It’s important as we enter LGBTQ+ History Month that we strive to get our history correct, especially amongst ourselves.
This week Equality Forum, under the leadership of Executive Director Malcolm Lazin, proudly dedicated another LGBTQ+ historical marker, as approved by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, commemorating the Dewey’s restaurant sit-in held in April 1965 by Philadelphia’s gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.
These brave individuals took a stand against Dewey’s discriminatory policy of denying service to gender non-conforming individuals. Their sit-in protest worked as Dewey’s policy was changed.
If you are unaware of this story in our history I strongly suggest you do a short Google search on the subject, because the matter at hand is the protest but how we remember and commemorate it.
Here both Equality Forum and the PHMC receive a failing grade!
Today, as dedicated by EF, the marker reads, “Activists led one of the nation’s first LGBT sit-ins here in 1965 after homosexuals were denied service at Dewey’s restaurant. Inspired by African American lunch counter sit-ins, this prompted Dewey’s to stop it’s discriminatory policy, an early victory for LGBT rights.”
What’s wrong with this the text of the marker you might be asking right now. First, “homosexuals” (aka gay men) were not denied service at Dewey’s as the restaurant was often frequented by gay men. Second, it was, as mentioned above, mainly our transgender sisters who were being denied service, an injustice they and others stood up against.
Rightly, our transgender siblings are offended, as I, by the seriously historically inaccurate text of the marker. We can not allow them to be erased by others for one reason or another.
When contacted concerning the controversial marker, Malcolm Lazin replied in with the following:
“The PHMC marker was applied for by Matt (sp) Mecoli, then a gay intern in Councilman Johnson’s office. Equality Forum after its submission agreed to pay for the marker, its shipment to Philadelphia, its installation, the dedication and its inclusion on the LGBT Philadelphia historic marker site. PHMC has ‘sole’ responsibility for the description on the marker.”
When pressed on the issue of what responsibility does EF have in this controversy, Lazin responded by texting the following:
“EF doesn’t control the description. That’s in the “sole discretion” of the PHMC. We do have a website for Philadelphia LGBT Historic Markers (8). It will be updated with the Edie Windsor and Dewey’s in November. When that occurs, there will be a fuller description that will include the prohibition of service to homosexuals and non-gender conforming attire.”
I have seen the wording on the original application as submitted by Mecoli, it does in fact mention gay, lesbian, and transgender customers. So, what happened from the text as submitted and the text that ended up on the marker?
Along the line EF muscled their way into the process and Mecoli instructed the PHMC to transfer sponsorship of the application to EF.
Here is where the waters get muddy. Bob Sikba, community archivist, made the following comment on Facebook:
“When I spoke to Karen Galle (PHMC Historical Marker Program Coordinator), she told me that Equality Forum submitted the proposal and paid for the marker. The PA Historical and Museum Commission had to okay both the proposal and the actual text on the marker, but I think they did a poor job of vetting. To be honest, Ms. Galle did not seem at all concerned that members of the Philadelphia LGBT community were offended by the wording. I know she was feeling defensive, but what she said verbatim was ‘sometimes people get left out.’”
I am currently waiting on a response to questions submitted to Galle.
For a PHMC employee to take the position that ‘sometimes people get left out’ is beyond unacceptable.
Someone needs to take responsibility for the text on the Dewey’s Historical Marker; currently the blame lies at the feet of both EF and PHMC.
QUEERtimes is calling for the immediate removal of the marker until such time a new marker that expresses the rich history of all the members of our community, and not just the gay men, can replace it.