Paul Kuntzler is in Philadelphia this weekend for the 50th anniversary of the Independence Hall protest he participated in with a handful of other early gay rights activists on July 4, 1965.
As one of few survivors at the original event, he’s an honored guest for the weekend’s festivities, which include services, concerts, parties, commemorations, a film screening and the main event, a ceremony Saturday afternoon at Independence Hall in which pioneers such as the late Frank Kameny and the late Barbara Gittings will be honored for their early bravery in an era when very few were out. Full details on the festivities at lgbt50th.org.
Kuntzler, a 73-year-old Michigan native, came to Washington in 1961 for the Kennedy inauguration. The next evening he met a group of young gay men and attended an apartment party on New Hampshire Avenue. About a year later in February 1962, Kuntzler met Kameny at the Chicken Hut (a gay bar) and became active with the Mattachine Society of Washington, part of a network of early gay rights groups that made up the East Coast Homophile Organization (ECHO), which staged the annual July 4th demonstrations yearly from 1965-1969.
Kuntzler says that initial group of activists (about 150 in the entire country) were primarily concerned with employability in federal and District government and having the American Psychiatric Association de-classify homosexuality as a mental illness.
“During the early to mid-1960s, most of us in the movement never understood that our community would eventually achieve its astonishing progress,” he wrote in a recent Blade op-ed. “Most of us never thought gays would be able to serve openly in both the government and in the military and that there would be laws protecting us against discrimination. And the idea of same-sex marriage was beyond our imagination.”
About a month after meeting Kameny, Kuntzler met his partner, Stephen Brent Miller. They were together 42 years until Miller’s death in 2004. Kuntzler is an avid reader and often goes to movies two or three times per week. He is also an avid traveler and has visited all 50 states and has been to Europe many times as well as Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Brazil, Mexico and other countries.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
On New Year’s Eve 1960, I came out as a gay man at the Scenic Bar, a gay establishment in downtown Toledo, Ohio. I was so enthusiastic about being gay that I had no trouble letting members of my large Catholic family and friends know about my sexual orientation.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Dr. Franklin E. Kameny is my LGBT hero. I met Frank on Sunday evening, February 25, 1962 at the Chicken Hut. Frank was president of the Mattachine Society of Washington, the District’s first gay-rights group.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Annie’s Paramount Steak House is my favorite nightspot. Stephen and I started having dinner at Annie’s during summer 1962 when the restaurant was located where JR.’s is now on 17th Street. The number one steak then was $1.25.
Describe your dream wedding.
Stephen and I became legally domestic partners in the District on Aug. 9, 2002. If Stephen were still living, we would be married.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
The assassination of President John Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963 in Daley Plaza in downtown Dallas. I was just 21 when I returned to my office from lunch at 1520 18th Street, N.W., to discover that JFK was dead. I can remember the details of that four-day weekend as if it were only yesterday.
What historical outcome would you change?
At 73, I am a member of the John F. Kennedy research community. I lecture, do research and consult on JFK’s assassination. I lectured last for the D.C. library at the Georgetown Library on R Street, N.W. on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014. JFK had six residences in Georgetown with the last at 3307 N St., N.W., until Friday morning, Jan. 20, 1961 when John and Jacqueline left for his inauguration and the White House. The course of both American and world history was profoundly changed as a result of JFK’s murder.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
When I saw Judy Garland in person at the Palace Theatre in New York on a Sunday afternoon in August 1967.
On what do you insist?
Air conditioning is the one quality-of-life convenience on which I most insist.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
I am not on Facebook and I do not Tweet.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Optimism.” My mother, who was born in Toronto, Canada on March 9, 1916, was the most positive person I have ever known. She gave me the great gift of optimism.
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
Mostly community and that I have a responsibility for the welfare of others but also that there is something more than just what I can measure in physical terms.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Continue to be interested about everyone in society and to work to help resolve such issues as global warming.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
To have Stephen return to life. During May 27-28, I was in Statesville, N.C., to visit Stephen’s grave.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
The use of the word queer. As someone who joined the gay rights movement at 20 in March 1962, we fought against gay people being called queers.
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Cell phones and need of so many people to be constantly connected.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
To finally break through the American media’s web of lies — as opposed to the foreign press — about what really happened to President Kennedy on that terrible day in November 1963 and to help bring the truth to the American people that JFK was murdered in a government-wide conspiracy.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That I would a have a successful life here in Washington and that I would have a partner for more than 42 years.
John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I came for his inauguration and never left.