Monday, July 04, 2016

LGBT religious history meets Independence Day: Clergy picketed for LGBT equality in 1965-69 Annual Reminder protests

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

Robert W. Wood
Wood, an ordained Congregational minister, wore his clergy collar while picketing for LGBT 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.

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.

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

Jack Nichols at the first Annual Reminder in 1965
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 LGBT rights pioneers Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings.

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 LGBT rights in world history. From then on, the demonstrations grew bigger. The rest is history.

Wood’s LGBT 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 (

Annual Reminder (Wikipedia)

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

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

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.

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