Organizers of the National LGBT 50th Anniversary Celebration announced that entertainer and advocate Wanda Sykes will MC the National LGBT 50th Anniversary Ceremony on July 4 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
"We are tremendously excited to have Wanda Sykes, an outspoken and committed LGBT advocate, as the Master of Ceremonies for the National LGBT 50th Anniversary Ceremony," said Chair Malcolm Lazin. "This historic one-hour ceremony, in front of Independence Hall, commemorates the Gay Pioneers, celebrates 50 years of LGBT civil rights progress, and addresses future challenges. Wanda is a perfect MC. We are grateful to Live Nation Philadelphia and their President, Geoff Gordon for their assistance."
An award-winning writer, actress and comedienne, Sykes came out publicly in 2008 at a Proposition 8 rally In Las Vegas. In 2010, she was presented with the Stephen F. Kolzak Award by GLAAD for making a significant difference in promoting equal rights for the LGBT community in the media. Sykes is a 2011 LGBT History Month Icon.
Organizers of the celebration, held from July 2-5, will host four days of events to honor 50 years of LGBT activism and progress. The National LGBT 50th Anniversary Celebration will be the first national event after the upcoming Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality.
Celebration includes panels, "Gay Pioneers" screening, fireworks, daily parties, six LGBT history exhibits, concerts, National Interfaith Service, wreath laying at the Gay Pioneers historical marker, and a street festival in the gayborhood with the highlight the one-hour National LGBT 50th Anniversary Ceremony on a large stage in front of Independence Hall on July 4 with Sykes as the Master of Ceremonies.
"The Annual Reminders at Independence Hall each July 4th from 1965-1969 were a landmark and transformative turning point for the LGBT civil rights movement," said Lazin. "It is inspiring to hold the National LGBT 50th Anniversary Ceremony at the internationally iconic location selected by the Gay Pioneers."
The organized LGBT civil rights movement was galvanized when activists from New York, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia staged demonstrations at Independence Hall for equality each Fourth of July from 1965-1969. When 40 activists picketed in front of Independence Hall in 1965, it was the largest demonstration for gay equality in world history.
Organized by Frank Kameny and Barbara Gittings, the father and mother of the LGBT civil rights movement, these "Annual Reminders" laid the groundwork for the Stonewall riot in 1969. After Stonewall, the Gay Pioneers suspended the Annual Reminders and turned their energies to help organize the 1970 march from Greenwich Village to Central Park marking the first anniversary of Stonewall.
Aisha Moodie-Mills, President and CEO of the Victory Fund and Institute, will be a presenter at the July 4 ceremony honoring the history of openly LGBT elected officials. The National LGBT 50th Anniversary Celebration will commemorate the Gay Pioneers, celebrate 50 years of civil rights progress, and address future challenges. The five issues symbolizing civil rights progress are religion, legal, workplace, legislative and elected officials.
"Harvey Milk to U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin represent our quest for a place at the table. No organization has done more to bring about our representation in city halls, state legislatures, and Congress than the Victory Fund. We are thrilled that the Victory Fund's dynamic new leader Aisha Moodie-Mills will be the elected officials presenter," said Lazin.
Also in attendance will be Amanda Simpson, America's first openly transgender presidential appointee. Simpson currently serves in the U.S. Commerce Department.
"It is an honor to have Amanda Simpson, the highest ranking transgender federal employee, participate in the National LGBT 50th Anniversary Ceremony," said Lazin. "Amanda will be the lead-in presenter for 50 years of LGBT civil rights progress."
Simpson will join Sykes, Supreme Court marriage equality plaintiff James Obergefell, Edie Windsor, Judy Shepard, and other LGBT leaders and entertainers.
Organizers announced that ESM Productions has been selected as the producer of the one-hour event.
Said Lazin, "Having ESM produce the ceremony sends a message to our community that the ceremony will be first class and assures broadcasters that all their tech needs will be met."
ESM Productions has produced some of the most high-profile large-scale events across the nation, including the 50th Anniversary March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial and was named the Executive Producer of the World Meeting of Families -- Papal Visit.
In addition, the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage has awarded Independence Visitor Center Corporation (IVCC) a $300,000 grant to produce a one-hour LGBT 50th Anniversary documentary, titled "Gay Pioneers at 50."
The documentary will be produced in collaboration with WHYY, the Philadelphia PBS affiliate, and Equality Forum. The director is Ilana Trachtman, an Emmy award-winning documentary director and producer with twenty years of credits. It will illuminate the 50-year history and progress of the LGBTQ civil rights movement by highlighting the powerful experiences of Gay Rights movement pioneers including a reenactment of the 1965-69 peaceful demonstrations at Independence Hall.
"The Annual Reminders at Independence Hall each July 4th from 1965 to 1969 were a landmark and transformative turning point for the LGBT civil rights movement," said Lazin. "It is inspiring to hold the National LGBT 50th Anniversary Ceremony at the internationally iconic location selected by the Gay Pioneers."
Most programs are free and held on or near Independence Mall.
For more information, visit www.lgbt50th.org and www.gaypioneers.com.