A descendant of the family of President George Washington will participate in the National LGBT 50th Anniversary Ceremony at Independence Hall in Philadelphia on July 4, which organizers say will commemorate “50 years of civil rights progress” for the LGBT community.
John Arthur “Jack” Holmes III, the gay owner of a florist business in the St. Louis suburb of Ladue, Mo., is a descendant of Betty Washington Lewis, the sister of President George Washington, according historic records kept by the family.
Holmes, 31, told the Washington Blade he was honored to be invited to participate in the LGBT 50th Anniversary events by Malcolm Lazin, chair of the anniversary celebration. He noted that Lazin contacted him in February after reading a New York Times announcement of Holmes’ wedding to his partner, attorney Hugh Eastwood, which mentioned Holmes’ family connection to the nation’s first president.
“It will be a thrill to stand where my longtime ancestors once stood, attend services in the church where President George Washington did and participate in the ceremony honoring our gay pioneers,” Holmes said in a statement.
“My husband Hugh and I will be proud to join everyone as members of one of America’s most historical families and as members of the LGBT community in honoring all of our collective, American history,” he said.
The National LGBT 50th Anniversary Celebration will take place July 2-5 at some of Philadelphia’s historic sites, including Independence Hall. Organizers said they chose as the focal point of the 50th anniversary the July 4, 1965 gay rights protest demonstration in front of Independence Hall organized by gay rights pioneers Frank Kameny of Washington, and Barbara Gittings of Philadelphia.
“When 40 activists picketed in front of Independence Hall in 1965, it was the largest demonstration for gay equality in world history,” a statement released by organizers of the 50th anniversary event says.
Activities associated with the celebration include panel discussions by LGBT rights leaders, LGBT history exhibits, concerts, a national interfaith service, fireworks, a wreath laying at Philadelphia’s Gay Pioneers historic marker site, a street festival and daily parties.
Among other things, Holmes will join Sgt. Eric Alva, the gay American soldier who was the first to be wounded in the Iraq war, in leading the Pledge of Allegiance for the July 4 event at Independence Hall.
“We are honored to have Jack join us given his unique ancestry as a descendant of our nation’s first president,” Lazin said. “General Washington led us in the Revolutionary War and presided over the Constitutional Convention. The Constitution promises equality for all Americans.”
Added Lazin, “Jack’s marriage to Hugh symbolizes the equality, liberty and pursuit of happiness embodied in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.”
Holmes told the Blade that his family’s ties to the George Washington family date back to when Washington’s sister, Betty, married Fielding Lewis, a wealthy and prominent businessman in Fredericksburg, Va. The couple and their children lived in a spacious house in Fredericksburg for the next 25 years before moving into a nearby mansion known as Kenmore Plantation, which currently is open to the public as a museum.
In successive generations Lewis family heirs moved to Boston and eventually to St. Louis, Mo., where an heir married into the Holmes family.
Holmes said that although he and his husband, who’s an attorney, haven’t been gay activists, both were proud to publicly announce their marriage in the New York Times’ wedding announcement section. He said the two, who are looking forward to attending the Philadelphia LGBT commemorative events, are mindful of the significance of the activists’ role in organizing the 1965 protest demonstration for gay rights.
“I can’t even imagine 50 years ago the courage it must have taken to be able to protest like that,” he said.