when early gay networks would meet privately at underground house parties and other private venues 

Barbara Gittings

The Gayborhood is also the place where Barbara Gittings (1932 – 2007) lived and worked. Known as the Mother of the LGBTQ Civil Rights Movement, Gittings, who lived here, edited The Ladder, the first widespread lesbian magazine. She led initiatives to promote LGBTQ literature in libraries and to remove homosexuality’s classification as a mental illness. Gittings also co-organized the historic Annual Reminders at Independence Hall.

In 2007, the year of Gittings death, Mayor John Street dedicated rainbow street signs around the Gayborhood. Since then, the rainbows have multiplied, adorning street signs (70+), homes, businesses and a crosswalk at 13th and Locust streets.


The Gayborhood

City Hall

In 1982, Philadelphia became one of the first cities in the country to pass an ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. City Hall has also served as the site of many LGBT weddings dating back to 20 May, 2014, when the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania enacted marriage equality.


City Hall

Images from windycitymediagroup.com, www.windycitymediagroup.com/ and https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/

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