LGBT History Month

Philadelphia Freedom: The Dewey’s Lunch Counter Sit-In

October is LGBT History Month. All throughout the month we’ll revisit stories that shed light on lesser-known moments in LGBT history.


When we think of the early gay-rights movement, we usually think of chaotic riots with bricks going throw bar windows and high heels hitting policemen. But in the Mad Men-era 1960s, many actions were more polite—though still confrontational.

The first known gay sit-in took place on April 25, 1965, at Dewey’s, a late-night coffee shop in Philadelphia that was popular with young gays, trans people and cross-dressers. Management claimed the latter groups were driving away respectable customers and started refusing to serve young people in “non-conformist clothing.”

That’s drag to you and me.

Even in 1965 it was foolish to cross a queen: On April 25, some 150  youngin’s showed up to the lunch counter in drag. A small number refused to leave after being turned away and were arrested for disorderly conduct.

Over the next month, members of Philadelphia’s LGBT community picketed the restaurant. In May, activists staged another sit-in—this time, when the cops were called they didn’t arrest anyone and Dewey’s owners promised “an immediate cessation of all indiscriminate denials of service.”

There might be no such thing as a free lunch but the customer is always right after all.