Before Stonewall, There Was a BookstoreBreaking News
tags: Stonewall, LGBTQIA history, Pride Month
Jim Downs is a Professor of history and director of American Studies at Connecticut College.
On July 4, 1965—four years before Stonewall—39 activists from D.C., New York, and Philadelphia marched on the place where the Declaration of Independence had been signed roughly two centuries earlier. They wanted to remind the nation that their rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” had been denied. Dressed in formal attire—the men in coats and ties, and many of the women in skirts and dresses—they carried signs that read equal treatment before the law and homosexual bill of rights.
For the next four years, the organizer of that protest, Craig Rodwell, along with his comrades, Barbara Gittings and Kay Tobin Lahusen, marched in Philadelphia. Their demonstrations became became known as “the Annual Reminders.” But in the summer of 1967, Rodwell also decided to do something that was, in its own quiet way, more radical than marching. He wanted to open a bookstore.
Rodwell was the vice president of the Mattachine Society, a gay male political group. “I was trying to get the Society to be out dealing with the people instead of sitting in an office,” Rodwell had explained to Lahusen for an interview in her book, The Gay Crusaders. “We even looked at a few store-fronts. I wanted the Society to set up a combination bookstore, counseling service, fund-raising headquarters, and office. The main thing was to be out on the street.” When the Mattachine Society rejected Rodwell’s plans to open a bookstore, he resigned from the group and decided to do it alone.