What It Was Like at the First Gay Rights Demonstration Outside White House 50 Years Ago

A look back at what happened 50 years ago today.

That protest on April 17, 1965, is believed to the first gay rights demonstration, advocates say.

"It was so revolutionary,” Kuntzler, 73, said. “It had never been done before anywhere in the world. We all wore coat and ties and we all had pseudonyms."

At the time they felt they had to use made-up names to protect their identities, he said.

"I was intrigued by the idea. But I was intimidated by all the photographers. I was only 23. And as they came across the street they started photographing us. Every time I approached the cameras, I hid behind my sign because I was unnerved by the whole thing. But I don’t think I was scared. I was very open and proud of being gay.

"People passed by in disbelief. It was written on their faces," he recalled. "It had never had happened before.”

“My sign read, '15 million homosexuals protest federal treatment.' It reflected what I thought," said Kuntzler, who was working as a brick and tile trade associate at the time.

The Washington resident added: "We could not conceive then the astonishing progress we would eventually make as a community. The idea that gay people, gay men and women, could work openly in the government and serve in the military. It was beyond our imagination.

For others, it's hard to imagine what life would be like if it weren't for the pioneers at the White House picket like Kuntzler, Barbara Gittings or Frank Kameny, who all went on to be leaders in the gay rights movement.

For Kuntzler there is a sense of accomplishment.

"I never thought it would happen way back then," Kuntzler says. "I was never terribly interested in advancing myself but in advancing the community. I was able to accomplish that."

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