National Constitution Center: The Fight for LGBT Rights in Philadelphia, 50 Years Later

On Friday, July 3, Evan Wolfson joined activists at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia for a panel 50 years after protesters in Philadelphia first fought for LGBT rights at Independence Hall. The panel was moderated by Chris Bartlett, executive director of the William Way LGBT Center, and in addition to Freedom to Marry president and founder Evan Wolfson, panelists included author and scholor of lesbian history Lillian Federman, author and historian David Carter, LGBT activist Randy Wicker, LGBT activist and first treasurer of the Human Rights Campaign Fund Paul Kunstler, journalist Mark Segal, LGBT activist John James, and LGBT activist Ada Bello. 

The focus of the event was to focus on past victories and movements within the LGBT community, which in some ways started with the first protests at Independence Hall in Philadelphia in 1965 through 1969.

Evan Wolfson explained why it was so important for us to appreciate movements before the marriage movement in the LGBT community:

I think what I'm taking from hearing this and having the honor of sharing the stage with pioneers who have inspired me and who I've learned from and in some cases worked with and historians whose books I've read is that history is important we have to know our history. And when we know our history, we fulfill an obligation, an inheritance that we are getting from those who went before us and paved the way, but it's not only that inheritance. There's instruction. We can learn from the tactics and the failures. And the struggles and the perseverance that others brought into the cause of bringing our country where it needs to be. And it's not only instruction, it's, perhaps most importantly, inspiration. Maybe the biggest lesson we can learn from the lives of all of us that have been committed to moving the country forward and changing justice is that you can do it. You don't always win, you're not always right, you don't always get it perfectly, and you're not alone, but if you stop cataloguing all the problems, if you stop listing all the things that are bad, if you stop seeing all the barriers and start seeing something that's better, and put yourself in to it, you can change things, and others will respond.

Panelists spoke of those original Philadelphia protests, as well as the Stonewall riots, which began 48 years ago, and the history of the AIDS movement. The information shared with the audience brought to light how all these different actions had led up to the United States Supreme Court making their historic ruling just two Fridays ago that finally brought the freedom to marry to all couples across the nation. Evan Wolfson pointed out how we could not have achieved such a huge victory without those before us:

It took a movement to do this. Not one person alone, not one organization alone, not just one state, not just one case, not just one methodology of social change, not just one battle, not just one decade. It took a whole movement to do this. But at the same time we can also learn from our history and from these stories that the movement was not just a random series of episodes. The movement actually had strategy. The movement had a vision. The movement had an idea of how we were going to get something done, and when we're talking about the freedom to marry win, emblematic as it is of so much of what we're taling about, there was a strategy that we followed, and there was a campaign built to drive that strtegy, and foster and leverage the movement.

Watch the full panel discussion and learn more about these important protests below: