Dewey’s, Philadelphia, 1965 | Uncredited photographer/Windy City Media | 14014
While the Stonewall Inn Riot is widely regarded as a key moment of gay history, there were previous occasions when gay people said “No” and made a stand. One such event took place in 1965 – before Stonewall – in Philadelphia.
On the evening of Sunday, April 25, 1965, staff at the diner turned away more than 150 people they believed to be LGBT. According to the August 1965 issue of Drum magazine, which mixed beefcake pictorials with news for gay men, the restaurant’s staff refused “to serve a large number of homosexuals and persons wearing non-conformist clothing.”
Eventually, three teenagers — two boys and one girl — refused to give up their seats, in effect beginning a sit-in. In the week that followed, LGBT activists used tactics borrowed from the civil-rights movement to put pressure on the restaurant’s owners until the ban was lifted.
Dewey’s was a small, family-owned chain of diners that operated in Philadelphia from the 1940s to the 1970s. The 13th Street and 17th Street locations drew many LGBT customers, especially after the nearby bars closed. The restaurant was known as “Fag Dewey’s” where “you’d find streetwalkers, you’d find drag queens, you would find everybody.” It is understood that the diner’s management had grown tired of a group of young LGBT kids just sitting around, being rowdy and ordering little, so it encouraged its employees to shoo them away.