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    The Forgotten Nationwide Protests That Happened Three Years Before Stonewall

    In May 1966–three years before the Stonewall riots, and months before the Compton’s Cafeteria riots–groups gathered in cities across the country to protest the exclusion of LGBTQ people from the armed services.

    Historians suggest it may have been the largest gathering of LGBTQ protesters in U.S. history up until that point. Yet the action has been largely
    forgotten in the wake of the movements for queer liberation that immediately followed, and the protestors’ demands went unmet for decades.

    The protestors in these images failed in their stated goal, but nevertheless they helped to reshape the world.

    In 1966, appearing at a protest in support of LGBTQ rights carried a huge amount of risk. The folks in these photos knew that they could lose their jobs, their homes, and their families just for showing up. But they came out regardless, and in doing so they opened new avenues for others to follow.

    Their bravery helped to pave the way for the movements for broader
    LGBTQ rights and queer liberation that would come in subsequent years.
    By organizing together and building a stronger sense of communal identity,
    these early activists made it easier for future generations to continue
    the fight.

    History is often iterative. The first protest is rarely the last. It would take more than four decades – and the work of countless activists – to finally allow LGBTQ people to serve openly in the armed forces.

    The social movements of today build on the movements of the past, with each generation learning, and growing, and pushing forward. Even movements that seem to fail can still help to change the world.

    The GLBT Historical Society keeps the stories of these brave protesters, and countless others, alive to inform and inspire current and future generations. To learn more about our work, or make a contribution to help us keep our vast queer past alive, visit

    Community Treasures From the GLBT Historical Society Archives
    Published on May 9, 2024