NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN JEWISH HISTORY CELEBRATES A HALF CENTURY OF LGBT CIVIL RIGHTS PROGRESS
The National Museum of American Jewish History (NMAJH) is joining institutions across the Philadelphia region to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the first Annual Reminder demonstration on July 4, 1965 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. “The courageous story of the LGBT civil rights movement is a vital part of America’s ongoing search for freedom and NMAJH is proud to celebrate and share this history―with the public’s active participation,” says Ivy Barsky, the Museum’s Chief Executive Officer and Gwen Goodman Director. NMAJH will feature an exciting array of programming—including an artifact installation, a special Shabbat dinner, films and panels, an online story collecting project, and new additions to the core exhibition—focusing on the role of Jewish Americans in the barrier-breaking movement for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender rights.
Artifact Installation: The Pursuit of Happiness: Jewish Voices for LGBT Rights
On June 23, NMAJH will open an artifact installation entitled The Pursuit of Happiness: Jewish Voices for LGBT Rights. The installation will celebrate and explore broader stories of activism of Jewish marchers who participated in the Annual Reminders from 1965-1969. The installation will be on view through October 11, 2015 on the Museum’s first floor, which is always open to visitors free of charge during Museum hours.
Between 1965 and 1969, gay activists and allies participated in Annual Reminder demonstrations each July 4th, “reminding” their fellow citizens that gay and lesbian Americans did not enjoy all of the rights enshrined in the nation’s founding documents. Few could have known then that their appeal for basic personal freedoms would pave the way for advances in marriage equality and a more egalitarian future.
Installation highlights include a campaign poster for Frank Kameny, who organized Philadelphia’s Annual Reminder demonstrations and became the first openly gay candidate for Congress when he ran in 1971. An astronomer and WWII veteran, Kameny lost his civil service job in 1957 because of his sexual orientation, and appealed his firing to the Supreme Court in the first case ever to argue for sexual orientation as a civil rights issue. The poster is on loan to the Museum from veteran gay rights activist Kay Lahusen. Also on display, courtesy of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, is a “Lavender Menace” t-shirt worn by Martha Shelley to protest the National Organization for Women’s exclusion of lesbian voices and call attention to the need to include diverse voices within the women’s movement.
NMAJH is hosting several public programs that celebrate and provide context for the 50th anniversary, with more events slated to be announced later this summer.
LGBT Stories: A Collecting Project:
NMAJH has also been collecting and sharing Jewish LGBT stories through a dedicated Tumblr site called LGBT Stories: A Collecting Project. “The site invites LGBT Jews, their families, and friends to share their own stories about LGBT advocacy and activism, and has become an active platform for the Museum and the public to work together to share personal stories and to document and share history in a new, exciting way. With the help of Tumblr users, the site spans the early days of the “homophile” movement in the 1950s and 60s, through the post-Stonewall era in the 1970s, the 1980s and the AIDS pandemic, to the current progress towards marriage equality and transgender rights.
Submissions represent the wide range of Jewish LGBT experience and influence in America.
One contribution, “The Watch Chain,” is a young man’s meditation on moving towards transgender self-acceptance by connecting with an object from his grandfather and dissecting the similarities between life as a Jew in the early 1900s and life as a transgender person today. Another is from the Executive Director of the African Human Rights Coalition, who cites the persecution of the Jewish people as an impetus for the work she does now with African LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees. CLICK HERE. Among NMAJH’s curated posts are short biographies of gay activists and allies, including this one of Frank Kameny. To connect with the Museum and join the conversation, please click here.
NMAJH’s Annual Reminder project has been generously supported by the Allen A. Stein Family Foundation, Inc. Public programs presented in conjunction with the installation were generously supported by the Wilcox Archives and Library and the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation.
The Museum has noted that it is grateful for the creativity and enthusiasm of many community partners, led by the 50th Anniversary Planning Committee under the leadership of Equality Forum and the William Way LGBT Community Center and its John J. Wilcox Archives and Library, as well as our planning committee chaired by Tom Wilson Weinberg and including Bob Skiba, Jocelyn Block, John Cunningham, Jerry Silverman, Judith Tannenbaum, and Rich Wilson.