Dewey’s Lunch Counter Sit-In

Dewey’s Lunch Counter Sit-In, Philadelphia – April 25, 1965

Dewey’s was a chain of hamburger joints in Philadelphia, and the location near Rittenhouse Square was a popular gathering spot for young queer people. But after an encounter with rowdy gender-nonconforming teens, employees began refusing service to any customers they believed to be gay or who otherwise challenged gender norms.

On April 25, 1965, 150 people were refused service at the eatery. Working in conjunction with a local gay rights group called the Janus Society, three teenagers walked into Dewey’s that day and staged a sit-in. The demonstrators and Janus Society president Clark Polak, who had come down to help, were soon arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.

According to Polak, their protest “was a result of Dewey’s refusal to serve a large number of homosexuals and persons wearing non-conformist clothing.”

In the wake of the arrests, the Janus Society picketed Dewey’s, distributing 1,500 leaflets over the next of five days. A week after the initial demonstration, another smaller sit-in took place. The police arrived but, this time, there were no arrests—and Dewey’s stopped denying service to people who appeared homosexual. Polak said authorities told him, “we could stay in there as long as we wanted, as the police had no authority to ask us to leave.”

Drum magazine, which was published by Janus, called the action “the first sit-in of its kind in the history of the United States.”

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