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This ‘Gayborhood Guru’ shares LGBTQ history so it will be ‘harder to erase’

Before the Stonewall Riots of 1969 energized the gay rights movement, LGBTQ women and men marched in front of Philadelphia’s historic Independence Hall on the Fourth of July every year from 1965 to 1969 to demand civil rights.

Philadelphia’s first gay pride parade in 1972 began in Rittenhouse Square, then marched east on Chestnut St. to end in a rally at Independence Park. Photo courtesy of John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives

“The Reminder Day protests were the first regularly organized and regularly recurring demonstrations for gay rights in the country,” historian Bob Skiba said.

Philadelphia gay activist Barbara Gittings participating in the second annual “Reminder Day” protest for gay rights in front of Independence Hall on the 4th of July, 1966. Photo courtesy of John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives

Skiba has been preserving and promoting Philadelphia’s vibrant LGBTQ history for the last two decades. As the curator of collections at the John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives, Skiba works with an incredibly diverse range of archival material, from early LGBTQ publications to political buttons to personal photo albums and correspondence. It is this last category that Skiba loves most.

“We can always examine the same nationally important figures that people have gone over and over, but I love going through people’s personal collections because it tells me how they dealt with being different in their time period, in their milieu, in their society,” Skiba said.

An issue of “ONE Magazine,” published by the California-based early male homophile group called the Mattachine Society. This 1963 issue discusses same sex marriage, 52 years before the Supreme Court would legalize it in all 50 states. Image courtesy of John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives

Barbara Gittings shook up the national lesbian organization the Daughters of Bilitis in 1963 when she took over the editorship of its magazine, “The Ladder,” by using photos of lesbians on its cover. This one, from 1966, shows black lesbian activist Ernestine Eckstein. Image courtesy of John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives

Skiba’s commitment to the city’s LGBTQ history extends beyond the archives. Skiba also authors a historical blog, “The Gayborhood Guru,” and gives tours of Philadelphia’s historic Gayborhood.

“I like to think if I keep on telling these stories, if we document our history, if we document who we are, it’s going to be harder and harder to erase or even to ignore.”

The last of the “Reminder” protests in Philadelphia in 1969, occurring only a few days after the Stonewall Riots in New York City. Photo courtesy of John J. Wilcox, Jr. LGBT Archives

This report originally appeared on WHYY’s “Movers & Makers.”

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