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The stories behind Philadelphia's LGBTQ+ historical markers

The stories behind Philadelphia's LGBTQ+ historical markers
The stories behind Philadelphia's LGBTQ+ historical markers 03:34

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- For over 15 years, Bob Skiba has curated the John J. Wilcox Jr. LGBTQ+ Archives at the William Way Center.

"As an LGBT historian, I feel like my job is to make sure queer history is part of American history," Skiba said. "People have been fighting for LGBT rights for 50-plus years and kids need to know that, and the community needs to know that."

While the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross House and Independence Hall get all the attention, Skiba says other stories need to be told too and that's where historical markers can help.

William Way Center

Near the corner of 17th and St. James Streets in Rittenhouse Square marks the spot of Dewey's, a hamburger joint where LGBTQ+ customers were denied service back in the mid-1960s.

"They were not carrying on, they were not damaging property, they were refused simply because of the way they looked," Skiba said.

So a sit-in was organized.

"Based very clearly on the African American sit-ins, they had a sit-in over a couple of days," Skiba said, "and by the end of the next week, management reversed their position and said we will serve anyone."

RELATED: List of Philadelphia Pride Month events 2023

The first LGBTQ+ historical marker in the city is at the corner of 6th and Chestnut Streets directly across the street from Independence Hall.

"It was where the first organized regularly reoccurring marches for gay rights happened every Fourth of July from 1965 to 1969," Skiba said.

Among those demonstrators was Barbara Gittings.

A historical marker at 21st and Locust Streets refers to Gittings as the mother of the LGBT civil rights movement.


"She was one of those people along with activists in New York and Washington D.C. who put these demonstrations together," Skiba said, "at a time when a lot of people were saying 'no, this is much too radical a thing to be doing.'"

At 13th and Locust Streets, a historical marker honors Edie Windsor. 

A Temple University graduate, in 2010, Windsor sued the government after she had to pay federal inheritance tax on her wife's estate. She sought a refund because the Defense of Marriage Act singled out legally married same-sex couples for differential treatment.

In June 2013, Winsor won her case.

"The Supreme Court ruled that DOMA, which had existed, Defense of Marriage Act, was unconstitutional," Skiba said, "and that was really the beginning of the break that lead to marriage equality in 2015."

Philadelphia has more nationally significant LGBTQ+ historic markers than any other city in the world.

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